Today I took Sam to the Apple store to look at a Star Wars video game he wants for his birthday. He was very excited, and sat down on the floor next to the software to review his options. He looked like he wanted to settle in for a while.
An Apple employee wearing a Utilikilt walked up to us. “She looks quite happy there,” he said of Sam, who wore a black Return of the Jedi t-shirt and olive-drab pants. Even to this man in a skirt, my long-haired boy looked like a girl. “He is definitely happy about Star Wars,” I replied.
I knew that I could avoid pronouns, as I have many times in the past: “Yup, Sam is definitely happy about Star Wars.” Today, I liked the idea of letting a stranger know that boys can have long hair (and I figured that we were pretty safe, given the Utilikilt and all). But I found myself thinking that life would be easier if pronouns were gender-neutral.
It seems unfortunate that we call every child a “he” or a “she.” Why should I have to reference what’s in my child’s underwear every time I reply to a store employee, order food in a restaurant, or talk to a parent at the park? And why should my son have to defend his right, as he has for so many years, to like the things he likes and look the way he wants to look? If he had no pronoun, no one could say that boys don’t wear pink.
There has been some debate about shifting to gender-neutral pronouns like “zee” in place of “he” and “she.” Changes to language are awkward and difficult to bring into mainstream acceptance; we’ve had a hard enough time moving from “fireman” and “stewardess” to “firefighter” and “flight attendant.” I know much of our world is not ready for boys who have long hair, let alone for invented pronouns meant to draw attention away from biological gender.
But then again, a few short years ago, Apple employees weren’t walking around in Utilikilts.