Vote + Books + Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock + Podcast Audio Version

Titles with book covers and photo of author Suzanne Craig-Whytock.
Photo of author Suzanne Craig-Whytock.

Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock Happiness Between Tails

#Authors #Pronouns #Gender #Individuality #Writing #Grammar What’s your pronoun? Canadian author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock, who uses she and her, discusses pronouns from the standpoint of someone who is smart and funny, as well as who earned an Honours B.A. in English Language and Literature, and worked as an English teacher for almost 25 years. Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee at http://buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Time Stamps (where segments begin): HBT introduction Intro to today’s topic and guest 1:05 Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock My question for you HBT outro Links used for the HBT blog post of this episode: Original blog post for this episode at Happiness Between Tails. Canadian author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock and her books. Another guest post she did for Happiness Between Tails. Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act.” This link and this one to documentaries I’ve produced. Another post where I wrote a bit about pronouns. Photos available at the HBT post for this show: Photo of author/blogger Suzanne Craig-Whytock. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of the blog post below.

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotify and Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and apple music and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is here.

Have you voted yet? If not, mark your calendar and tell your like-minded friends…

A great book to get you into the groove is How to Be an Antiracist, by Ibram X. Kendi. He also published How to Raise an Antiracist, discussed in an earlier post. Here’s my review of it for amazon and goodreads:

“Highly educated and wonderfully humble, Kendi details his own early prejudices and steps us through the United States’ history of racism. Bigotry harms everyone and anyone can be a bigot. Antiracism, fortunately, is the antidote that everyone can learn.”

Cover of How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi.

Another informative read is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. This is my review of it on amazon and goodreads:

Race is about skin. Class is about external things one might be able to hide. Caste goes down to the bones. Bigotry in the United States — our inequities on all levels — boils down to caste. It’s why some people who’re victimized will trod upon others. Wilkerson explains all this and the context of our shameful history of slavery and discrimination. Did you know that we got so good at teaching people to stomach slavery that Hitler sought to learn from us?”

Cover of Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.

Language… and labeling… and gender… and pronouns… Authors can be extra picky about language, as I am with the novels I’m working on.

Any serious writer knows there’s more to communication than vocabulary and grammar. Language is about how people think.

Civil rights movements in the United States really took flight in the 60s and 70s — and labels played a major role in creating positive change. When Gloria Steinem named her feminist magazine “Ms.,” many family dinners became hot debates over whether women should use Ms. instead of Miss and Mrs.

Then came arguments over switching “mailman” to “postal carrier,” and “stewardess” to “flight attendant.” The next slog was weeding out racial slurs. To this day, there are people who enunciate the phrase “political correctness“ as if they’re cussing.

For most good ideas, the masses regard those first to propose them as nuts and worse. Eventually, a grudging acceptance sets in. Finally, it’s like the entire world acquires amnesia, and believes they were born thinking that way.

Make no mistake, I am no angel. In my case, I have to slap my forehead at how difficult (long ago, for whatever it’s worth) it was for me to transition from something as basic as calling a friend Jim instead of Jimmy when he turned eighteen!

People spend entire careers studying the way people from all parts of the world communicate. Some countries designate genders to everything from rocks to the sky.

When my husband speaks English, he occasionally confuses genders because in Iran, where he was born, Farsi doesn’t employ words for it. Which gets me meandering into recommending Rick Steves’ book, “Travel as a Political Act,” where he explains how we all need to travel more so we can get our ostrich heads out of the sand. Part of why it can be harder to learn a language when we’re older is if we insist that there is only one “best” way for things like language to operate.

From as far back as when I was a kid, I questioned not pronouns, but gender roles. Back then, people sought to inspire me with their ideas about how wonderful it was that only women could bear children and be truly nurturing, but not anything else. From what “little me” saw and heard, “womanhood” amounted to life as a vessel and a slave. No, thank you.

Later, when I co-produced documentaries like this and this one, everyone assumed my male business partner was the boss. Except, that is, when we videotaped at a school for developmentally disabled adults. Wait, tell me again, who are we labeling “disabled”?

Thank you, everyone who works toward changing oppression. That includes anyone who wants to challenge how we think of pronouns. I wrote a bit about that H-E-R-E

Adopting new behaviors can be a challenge. It’s fine to express frustration, but remember that how we express ourselves matters. The worst thing we can do is add fuel to the raging fire of bigotry.

Canadian author/blogger (mydangblog) Suzanne Craig-Whytock (she/her) is here to discuss pronouns from the standpoint of someone who is smart and funny, as well as who earned an Honours B.A. in English Language and Literature, and who worked as an English teacher for almost 25 years. See the books and stories she’s published.

She’s been a guest at Happiness Between Tails here too…

Let’s Talk About Pronouns by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Note: Once you finish reading and listening here, be sure to check out Suzanne’s site for her clever riposte to this post.

Words are letters strung together to make sounds and are used to identify something. Seems very straightforward, doesn’t it? Yet, it’s always astonishing to me how upset people get about certain words, especially the ones in the English language that are literally the shortest words we have. Yes, I’m talking about pronouns. So what exactly is a pronoun? Grammatically speaking, a pronoun is a word that replaces a noun—for example: I, he, she, we, they, and it. There are plenty of others depending on the case, like possessive pronouns such as mine, yours, his, hers, and theirs…you get the idea. But why all the consternation about pronouns? I mean, there are some people who get outraged if you tell them your pronouns, or lose their minds if a person chooses to go by “they” instead of the binary “he” or “she”. And if someone decides to change their pronouns, all hell might break loose. (Notice that I used the plural determiner “their” for the singular “someone” in the previous sentence and that’s just fine; in fact, the use of the singular “they” can be found in the English Language as early as the year 1375.)

But why do some folks get so up-in-arms about how other people choose their own pronouns? It’s personally baffling to me. I have a degree in English Language and Literature and I taught high school English for almost twenty-five years, but I never got my knickers in a knot about pronouns—if you tell me you’re “he”, that’s what I call you. If it’s “she”, fine by me. “They”? Absolutely not an issue. Unfortunately, not everyone is as accepting, and maybe that’s just borne out of a lack of understanding.  So as someone with a certain expertise in English grammar, I’m happy to answer your questions about pronouns.

1) “Why are pronouns so important to some people? I never even think about mine.”

Exactly. You don’t have to think about yours, because you’ve never questioned or struggled with your own identity. But other people’s lives aren’t as simple, and the pronouns they ultimately choose, whether it’s he, she, or they, help them validate themselves to the world. 

2) “But boys are he and girls are she, and that’s all there is to it. If a person doesn’t use “he” or “she”, how will we all know what sex the person is?” 

First, what difference does it make to you? Why are you so worried about other people’s genitals? Because that’s how sex is assigned at birth, by someone doing a visual check and making an announcement about it. Second, birth-assigned sex is not binary. Sure, there’s male and female, but there’s also intersex. And if you’re that fixated on knowing someone’s sexual identity based on binary pronouns, it’s a good job you don’t speak Finnish or Chinese, because neither of those languages (and quite a few others) have gendered pronouns. 

3) “But people shouldn’t be able to just change their pronouns, should they?”

Of course, they should. And if you’re having trouble with the concept, consider this example: You find a caterpillar in your backyard. “Hey, little caterpillar,” you say, and that’s what you call it all summer. But when the caterpillar emerges from its cocoon and it’s transformed into a butterfly, do you still call it a caterpillar? Of course not. It’s the same with people. If a person has made a transition from one gender to another, why wouldn’t they change their pronouns to match their new identity and why wouldn’t you respect that? And if they decide that they’re somewhere in between the two genders, they can use the non-binary “they”. It’s fine—even the Oxford English Dictionary says so. 

4) “Non-binary?! But there are only two genders and you can’t switch the one you were born with!”

Sorry, wrong. Gender is a very fluid spectrum and there are many places along it. Also, gender is a social construct. Most of our ideas about gender and gender expression are based on current social behaviours and attitudes, and those are also fluid. For example, in the 1700s, men wore wigs, ruffles, face powder, and high heels. It was considered appropriate for their gender. In the Victorian period, if a woman wore pants, it was scandalous, but I’m currently sitting here typing this while wearing jeans and no one even bats an eye. And the whole idea that only girls can wear pink? That’s an eccentric, late 20th century fad. Colours are part of another spectrum, one of light that our eyes perceive, and they have no gender; in fact, it was perfectly normal for men to wear pink right up until the 1940s. Everything changes over time, and the way we use language in terms of gender is no different.

5) “But language never changes! The English we speak now is the English people have always spoken, right?”

If you really believe that, then I have only one thing to say: 

Nū scylun hergan     hefaenrīcaes Uard,
metudæs maecti     end his mōdgidanc…

Oh, you don’t understand what I said? But it’s English—in fact, it’s from one of the earliest known English poems, called Caedmon’s Hymn. Wait, let me try again:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote…

Still having trouble? But that’s from Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, written in the 14th century. In English. See, the English that you speak now has changed a lot. Did you also know that there used to be more than one word for “you”? If you were speaking to or about one person you knew quite well, you referred to them as “thou” or “thee” depending on the grammatical case. If you were speaking or referring to a group of people or someone you weren’t as familiar with, you used “you”. But around the end of the 1600s, using two different ways to refer to someone started to fall out of favour, and by the 1800s, no one used “thou”, “thee” and all its other derivatives anymore. And I’m sure there was a small faction of people back then who were just as incensed: “How will we ever be able to distinguish between a single person we know and a crowd of people we don’t?! It’s outrageous!” Well, we all got over it. And now there’s only one word for “you”, which simplifies things. 

And speaking of simple, here’s the simple truth. If you’re bothered by someone putting pronouns in their bio, or you refuse to accept it when someone you know has requested that you refer to them as “he” instead of “she”, or “they” instead of “he”, or you get irrationally upset that someone you don’t even know has transitioned from one gender to another, the problem is thou, not them.

What book inspires you to do better? (And what do you think of this new blog theme I switched to since my old one became obsolete?)

Gender Vid + Beaman’s Memoir Tips + Podcast: Girl Scouts Trans Allies

Writer/blogger/memoirist Marian Beaman.
Writer/blogger/memoirist Marian Beaman.

Transgender Rights, Coyotes, Girl Scouts, and Gaslighting Happiness Between Tails

#Transgender #Coyotes #Coyotes #GirlScouts #Gaslighting (Thanks for the photo, Magda Ehlers from Pexels) Girl Scouts turned away a $100,000 donation because the money came with a stipulation that the organization wouldn’t be allowed to help anyone who is transgender — better still, they collected $250,000 from people who were overjoyed by their integrity! In this interview, a couple of scouts work hard for their community… Growing up, did you join youth groups? How many homes did you reside in and schools did you attend? Speaking your truth combats gaslighting.  Share your thoughts, experiences, and questions by recording them on my Anchor by Spotify page — or comment at HappinessBetweenTails.com — or email me. Like what you hear? Buy me a coffee. buymeacoffee.com/SupportHBT Links for this episode: Happiness Between Tails blog post with the links below, plus photos of the telephone pole sign the girl scouts made, and a screenshot of their website. The Coyote Crew Wikipedia’s overview of the Girl Scouts of the USA. Video of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt addressing Girl Scouts in 1937. List of vintage Girl Scouts TV commercials on Youtube. Back in 2002, the Girl Scouts aired this ad of a sassy young girl putting her dad in his place. A clever 1976 TV commercial for the Girl Scouts. Time Stamps (where segments begin): 1) Happiness Between Tails intro 2) da-AL chats about today’s topic and a little about today’s guests 2:00 3) Girl Scouts guests, Ava and Jamie 5:30 4) This episode’s question with info on how to comment and learn more about Jamie, Ava, and da-AL 12 — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/depe9/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/depe9/support

Click H-E-R-E for my new podcast page at AnchorFM. This week’s episode is the audio version of “Ableism: Discrimination Against Disabled People by The Wheelchair Teen,” which you can read the text version of H-E-R-E. (This show has a new graphic to reflect that it’s shortened from an earlier version that included information that’s become outdated. Anchor’s tools make editing easy!) 

At the Happiness Between Tails podcast page, you’ll also find links to subscribe, hear, and share it via most any platform, from Spotifyand Apple Podcasts, to Google Podcasts and Pocket Casts, along with RadioPublic and Castbox and Stitcher and more, plus an RSS feed. The full list of 50+ places is at LinkTree.

  • By the way, check out T-H-I-S end-of-the-year round up video that Spotify just sent me about my podcast.

I go by she/her. What pronouns do you go by? It’s as simple as that. Any writer (I’m working on a couple of novels) and reader knows words are important…

Don’t let fear of unintentionally offending others keep you from interacting. Whether that person goes by they/them, he/him, ne/nem, or prefers not to be referred to by gender at all, it’s always appropriate to ask.

Thanks to the Los Angeles Public Library, this video simplifies pronouns:

Ever worry that your voice doesn’t need to be heard or that it’s too late to start your dream? Writing takes imagination — and courage! It helps to meet writers who have been our shoes yet still pushed ahead to success, such as Marian Beaman. (Also, H-E-R-E’s the site where, for free, I separated her face from the background) …

Author blogger Marian Beaman’s childhood was as a Pennsylvania Mennoite, who are also known as “plain people.” She went on to a career as a college professor, and now writes books from her home in Jacksonville, Florida. Visit her blog for more about her, her other social media, and links to her books. Here she invites us to glimpse her writing process and offers seven tips for memoire writing.

Writer Marian Beaman stands in front of a bookshop window featuring her book, "Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl."
Writer Marian Beaman stands in front of a bookshop window featuring her book, “Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl.”

How Writing Memoir is like Riding a Train by Marian Beaman

Trains take me back to grade school, evoking the fondest of memories, like this one.

My friend Wayne and I paused in our play in the woods during summer vacation. We waited for the dusty, black engine to emerge from the heat haze around the feed mill on the edge of our village. The slight curve of the train’s coal cars behind it cut a path beyond the trees. We sprinted to get a closer look and then stopped in our tracks, observing the slow, rhythmic bursts of the steam engine pulling toward us from the east. To us, the Pennsylvania Railroad train was more than a space on the Monopoly board.

Other snapshots of train travel spring from my memory, all in the present tense:

  • My Aunt Ruthie Longenecker takes my sisters and me to Philadelphia, my first recollection of a train trip. I feel the rocking motion of the Pennsylvania Railroad train car we occupy, the clickety-clack of the wheels on the rails, and the prize of the big city zoo at the end of the trip: lions and tigers and elephants, oh my!
  • When I pick plump, red raspberries with Grandma Longenecker, I hear the train’s clatter-clack over segments of track speeding from Lancaster to Harrisburg. With our round aluminum kettles laden with berries and handles that cut into the palms of our hands, we stand just 50 yards from the track, gazing in awe and feeling the vibration of the passing train through our shoes.
  • I travel with Aunt Ruthie to Temple University, taking the train from Lancaster to Philadelphia. We feel the rocking rhythm of the train when it slows and stops as the conductor calls out “Coatesville, Downingtown, Paoli” before we reach our destination at the 30th street station in Philly. 

The train trip from Lancaster to Philadelphia was not an express train. It made 5-6 stops on the 80-mile route from the countryside of Pennsylvania to the big city. By fits and starts, we made the journey in time for our 9:00 a.m. classes at Temple University. Same on the return trip. Slowing down and starting up again got us to and from our destination. All in good time.

It strikes me that writing novels, memoirs or other non-fiction is much like train travel. Lots of pausing, stopping, but sometimes even joyfully going full throttle through the countryside. The most important part of the plan: Staying on track. 

Here’s how I followed my unique route, writing my memoir, “Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl”:

Memoir Lesson 1

Be prepared to spend at least a year, or even five years to complete your book. Simply put: It takes as long as it takes. Writing is certainly rewarding, but learning a new skill (as I did) can be hard. I had done plenty of writing as an academic, but switching to a new genre like memoir required a totally different skillset. I took two family history writing classes to prepare. You? Start somewhere. Doodle or write poetry. Write prose in a journal. Begin a blog. 

Memoir Lesson 2

A memoir is a slice of your life, not a biography. Ask yourself some serious questions: What part of your life will you depict–-scenes from your childhood, a traumatic experience, a thrilling adventure like sailing around the world? Can you sketch out this “slice of life” in a series of memorable moments? Write an outline? Scribble random thoughts on colored sticky notes? Draw turning points on a timeline? 

Memoir Lesson 3

What is your theme? If it’s success after a failed first marriage, that controlling idea will be the filter through which you tell your story. Flashbacks can add dimension to writing, but only if these stories connect to your theme. I enjoy cooking, but  I don’t open up the spice cabinet or pull down everything from my dry ingredients’ shelves and dump them into the bowl. I have to be selective. Just so, you can’t tell every story that happened in your life. Select scenes to fit your theme.

Memoir Lesson 4

Memoir writing, like fiction, requires a series of steps. Here are a few: writing multiple drafts, revising, revising (Did I say revising?), and deciding whether you want to pursue traditional publishing or independent publishing. If you self-publish, as I did, I had to find beta readers for early drafts (often author friends with whom I reciprocated the favor), searched for a developmental editor, copyeditor and proofreader. A helpful tip: I looked on the acknowledgements page of authors whose books I admired and found one wonderful editor there.  

Memoir Lesson 5

Super important: Read what you’ve written aloud occasionally. Train trips engage the senses. Invite your readers to be your seat mate on the ride. Help them escape into your world. Slow down the narrative as you let them see the view from the window. Help them feel the rocking motion as the train speeds along. Let them hear the sound of wheels on the rails. Listen to strangers carry on conversations around you: making unobtrusive notes may help you write realistic dialogue later on.

Memoir Lesson 6

Plan for publication. I began blogging six years before my book hit the shelves. It’s never too early to establish yourself as a writer. From the beginning, my blog posts appeared on Facebook and Twitter. Instagram has been also a great place to share fun stuff. Personal relationships too are very important and so rewarding.  I found rekindled friendships and connections to author friends invaluable as I organized my book launch and marketing.

Memoir Lesson 7

Take breaks. The train to Philadelphia made frequent tops. At some of the stops, I got up from my seat, went to the restroom, or walked up and down the aisle. Sometimes en route, I stopped reading my textbook and just gazed out of the train window. I enjoy reading, so sometimes my break was reading an entertaining book. Like the cadence of clack-clack on train tracks, the rhythm of someone else’s words refreshed my mind.

And finally, “Celebrate!”

Be sure to party along the way, not just when you hold that newly minted book in your hands, but other times too: Finishing your first draft, receiving a compliment from an early reader, picking a title, approving your cover design. Enjoy the entire ride!

Do you fear it’s too late to pursue your dreams?