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Preferred pronouns grrr

(46 Posts)
Hastheworldgonebonkerz Tue 20-Feb-18 17:47:18

I work in a public facing role. I've been here for 8 years and have always got on brilliantly with all my colleagues and my boss, it's something I pride myself on. Around 2 years ago my supervisor "came out" as FtM trans. This in itself was not a massive issue obviously, live and let live etc. Although it came as a shock as I'd known him as female for 2 years by then. But I adjusted and everything seemed ok. The issue is everything that has happened since then. My formerly female boss has to all intents and purposes transitioned to become a man, with short hair, facial hair, lower voice and wearing men's clothes and shoes. Obviously presenting as male. But he will not acknowledge this in any way and insists on being referred to not as "he/him" but with his "preferred pronouns" - these are "ze/hir". How the hell is preferred pronouns even a thing, and since when was it ok to just make up your own??? I've googled these particular ones and it takes me to teenager's Tumblr blogs. My boss is almost 40 ffs. I just can't bring myself to use them and so most of the time I manage to avoid using any pronouns at all, but sometimes it's hard and I've had to say he/him. The last time this happened was in a meeting, and my boss took me aside afterwards and accused me of belittling and humiliating him in front of the team. Apparently I face a disciplinary if it happens again. Can he really do this, and can he force me to use ze/hir? In the staff room if people are having a chat he will join in and "call us out" on stuff we say, even if we weren't talking to him. It's making things really tense, and people are becoming afraid to speak. I feel like I'm being pushed out of my workplace in a way.

Hastheworldgonebonkerz Tue 20-Feb-18 17:49:30

Also, and I know this might make me sound like a dick because I should be supportive and have my colleague's back and everything, but I would feel so utterly embarrassed calling my supervisor ze/hir in front of clients.

allegretto Tue 20-Feb-18 17:51:21

As a linguist I find this really interesting, but also sort of crazy! I would also find it really upsetting being made to use a word that doesn't come easily and being reprimanded for not doing it.

ALittleBitOfButter Tue 20-Feb-18 17:51:35

Can you get a new job?

JessyJames Tue 20-Feb-18 17:53:09

I'm sorry, but those aren't real words.

Butterymuffin Tue 20-Feb-18 17:53:27

I know this is a contentious issue, and I am pretty sceptical about the trans activist agenda myself, but I do think that this is a matter of politeness. If you had an unusual first name, and your boss said it was too difficult to remember and they would just call you Jane instead, I would expect you'd be unhappy with that. It's going to be harder to get used to than more common pronouns but I think you should try.

The 'calling you out on things you say' but not to your boss, I'm less sure about. What sort of things?

Have you spoken to HR about this for guidance on company policy on disciplinaries?

AssassinatedBeauty Tue 20-Feb-18 17:55:20

My (limited) understanding is that repeatedly refusing to use someone's preferred pronouns when asked to could be seen as discriminatory and subject to disciplinary action. But, they'd have to show that it was clear you were deliberately and actively refusing to use the correct pronouns I think. Do you correct yourself if you say he/him by mistake, to make it clear it was not deliberate?

Are you in a union? I'd get some advice asap and I'd not accept any disciplinary action without getting legal advice first.

Mogleflop Tue 20-Feb-18 17:55:40

Belittling indeed. That's bollocks, how could you possibly learn that so quickly and suppress a lifetime of instincts?

Can you talk to HR?

Honestly though, I'd leave. That person is out for a fight and doesn't give a shit about being a good manager.

Butterymuffin Tue 20-Feb-18 17:55:47

Having read your second post, you could just use their first name all the time. It's probably easier to get into the habit of that and avoid slip ups and will sound less odd (still to some extent, but that can't be helped) in front of clients.

OvaHere Tue 20-Feb-18 17:56:27

The issue is that they are made up words. Insisting someone use them especially in a professional capacity IMO is controlling behaviour.

What happens when you are expected to remember upwards of 5 or more different types of pronouns if more people buy into this?

Candlelights Tue 20-Feb-18 17:59:53

Is there anyone above your boss you can go to?

I think it would be fair enough to argue that it's likely to confuse clients to use terms they've probably not heard of. And also that in asking people to use unfamiliar terms in conversation you need to be a bit flexible and understanding that sometimes they're going to forget - just like we don't speak with perfect grammar all the time. Would the gender neutral term "they" be acceptable to your boss? It's better understood even for the singular than the newly invented terms, so might confuse clients less.

It is odd though. This whole idea that we can elect to be he, she, or neither. We don't apply it to anything else do we (Skin colour, age, etc)?

stoneagefertilitydoll Tue 20-Feb-18 18:00:12

If you had an unusual first name, and your boss said it was too difficult to remember and they would just call you Jane instead, I would expect you'd be unhappy with that. It's going to be harder to get used to than more common pronouns but I think you should try.

But that's just not the same. It's slightly more like that I've a cousin I've known for 40 years who changed her name, and it's really hard remembering to use the new one. BUT it's not even like that. It's being asked, that when speaking about this one person, to not use the rules of language, some of the most common words you use in every sentence - to substitute them with entirely new words - it's an enormous ask - and mistakes are just going to happen.

Imagine if I banned you from using the word 'you' when referring to me - you had to use the word wid instead. It would be tremendously stressful.

Butterymuffin Tue 20-Feb-18 18:06:40

stoneage True that it's much harder and I accept that. But I was trying to show why someone might not like others refusing to address them as they want to be addressed. Forgetting and mistakes should be accepted and tolerated in good part (and this is where transactivists often behave unacceptably around 'deadnaming'). But OP wasn't saying she forgot, she was saying how she doesn't want to do it and thinks the whole thing is stupid. I imagine the boss has picked up on this, and while they're being demanding, OP doesn't come across as sympathetic which is going to cause her problems.

What have other people in the office done, OP? Is everyone experiencing the same problem?

Datun Tue 20-Feb-18 18:06:45

As far as I know, the preferred pronouns issue is protected under the equality law. But, only he, or she. Any other made up word isn't.

But google it, to make sure.

I'm pretty sure when they wrote it, they didn't imagine 72 genders and zie. But the wording to the equality act, may not make that clear. It might just say preferred pronouns.

TransgenderTrend have a schools guidance on their website. Check it out from page 36 for the law.

The equality act applies to children and adults in the same way.

ShirleyValentineTwo Tue 20-Feb-18 18:07:09

You never need to use pronouns. Use the actual name.

Candlelights Tue 20-Feb-18 18:07:13

Reminds me a bit of a game my kids used to play where you can't say yes or no. It's really hard not to let them slip in, even when that's the only thing you're concentrating on! Much harder to censor out everyday words when you're in a meeting with clients and have lots else to think about too.

And can you really "own" the pronoun someone uses for you? I mean, I'd correct sometime who accidentally called me "Mr" (in an email maybe, I've never been mistaken for being male in person) but that's because they've made a mistake (about me being male), not because I've just decided I prefer a different term.

stoneagefertilitydoll Tue 20-Feb-18 18:07:37

In fact, it's it a torture technique? Forcing people to believe things which they know not to be true.

Candlelights Tue 20-Feb-18 18:10:02

What happens when clients refer to your boss as "he"? Are they corrected?

Mouthandtrousersall Tue 20-Feb-18 18:10:13

You should read the thread about professor Jordan Peterson, he rips the whole pronouns nonsense to shreds. No-one is entitled to this dolally rubbish.

He is belittling and humiliating you by making you use his special words and then bullying you for not doing it. Its nothing like the analogy with a difficult first name at all, that's bollocks, and anyway people in that situation frequently have a shortened version of their name they share OUT OF COURTESY TO OTHERS. 4 billion hes and 4 billion shes, the rest is pretension and idiocy and we don't have to be bullied into participating.

Eolian Tue 20-Feb-18 18:13:51

How can you be 'refusing to use the preferred pronouns' when ze and hir are not pronouns?! I am a linguist, and I'm pretty sure ze and hir don't crop up in the grammar books. If someone chose the 'pronouns' 'umbrella' and 'pigeon' instead of he and him, would you be expected to use those? It would get pretty confusing if you had lots of trans colleagues each choosing different made-up pronouns.

terryleather Tue 20-Feb-18 18:15:51

What Mouth said!

Myunicornfliessideways Tue 20-Feb-18 18:39:34

a) I can't be fucked with people who are intent on making themselves that hard work. Frankly it's a powerplay/ego thing. Normal people don't expect others to go to this much trouble and effort specially for them. Particularly when they are being a tosser about it while expecting perfect subserviant enabling from others.

b) No one over the age of three has the right to demand other people use their own special language under threat/pressure. It's ridiculous and it's emotionally blackmailing. It's a person in power over the other.

c) people are trying to override an entire lifetime of language internalisation and encoding that they've been hearing and using since birth. NO ONE can just override that for the benefit of one self obsessed individual who thinks they are so important they have to make up their own personal words to express their own personal self, and then have tantrums when people inevitably fail to jump through their hoops fast enough and high enough.

d) Many trans people (a number of posts on site from trans MNetters) accept it's not easy and are relaxed about mistakes, and have said they'd only mind if people were determinedly and intentionally using the wrong pronouns to be rude/offensive to them. And frankly I'd be happy to go to a lot of trouble to reorganise my language for those people because they're nice, the respect is mutual and they won't have a paddy if I slip up.

The answer to this kind of twat: get as far away from them as possible.

allthatmalarkey Tue 20-Feb-18 18:46:53

Entirely sympathetic to your situation and think there's some v good advice about contacting HR and the union, but to the people who say 'those are just made up words', all words start as 'just made up'. It's possible those words will be widely used one day (don't know if I'd bet on it though).
Your point about clients is important too, OP. How are they supposed to know in advance what on earth you're on about? Again, take it up the line and ask what you're supposed to do. Let someone at the right pay grade worry about this. Is it even possible to talk to your manager about this (but maybe with someone from HR there)? Just wonder if ze'd considered all the implications, but what ze's doing must be very tough and very lonely. Nope, I've just tried and it feels all wrong. I feel ridiculous and it's not even my real life. Poor you, OP.

Judashascomeintosomemoney Tue 20-Feb-18 19:51:54

Every time I see Ze and Hir I think they must be German. Really odd. And no, no hidden agenda in that, I don’t need a medal for Godwin’s law or anything. I’m only aware of them because I read MN feminist boards though. How many people, going about their daily business, are aware of them and what do they think? OP do you have colleagues that, non MN users, are baffled?

Elletorro Tue 20-Feb-18 20:50:32

Hi bonkerz

I’d suggest you flag it with HR yourself first. State you are concerned about how to improve the situation, explain you are struggling to remember/pronounce/ the right pronouns and that you are getting flustered and nervous speaking in public. Explain the stress you are under and the anxiety it is causing you. Ask for training.

Send it via email so you have a written record.

That should stop him reverse victiming you

He will be trying to use the harassment provision at section 26 of the Equality Act. Look at subsection 4.

He doesn’t necessarily get home on an accusation of discrimination because the circumstances and reasonableness need to be taken into consideration. I don’t think it would stick.

If you feel brave enough put in a grievance, he’s bullying you. Might be worth having a quiet chat with colleagues on the down low - you won’t be the only one I can guarantee it. If everyone is on message then consider a collective grievance.

Easier said than done, but definitely contact HR first as a protective tactic.

And look for a different job. Working for a bully is bad for mental health

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