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Gender-Neutral Language Is Great, But Let's Save Our Kids First


Policing the use of "guys" is not the craziest idea, but it should be low on the list of 2018 priorities.

You ever fantasize about winning the lottery? I do it all the time, and what I dream of doing with the money changes with my mood.

I've got everything planned out for when I'm a mega-millionaire. There's a catch, though. I haven't bought a lotto ticket in about a year. Can't win the lotto if you don't play, you know. In the Army, when you get to basic training, you get handed a rifle on like your third day there, but it's almost a month before you shoot a bullet through it. That whole time you're learning how to walk and run with it safely, clean it, take it apart, before they even hand you your first bullet. Why? The fundamental thing about using that rifle is using it safely. Even 13 years after I've gotten out, I still treat every weapon like it's loaded and never put my finger on the trigger unless I am about to pull it. That's what's confusing about people. We sometimes skip and move on to the fine-tuning without getting the basics right.

There was an article in TheAtlantic last week about how a bunch of folks want to find a replacement for the phrase, "Hey guys," and using "guys" as a plural form of address for any sort of gender-diverse group of folks. I'm not so dense as to not get what they are after and consider it something worth pursuing, but I can't help but think that worrying about finding a widely used form of address that is gender-neutral is kind of like imagining what you'll do with your lotto money before you win. We still haven't worked out a lot of the basics yet.

Not even a week before this article came out, in my state of Oklahoma, a huge national story broke about how a group of adults were found to be fantasizing about physically assaulting a transgender tween. They were calling the kid "it" and talking about castrating them with a knife. Seriously. Grown, adult human beings who were so horrified of the idea of a transgender girl using the women's room at a middle school, they didn't even see them as a human. As a trans woman myself, I get frustrated and upset when I'm misgendered, but I get genuinely angry and offended when I'm called an "it." "It" is an object without life, without feelings, and something you shouldn't feel bad about abusing. Right here in the same country where people are trying to figure out how to properly address a group of folks of mixed genders without not wanting anyone to feel left out or marginalized, a group of people so threatened a trans child that the parents fled the state.

Like I said, I get what a lot of these folks who fret over gender-neutral terms of address are going for. They want folks to feel included, to not feel othered, to not feel like they're being ignored. Again, it's noble, it's a beautiful sentiment, but it really feels like they're getting way ahead of the game here. I mean, this isn't even about Oklahoma being super-conservative and backwards, considering you can find stories of abuse against transgender people, women, gays and lesbians, and racial minorities in even the most widely thought of progressive cities and states in the country. One can argue that by pushing for gender-neutral forms of address, one is trying to bring about progress, but that doesn't make sense to me when there are people out there willingly using words like "it" to describe other human beings. They don't even see the people you're wanting to include as people, much less concerned about what they feel when they're just greeting folks in a room.

I don't want to tell these folks to stop trying to reform language or that they're misguided, and they most certainly are not some stereotype of the worst types of privileged social justice warriors who live in some sort of lefty utopia bubble. To me it just seems like they're dreaming of the yacht they're gonna buy with the lotto money they haven't bought the ticket for. Since I live in a world where people are less concerned about the little niceties and are more focused on making the first big leaps, it just doesn't seem like the return is worth the effort. My town in Oklahoma just celebrated its first Pride festival and parade this past weekend, and people were saying "guys" to everyone out there. They weren't focused on the finer details and the more complex, they were just excited they pulled off a celebration without a single protester turning up. Mind you, it's weird that our town is just now having its own Pride, considering it's basically a college town full of LGBTQ people and friendly businesses with little rainbow flags outside, but here we are.

In my town, we're the folks that still aren't ready to be handed that first bullet because we haven't learned to safely hold that rifle yet. We're like the pro sports team that needs to work on basic ball handling before we learn the complex plays. Is making sure everyone feels included by trying to find a less divisive word or trying to be more inclusive bad? Of course not, but using a gender-neutral term when paying men and women equally is still such a divisive topic isn't the best effort. Trying to explain why being gender-neutral is good is kind of pointless when there are people out there who want to castrate a 12-yearold trans kid because their gender identity so offends them. Some of us may be ready to make that next step to fine-tune equality, but we're a team aren't we? You can't win the game on your own if your team isn't ready, and dreaming of that championship ring isn't going to make up for getting everyone up to snuff.

Maybe instead of being the superstar of the team and working on your dunk, we should focus more on getting the team to work as a team. What do you say, guys?

AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @Amanda_Kerri.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

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