I fill out a lot of forms. You probably do, too. Medical forms. Applications. Registrations. Airline ticket
documents. Online or hard copy.
Each time I am asked to complete the male/female designation, I cringe. It’s not because I can’t find myself in the options – I can. There it is: female.
I cringe because I know there are people whose identity is not there, who are forced to choose something that isn’t true to how they understand themselves. It might be because they are transgender and their legal gender hasn’t yet been changed. So they have to voluntarily misgender themselves in order to fly. Or have full access to health care.
Or they identify as “genderfluid” – not male or female – and once again, are forced into an untenable situation. And in the process, are made invisible. It is typically folks who identify as genderfluid or “genderqueer” who use the singular pronoun, “they.”
Forms that allow only two options – male and female – do not honor the inherent worth and dignity of any of us,
regardless of whether it fits our identity or not, because it does not allow for all the options of the glorious diversity of humanity. Neither do bathrooms.
On November 19, after our multi-generational Sunday service, there is a congregational meeting where, as a congregation, we get to live into being a Welcoming Congregation by discussing our bathroom signage. Back in 2004, you voted to
become a Welcoming Congregation. This is a moment of which the congregation can be proud, though it was not easy.
Being a Welcoming Congregation is never a once and done kind of thing. It asks us to reflect on and engage how we are being welcoming to all, and most especially, welcoming to those whom the world does not welcome so kindly: our GLBTQI+ siblings.
When you encounter a person for the first time – someone you don’t know – you don’t assume to know their name by looking at them. If you want to engage that person, you might ask, “What is your name?” Better still, you might start with, “My name is Karen. What’s yours?”
We have been socialized to believe that there are only two genders and that we can know a person’s gender just by
looking at them. This is no longer true (and wasn’t fully true ever). It’s time to stop assuming we can know each others’ gender just by looking. It’s time to honor our glorious diversity and practice letting people name themselves and their
This is why the “signature” at the end of my email has my pronouns written out: she/her/hers. This is why I have asked that all staff do the same. To grow my comfort – our comfort — with this way of conversing. To be in solidarity with those in our community for whom naming pronouns is an act of claiming one’s dignity and proclaiming one’s inherent worth.
This is why I am moving towards using the singular pronoun “they” more often when I do not know the gender of a
person and am unwilling to assume it. It takes practice and persistence. I don’t always get it right. Though my young adult children help me out. As a rule, it’s been my experience that the youth do not struggle with this, and are a great resource for those of us in older generations.
I am aware that there are folks who express grammatical distress at the use of the pronoun “they” to describe an
individual, saying that “they” is meant to be plural. Did you know that the poet 19th century Emily Dickinson used “their” as a singular pronoun? I learned this from Merriam Webster’s (yes, the official dictionary) website: https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/singular-nonbinary-they, where the web site notes that the singular they has been in use since the 1300’s.
Regardless of the ever-in-flux nature of grammar rules, we can also go solidly back to our first principle to help us through any grammatical distress or personal discomfort you might experience: we are here on this earth to honor the dignity and inherent worth of every individual.
I am blessed to be on this journey with you,