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Beyond the Gender Binary–A Day without Pronouns

by Chris Paige


"Standing on the Side of Love" is a wonderful, multi-issue, gender affirming campaign sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association. Chris Paige offered "Beyond the Gender Binary–A Day without Pronouns" for the 2013 "30 Days of Love" campaign (where all entries included a suggested action item for each day).


This past Christmas Eve, I took my 7-year-old to a local Christmas pageant, where our neighbor was playing Joseph. After the service was over, there were cookies and cider and small talk. At one point, I realized “Joseph” had come back from the bathroom, but my child hadn’t. Feeling a bit of the adrenaline that comes from the fear that your child might be lost, I jogged towards the bathroom where my child had last been seen.

In that slightly charged moment of just wanting to be sure of my kid, from behind me, I heard a voice yell, “LADIES ROOM… LADIES ROOM!!”

This was an example of what some of us call an encounter with the “gender police.” Well-meaning people make assumptions about my gender, particularly near the entrances of gender-segregated areas, like bathrooms and locker rooms. In this case, a complete stranger felt themselves better qualified than I myself am to know my gender—even through my winter coat in a dark hallway.

Some of us just don’t fit your stereotypes of what “male” or “female” look like. For many transgender and gender non-conforming people, these situations add stress, sap energy, and force the development of strategies to navigate every day needs like using the bathroom or moving through airport security.

I ignored the voice, which is how I typically handle such incidents, and continued with the task at hand. Long story short, my kid had found a friend from school and was chatting with them in the other room. All was well.

Or was it? Did I feel welcome in that church and inclined to return? Did I feel like people there would likely understand my story? Did I feel loved? No. It cast a memorable shadow over my evening.

So, what does it mean to show “love” to those of us who live at the boundaries of gender? Yee Won Chong, an asylee from Malaysia, gives some straight-forward advice in the TEDx talk “Beyond the Gender Binary” (11 minutes):

  1. Assume that everyone knows what bathrooms they are in.
  2. Do not assume everyone goes by “he” or “she.”
  3. Ask yourself “Would I want someone to ask me that?”
  4. Do not tolerate anti-transgender remarks or humor.
  5. Be open to thinking in new ways. Start thinking outside the gender binary.

There are many more suggestions in “Transfaith Tips for Allies” if you want to dig deeper. You can also find out more about gender neutral pronouns.

Today, I invite you to explore the boundary that determines the gender binary. Can you go 24 hours without using gender-specific pronouns like “he” and “she”? What would it feel like to try not to make assumptions about the gender of people you meet? How would it make life harder? Or easier? Challenge yourself to avoid pronouns for the day and share your experience on the Transfaith Facebook page!

In faith,

Chris Paige


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