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They/Them

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I received the email below after I sent the newsletter about edamame beans and trying to choose being amused over being annoyed.

I had included a new photo and revised bio with the newsletter.

 

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_Rabbi,_

_This is one of your best posts. It has a lot of beans and food for thought. _

_I especially like the “they” pronoun bit. ID pronouns make this old fashioned woman nuts. I guess it’s my age. _

_You look a bit sad in your new photo. Are you OK?_

_-Ruth_

 

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Dear Ruth,

I thank you for writing.

I’m not sad in the photo.

I can see how the picture might look a little sad.

To me, that picture says: “I got a secret I’m dying to tell you.”

 

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Dear reader,

(I needed to differentiate that I’m writing to you, not to Ruth.)

Imagine you are walking up or down a set of stairs.

You know that feeling when you thought there was going to be another stair, but there isn’t?

Existential nausea as the universe feels off by about 7¾ inches, for less than half of a moment.

Some folk, apparently, experience a similar feeling when they realize they are asked to permit the pronoun “they” to refer to a singular individual.

 

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Imagine that now that I’ve been awarded an honorary doctorate in divinity —I ask you to refer to me as** Dr’abbri-an**.

(Doctor + Rabbi + Brian – many letters = Dr’abbi-an)

You’d do it, wouldn’t you?

Is my (or anyone else) asking to be switched to “they/them” from “he/him” a much larger ask?

Your choice if you want to call me Dr’abbri-an.

I think it’s kinda funny.

 

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Temporary existential grammatical nausea—caused by understanding that _<span style=”text-decoration:underline;”>they</span>_ can also refer to only one person—quickly passes.

It’s change.

You’ve been dealing with things changing your whole life.

This is small.

I suspect this request of people to not be defined by a gendered pronoun is not in the top 100 things that have stressed you out.

And, this is also big.

Taking a stance—to tell people that you will call them by the name they wish to be called by and that you will refer to them by the pronouns that they wish to be referred by— is a big deal.

Affirming the lived experience of people who express that they don’t fit in a singular gender is a big deal.

As is the choice to deny it.

 

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The Jewish phrase “_Na’ase V’Nish’ma_” denotes that deed doing leads to understanding.

My undergraduate engineering mentor, Kentaru Tsutsumi, told me the same in different words:

_Experience is the best teacher, but it gives the exam first._

You don’t need to fully understand the political undertones of what I’m advocating when I ask you to use the word “they” to refer to me in the third person and “them” when requiring a third-person reference for me as a direct object.

Maybe you’ll refer to me as “they”—not because you fully understand why, but because I asked you to do so.

I’m ok with that.

 

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My best friend, Greg, was standing next to my brother-in-law, Jeff, who coincidentally has a brother named Gregg,

Accidently, I called Jeff “Greg.”

I apologized.

And that’s all you need to do when you use the wrong pronouns in talking about someone—a simple apology.

“Oh, I’m sorry, they prefer they/them pronouns.”

That’s it.

After my slip, I made a point to refer to Jeff as Jeff.

I corrected myself.

And that’s what you need to do after you realize (or someone points out to you that) you mis-gendered someone. Apologize then correct your actions.

(And redouble your efforts if you mess up again.)

 

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Science, throughout history, has seen gender as a spectrum greater than a choice of binary responses.

And, many individuals today consider themselves to be either the gender opposite of the one their giggly-bits at birth indicated or somewhere on the spectrum between male and female.

Here’s why I choose to identify my pronouns:

Think of my friend Sabrina, who identifies as “female” but “looks” masculine. If she didn’t do so otherwise she would get—either intentionally or not—referred to by the (he/him) pronouns. Therefore Sabrina puts (she/her) after her name—so people know.

To keep our friends like Sabrina from being the only people in a group who need to list their pronouns after her name, many allies—like me—choose to list ours as well..

 

 

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If you are looking for a religious gloss to justify a gender spectrum, you need look no further than the first chapter of the first book (Genesis 1:26) where “God creates humankind in God’s own image, in the image of God male and female, God created them.”

(Genesis chapter 2 tells the other, the Adam-made-first story.)

Also, historically, you might care to educate yourself about Guanyin—the 500+ year old gender non-binary Buddhist bodhisattva of compassion.

 

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Dear Ruth,

I thank you for your note and support.

Please let me know If you would like me to use anything other than they/them pronouns when I talk about you, the sassy New Yorker who I finally got to meet the day after I get my honorary doctorate.

💙rB

(they/them)

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