It was bound to happen sometime. I was out with a friend-acquaintance-colleague I hadn't seen in a few years. She was ordering for both of us and--gesturing to me--told the server, "They'd like a cup of coffee."
[Record player screeches to a halt.]
I have always used "she," so it was weird to me that this friend would assume that I had switched to "they." It's not as if I look more masculine than I did a few years ago. I can only assume that for her, the context has changed--people who look like me (butch women) are now, at least as a default, "they."
I corrected my friend, saying, "She, please," (after the server left), and my friend replied, "Oh, I just wanted to be safe."
Safe? Wouldn't "safe" be assuming that I still use the pronouns I have always used, unless I tell her otherwise? My friend replied that most people who look like me use "they."
I continued to boil quietly about this. Afterward, I kept wondering why it bothered me so much. I don't get angry when people accidentally call me "he"--in fact, I go out of my way to tell them not to worry about it. Gender mistakes happen. Who cares? Although, if someone who knew me suddenly started referring to me as "he," I would be surprised and possibly annoyed. But I still think "they" bothered me more than "he" would have.
And it's not as if I'm the pronoun police. When I'm in a group and we have to go around and give our preferred pronouns, I now tell people that I don't care about pronouns. They always use "she," because (1) my name strongly signals "femaleness" and (2) I think(!?) I "look like a woman"--or rather, I look like some instantiation of woman with which they are somewhat familiar (the outside layer of a Rachel Maddow babushka doll).
But I guess I do care about pronouns--at least a little. I didn't like my friend assuming that a gender nonconforming look is de facto incompatible with being a woman. I felt like I was being gender policed--as if she was telling me, "You're not doing 'woman' correctly anymore--people like you are a 'they.'" This chafes me. A "she" can look any way at all. And part of my stubborn refusal to use anything but she, despite my annoyance at the very existence of gendered pronouns, is an assertion that this is what a woman looks like.
Grr. I don't know. It's weird. If I hate gendered pronouns, why don't I like "they?" I'm still wrapping my head around why I cared so much. It's at least partly because I don't love "they" as a singular pronoun. Maybe I should just adopt a random word or phrase, like "puppy" or "the silver robot" or "sulky capybara" as my pronoun. Then she would have had to say, "The silver robot would like a cup of coffee," so I'd at least get a chuckle out of it.
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