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Gender pronouns on the internet: directions for use

A semi-serious but sensitive guide to the world of identities, nuances, expressions

By Francesca Parravicini

I would like to start this article by telling a nice anecdote, that perhaps has nothing to do with this topic. A few years ago I found myself attending the lesson of a british friend, who came to Italy in the deep province-land, to have a teaching experience in another country. The little pests were busy making their masterpieces on paper, when a drama exploded: there were only two pencil sharpeners, one pink, with the drawing of a cartoon character loved by many girls, the other, a simply one, in smooth metal.

The boys looked with horror and disappointment at the pink pencil sharpener, claiming the silver one, as if these two objects did not have the same, identical function.

Now this story may seem insignificant, but after some time it’s still in my conscience, as a symptom of how much gender restrictions are constructs to which we are subjected from an early age and how stupid and senseless they are. And how much they clash with today's sensitivity.

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Un post condiviso da Acrimònia Magazine (@acrimoniamagazine)

But let's start from the beginning. It is undeniable that gender and identity issues are a very topical topic and a vital issue for many people. If in the Anglo-Saxon countries people start talking seriously about them already during the school years, in Italy there is still a lot of disinformation surrounding these themes.

The mainstream media try to approach the subject because it’s hot stuff, but often end up making an incredible confusion: there is the incredible faction that sees the so-called "gender theory" as a threat (how delusional) like something that would erase the differences between males and females or make everyone gay, there are those who still confuse terms and concepts, reducing the whole question to "the ideas of LGBT + groups", seen as a gathering of bizarre individuals with bizarre ideas and not as people with feelings, ideas, thoughts.

The main difference we need to take into account is that between sex and gender: sex bases the distinction between men and women on specific biological characteristics, such as sexual organs (there are exceptions also in this case of course), gender instead defines the categories of male and female on a series of social and cultural constructions that have been built over centuries of history.

It’s not something innate, as some people believe: females are not born loving pink and clothes, males are not born dressed in blue with a passion for cars (just open a history book to remember about past eras like the 1700s, where men wore heeled shoes and fluffy wigs).

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Un post condiviso da amanda (she/they) (@icepuppers)

Gender is not binary, it’s a spectrum, in which an infinite amount of nuances and facets find a place: it is a delicate matter, strictly personal.

This spectrum includes cisgender people, who identify with the gender corresponding to their biological sex, transgender people, who recognize themselves in the gender opposite to their biological sex, non-binary people, who do not recognize themselves in the male-female dicotomy and they position on various shades, that include concepts such as genderqueer or genderfluid.

In a society like ours, still strongly anchored to traditional gender distinctions, those who live outside these parameters can feel a sense of isolation, alienation, hostility. Maybe someone can have a hard time trying to grasp certain concepts, but a sense of empathy and respect for something deeply human is strongly needed. It doesn't take much.

And here comes the pronouns issue. Something very simple, a few words, but incredibly effective.

It’s about adding personal pronouns that indicate one's gender identity: she/her, if you identify as female, he/him, if you identify as male, they/them if you identify as transgender or non-binary. Of course it is also possible to merge identities, for example she/they or he/they, depending on the person.

What is the function of using pronouns as a distinctive sign? To create a sense of recognition, increase inclusiveness and fight the phenomenon of misgendering, the wrong attribution of gender, which can be done in a conscious and non-conscious way: often transgender and non-binary people find themselves in situations of discrimination and their mere existence is not recognized or denied. Again: those who do not live these experiences firsthand can find it hard to understand them.

But how would you feel if your identity, maybe conquered with difficulty, perhaps a reason of pride, is trampled on for no reason? Respecting a thing like this is quite simple. And therefore pronouns help us to understand, to direct the language, to reflect on how stereotypes affect our communication and the way we “read” and interact with people. And even cisgender people can insert the pronouns of their bio, to "normalize" this practice and demonstrate their solidarity or belonging to the LGBT+ community. Obviously, not all the problems related to discrimination are solved with a pronoun.

But it’s a small simple gesture, that anyone can do and that can helps to open a discussion and create a new language.

And again, it takes very little to reverse the ideas on a pink pencil sharpener.

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