Pronoun Paradox


My young friend invited me to lunch, to meet his family: mom, brother, and sister.

Well, sister had been his brother, but was now transgendering, now his sister. “His” old name was now another name, choosing to go by “P___”.

They shared many family stories and anecdotes, and talked about their lives and the future. They brought me into the family circle, and we laughed and had our serious moments, too.

Mom laughed a lot at this family gathering, joining the two brothers and P_____ telling endearing family stories, many of them involving P____. Throughout the telling, P___ was “he” and “him”, and then “her” and “she”; sometimes “son” and “brother” and sometimes “daughter” and “sister”. P____ added her own parts of the stories, laughing at the jokes and showing her serious self in the serious moments. Whoever was the storyteller easily switched from P____’s old name to her new name and back again.

Along the way, those brain cells of mine apparently in charge of gender labels and pronouns tried to keep track of the stories about P____, and the jumble of him, her, he and she, brother, son, sister, or daughter. My thoughts yearned for some order, some thread of consistency, so I didn’t have to keep going back from the male to the female pronouns, all referring to P____, sometimes called by her previous name, even in the same sentence. Of course, when P____ told her part of the stories, it was the soothing and familiar “I” and “me”. My culturally shaped brain didn’t have to sort through the jumble of all those particular little pronouns and names, new and old.

And, did all that pronoun paradox really matter? This person next to me was funny and charming, being the youngest kid in the family, a teenager with a witty sense of humor and a pleasant, contagious laugh. Just P____, without all the pronouns, me just enjoying this witty and happy person sitting next to me, in all their loving, amusing self, a new friend becoming a part of my expanding world.

–Neal Lemery 2/19/2016

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