Pronoun preferences should be respected

I certainly don’t expect my local alt-weekly to be any kind of ally to the many, many queer and trans folks who have been living and working in this town since at least the 1970s — after all, we’re out here trying to make a living, avoid daily street harassment and smashing the patriarchy, while y’all seem mostly interested in writing articles about breweries and artisan donut shops.

But Micah Wilkin’s misgendering of Firestorm Cafe’s Libertie Valance in her article on Firestorm’s community meeting (not to mention the ensuing email I received about it from Managing Editor Margaret Williams) was surprising in its brazen disrespect and rudeness. First, you sent a newbie reporter who had never heard of Firestorm to cover the meeting. She obviously didn’t know that Firestorm has employed many queer and trans people since it opened in 2008, and that asking about folks’ pronoun preferences would probably be a good idea.

Then, when I tried to call y’all out about it via your website (Libertie uses “they”), your managing editor sent me an email informing me of y’all’s apparently official policy on pronouns, writing, “We try to respect pronoun preferences, but it would be grammatically incorrect to refer to an individual as ‘they.’”

A few things come to mind:

• “Trying” to respect pronoun preferences when you have a policy of not using the most popular one that isn’t “he” or “she” isn’t actually trying very hard.

• The argument that “they” is not “grammatically correct” for individuals is just plain wrong, given that it’s been used that way and widely accepted since at least the 14th century. Read The Canterbury Tales and get back to me.

• If you really wanted to respect Libertie’s pronoun preferences without compromising the Mountain Xpress‘ weirdo grammar integrity, you could have just not used a pronoun at all — this would have been easy, since you only quoted Libertie once.

Thanks for printing my letter, I hope it prompts y’all to have a serious conversation about the value of respecting your community vs. following stupid grammar rules that don’t make sense. Until y’all figure out how you want to handle this issue, my queer and trans friends and I will be out here refusing to be interviewed by y’all for fear of being misgendered.

Disclaimer: I used to work at Firestorm but don’t anymore.

— Sam Kaplan


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3 thoughts on “Pronoun preferences should be respected

  1. Grammar Boy

    The grammarians among us might appreciate some help in understanding Mr. Kaplan’s diatribe and Ms. Williams’ response to him about the plural “they” vs. the singular “they.” This is apparently the sentence Mr. Kaplan is referring to:
    “. . . it was once again clear to Libertie Valance, one of Firestorm

  2. boatrocker

    I am so disappointed that no poster has yet referenced ‘the Royal We’ from The Big Lebowski.

    In the mean time, let’s waste precious Internet resources on whining about pronouns when most posters unable to type anything substantial in under 140 characters here text their ‘friends’ with lols, yolos, omgs and such.

    ‘Waaaah’ is fortunately gender neutral.

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