Gender is indeed one of our complex volatile identities that we construct through our social interactions. Gone are the days when the concept of ‘gender’ was perceived to biological binaries of ‘men and women’. The society has indeed evolved from such Parsonian views towards a more complex ethnomethodological understanding of gender as a constructed social identity. Thus, this modern notion of ‘gender’ explains it as an identity which we assert to ourselves out of choice and social behavior.
The question “Can there be a third gender?” has become outdated in today’s world with the present understanding of the concept potentially accommodating the idea of countless gender identities of an individual.
According to this understanding, gender becomes a concept which is constantly questioning the dominant social and gender norms in a society. The shackles of these sex-based binary gender norms are constantly being challenged, broken and reconstructed by the nature of gender identities. For instance, the household duties of cooking and cleaning are no longer considered exclusively to be a woman’s domain. Similarly, in many societies worldwide, the norms of donning public attires no longer reflect binary values.
While all these developments seem to be encouraging leaps forward towards the goal of achieving ‘gender equality’, they have ignited a new controversy around ‘gender pronouns’ which needs attention.
1. What are “gender pronouns”?
Gender pronouns are the terms people choose to refer to themselves that reflect their gender identity. Simply stated, these are the terms in which we desire ourselves to be identified. Admittedly the society have transcended the gender binaries and left behind the dichotomous nature of these pronouns.
Indeed the world is no longer limited to the ‘he’s and ‘she’s anymore!
The notion of ‘gender’ is truly evolving and rightly demanding the quest of inclusivity in terms of an individual’s identification in today’s society. Mental health experts have pointed out that mis-gendered social attribution can result in severe psychological adversities in an individual. Thus, knowing and using a person’s correct pronouns fosters inclusion, makes people feel respected and valued, and affirms their gender identity.
2. The purple patch!
My recent experience of this magnum celebration of gender was in the 2022 Pride Parade in Brighton. It was amazing to see the entire city turning into a rainbow of colours. The joy of breaking stereotypes and celebration of diversity dazzled the ‘self’ deep inside me. It was as if the whole city was beaming in pride of its freedom from the ‘ruthless’ barriers of age-old stereotypes regarding the hush hush topics of gender and sexuality.
A close friend who actively participated in this parade mentioned about their joy of announcing what has been personal all these years to be public and political without no fear and shame.
3. The question of personal choice
I certainly do not count myself among those who think ‘sexuality’ as a personal choice. I am of the opinion that it is a result of an individual’s biological traits which has nothing to do with anyone’s choices.
But isn’t asserting one’s sexual identity not a matter of personal choice?
By now many of you might be wondering why I am suddenly discussing sexuality in the context of gender pronouns.
To answer this let me take you back a few days to one of online meetings with fellow batch mates regarding an upcoming publication role.
As a part of the introduction we were asked to disclose our gender pronouns. This did seem to be a regular drill initially, until one student refuse to answer that question. To my astonishment, the moderator insisted their gender pronouns to be disclosed to the extent of making the entire session awkward. It was at this point the whole issue appeared to be uncomfortable for me.
At that time I was not aware of the entire controversy surrounding disclosure of gender pronouns but such insistence to disclose someone’s gender pronoun seemed to be an invasion of individual privacy to me.
This brings me to my earlier point. Though I do not subscribe to the view that one’s sexuality is a matter of personal choice but the act of disclosing such identity is indeed one.
4. But how sexuality is related to your gender pronoun?
I believe the two are intrinsically intertwined. Let’s suppose I am gay. But I do not wish to assert my sexuality in public. Thereby, I prefer to identify myself as ‘they/them’. Now if I am forced to disclose my gender pronoun in public then isn’t it also giving away my sexuality without my consent?
I wish to issue a clarification here.
I am completely against the thoughts of Prof. Jordan Petersen from Toronto University, who vehemently rejects the idea of alternate gender pronouns. He even finds their use as violation of the law! I am not opposed to use of alternate gender pronouns at all. My limited objection is regarding forcing someone to disclose their pronouns in public without their will. This position in no way puts me within the bracket of “against’ in the ‘Gender Pronoun Debate’! Rather in a way my position goes clearly against that of Petersen who appears to have been prioritizing the black letter law above freedom of speech and individual choice. I do not find any justification in the legal principles of not wanting to address an individual in the way they want to be addressed in society. Alternatively, I feel it exploring different gender pronouns in schools and other academic setups will help to boost gender inclusivity.
Coming back to the question “Can there be a third gender?”
Of course! There is not only a third one but multiple genders and the construction is fluid and ever evolving.
However, without going into the entire ‘Gender Pronoun Debate’, my position rather rests upon the right of individual’s choice regarding of disclosing their gender pronouns. I feel that if an individual does not want to disclose their gender or sexuality in public they should be allowed to exercise their choice of silence.
However, constructive objections to my position are warmly welcomed.
About the Author……
This post is written by Ritabrata Roy, Doctoral Tutor at University of Sussex Law School. Ritabrata’s research interests lie in issues of sexuality, gender, culture and related crimes.