Browsing CategoryEverything Else
Three things have come together for me over the last year or so.
- As I started writing about children and parenting, I found myself regularly referring to a single child whose sex and/or gender is unknown, such as the future baby in a pregnancy post, or when writing generally about a hypothetical reader’s child.
- I have become more conscious of the issues facing transgender people and people not on the gender binary, which makes me want to do a lot less assuming when it comes to people’s gender.
- My feminist consciousness has grown, and when I’m talking about professional people I haven’t met yet, like a new doctor or a mechanic, I don’t want to accidentally enforce gender stereotypes with my language by assigning that person a gendered pronoun.
For all of these reasons, I decided it was time to take the plunge and pick a gender-neutral pronoun.
I chose “ou”.
I first used the word “ou” in my first Baby Bellyaching post. Here’s the exaplanation I included:
It’s hard to talk about babies without using pronouns, and since you don’t know the gender of the child in question, the available pronouns really bug the shit out of me. So, I’m finally jumping off the cliff and picking a gender-neutral pronoun. I’ve decided to go with ou, which has the benefit of not being completely made up. Look it up if you like, and expect to see more of it around here.
While I suggested that people look it up, there’s not that much information available about it. I first got the idea from s.e. smith at this ain’t livin’. Ou prefers “ou” as a pronoun for ouself, and I learned from ou that “ou” is an archaic English word. The idea of using an existing English word makes the most sense to me, even if it’s centuries out of date. I don’t like any of the recently invented gender-neutral pronouns, so “ou” was a welcome idea.
The Wikipedia article on “she” turns up this information:
In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular “ou”: “‘Ou will’ expresses either he will, she will, or it will.”
In some of my early posts using this word, I have used “ou” as you might use he or she and “ou’s” as you might use his or hers. However, I have recently begun to read s.e. smith on G+, and there, ou offers this sentence: “Ou took ou car to the carwash, and amazed ouself by finding enough quarters for the machine wedged into the seatback cushion.” Possessive “ou” is still “ou”.
Another question you might have is how to pronounce it. I don’t have an authoritative answer on that. I looked up some Middle English pronunciation guides and settled on the “oo” sound like in “you”. I am open to correction if you have a source for a different pronunciation. I think because of the sound similarity to the word “you”, “ou” slips easily into my spoken words as well. It’s not jarring to the ears the way some invented pronouns are.
Every time I write a sentence that will contain “ou”, I hesitate. My writing would be more easily understood and more readily accepted by the most readers if I stuck to words and ideas that were already familiar. I have the urge to change the wording and make it less weird. But this idea is important. Not all people have a gender. Not everyone fits into the two common genders. I don’t know everyone’s gender. Gender should not be such a this-way-or-that-way-and-no-other-option kind of thing. I believe that ideas begin with language and are rooted in language. If I want something different from the way my culture treats gender, the first thing I can do is change my language.
Are you familiar with the beginning stages of a romantic or sexual relationship where you’re totally head-over-heels for the other person, mildly-to-severely obsessed, and all you want to do is be with the other person? And if you’re not with your new lover, all you want to do is talk about your new lover to other people? And everything ou does is perfect?
When you’re polyamorous (as I am), sometimes when this happens, it’s your long-term partner who feels this way about someone else. And some poly people get quite upset by this. When their partner gets all obsessed over someone else, they feel betrayed or ignored or disrespected or whatever. I like to snarkily call these people “monogamous”.
Here’s the thing: that fluttery-tummy, starry-eyed part of a relationship is involuntary, temporary, and valuable. It’s so, so fleeting, which means you need to experience it as much as you can in the moment. And it’s vitally important: it’s the building blocks of the new relationship, it infuses passion into your life, and it’s just plain fun. And you can’t choose when it happens, and once it’s over you can’t get it back.
For all these reasons, it’s imperative to me that I honor this time when it happens for someone I love. If my partner falls head-over-heels for someone and doesn’t notice that I exist for 6 months, that’s okay. If all he wants to talk about day and night is someone else, that’s okay. If our plans are suddenly on hold and our schedule rearranged to make room for his interest in another person, that’s okay. In fact, it’s more than okay – I really enjoy it. I love the sparkle in my lover’s eye when he’s giddy over a new lover. I know the sheer pleasure of beginning a new relationship, and I revel in seeing someone I love having that experience, too.
When I hear other poly [sic] people talking about how upset they get when their partner ignores them for a new person, they and their relationships sound fragile to me. I don’t “feel ignored” if my partner has a new interest, as if I were a houseplant that needed regular watering. I am not betrayed by his interest, because as poly people we have mutually agreed that those interests will arise and be pursued. I am not disrespected, because together we respect the strong emotions of attraction, sex, and love.
And at the end of the day, our relationship is strong. Six months from now, I will still be here, he will still be here, we will still be together, and our love with still be strong. The googly-eyed beginning of another relationship is fleeting, but our partnership is not. Our relationship deserves to be treated like the solid, lasting foundation it is. The new sparkly stage deserves to be treated like the passionate, in-the-moment wonderfulness that it is.
There are a lot of parallels between this polyamorous philosophy of mine and my experience of having a baby.
I am in the active process of falling in love with Dylan. I want to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment with him. I memorize his face and trace his toes and smell his breath and gaze deeply into his eyes. I think he is the most fascinating thing in the entire universe. I don’t want to go anywhere without him or do anything that excludes him or talk to anyone who doesn’t want to talk about him.
Occasionally I’ll read something aimed at new parents, and I will spot advice for how to keep peace in your relationship when there’s a new baby. Are you spending enough time with your partner? Are you having enough sex? Is your partner getting enough of your attention? Are you obsessively talking about the baby too much? Blah, blah, blah.
At first I wondered if I should be thinking about these things, because, well, no, we’re not having that much sex. Yes, all I want to talk about is Dylan. Yes, I’d rather hang out with Dylan than with Joshua. Yes, I barely notice Joshua is here sometimes. Oh, no! Better make sure I… wait a minute!
This time with Dylan is fleeting. His babyhood is painfully short. I will never get another chance to experience these joyful moments. And more importantly, Dylan actually needs me right now. His strong connection with me is important to his development. Joshua doesn’t need me, and my relationship with Joshua is not so fragile that certain aspects of it can’t wait for awhile. We don’t need to schedule “us time”. My time with Dylan is “us time”, because that time and that process of falling in love and caring for Dylan honors our relationship and the things we both think are important.
And at the end of the day, our relationship is strong. Later, when Dylan is older, I will still be here, Joshua will still be here, we will still be together, and our love will still be strong. Dylan’s babyhood is fleeting, but my partnership with Joshua is not. Dylan deserves all the love and attention I have to give him, and my relationship with Joshua deserves to be treated like the solid, lasting foundation it is. It is the foundation that has brought forth this new life, that nurtures it, and that holds all three of us up.
I found something and got photos of it that I’ll bet you’ve never seen before: a baby praying mantis. I put a penny on the table nearby to give some idea of the tiny-ness of this thing. Baby anythings are so cute! Enjoy!
I recently got a suggestion for a blogging topic from a friend and reader, Michele. She asked,
Do you ever feel “helpless” with being pregnant? What, if any, adjustments did you have to make as a pretty self-reliant, get shit done type?
I love this question because it provides some insight into the way people see us versus the way we see ourselves, which is especially interesting the blogging world, where we’re often communicating with strangers.
I’m going to tackle the second part first. Lean in close, because I’m going to whisper a little secret to you.
I am NOT actually a get shit done kind of person.
|Me, sitting on the couch… NOT a get-shit-done type!|
One of the symptoms of my depression (or whatever you call it) is that the connection between wanting to do something and actually doing it is largely missing in my brain. I spend a lot of time sitting around or laying on the couch desperate to get up and do something and not able to actually move my body to do it. It’s not usually vague desires, either – I’ll be sitting there knowing exactly what I want to be doing but unable to make the motions to do it. The few things that I manage to do – take care of the pigs, write blog posts, etc – sometimes take an extraordinary amount of mental struggle and effort to keep up with.
I realize that blogging can create an unrealistic view of these kinds of things. There’s not much to write about the days I spend laying on the couch despondent. I write about the interesting things happening in my life, but people might take away an unbalanced view of how much space and time in my life those things take up.
Also, I’m not much into physical labor and might not be even if I weren’t depressed. Joshua is. This means that the things that “we” do are a lot of times mostly him doing the doing. I try to be accurate about this when I write, because I want to give credit where credit is due, but since this is my blog and my voice it might not always be clear.
For example, check out my recent post Animal Adventures. I reported on a lot of happenings in that post, all of which I was present for, participated in, and which were important to me, but if you’re really paying attention to the language, a different picture might emerge. In that post, I basically mention two things that I did: I researched the treatment for the chick and took Buck’s bandage off. There are about four main things that I characterize as “we” did: We got Buck in the truck, treated the chick, fed the chick to the pigs, and went out looking for the missing pigs. Everything else, Joshua did: Joshua secured the coop. Joshua led the pigs back home. He handled the dog and talked with animal control. He rigged a catch pen for the sheep and held Buck still.
So, there’s a lot of doing in a post like that, but a great deal of it is Joshua’s labor.
The other word Michele used to describe me is “self-reliant”. Now, that part is a different story. I do consider myself self-reliant. I don’t think it’s an accident that I am paired up with Joshua. It’s not like I consciously chose a partner based on his get-up-and-go, but it’s probably not a coincidence that I don’t have any and Joshua has a whole lot. If I were not with Joshua, my life would look differently based on what I can do for myself alone, but in the meantime, the things that we do together are still things I think of as me doing for myself. It works the other way, too. Joshua appreciates the ideas that I have and the ways that my desires shape the things that he does. For instance, he’s said to me, “Thank you for pigs,” because in a world without me, he never would have owned pigs and they’ve added a lot of enjoyment to his life. There are ways in which Joshua’s labor greatly contributes to the pig project – he built their shed, for instance – but having the pigs and the details of their care are driven by me. Joshua and I take care of and support each other. People work best when they are interconnected, and it’s okay to take credit for the ways you’ve connected yourself to other people.
The other interesting word in the questions is “helpless”, which is another funny language thing to me. I would never describe myself as helpless. I’m not sure I’ve ever in my life had a feeling I would call helpless. I’ve felt a lot of other things, maybe even the same feelings that another person would call helpless, but that’s just not a word that resonates with me. I never fail to take care of myself, at least on a basic level. I think I’m smart, I think I’m resourceful, I think I’m adaptable, and I think that whatever happens I’ll come out just fine.
I thought about this question the other day when I was tired and needed to rest and then a chicken died, and I had the ideas I wrote about in What’s Happening Now. I’ve had a few emergency situations in my life or extreme/intense experiences, and they tend to come out of nowhere. It’s not like you get a notification that there’s going to be an emergency in 10 hours, so you need to take a nap now and get a good meal in you. And it never matters what kind of state I’m in, there’s always more of me available when I need it. The last time the sheep got out, I was already tired, and then I ran around the field 9 months pregnant, and I was both emotionally and physically sore at the end of it. But that can always wait. I always have enough to do whatever needs to be done, and the falling apart can always wait. That’s one of the valuable things I get out of situations like that, and the more dire emergencies I’ve been part of – the certain knowledge that I have reserves, I have inner resources, that even if I don’t use them very often are there when I need them.
But, ultimately, to get back to pregnancy specifically, I think I understand the questions, and I think the answer is that pregnancy hasn’t been much of an adjustment for me, overall. I get tired sooner and more frequently than I did before, but I’ve always felt comfortable napping and getting as much sleep as I need. I have a little bit harder/slower time moving around, but I’ve never been a 1st-across-the-finish-line type. I’m a little moodier, but I’ve always been pretty damn moody. A great truth I’ve been pondering over the last couple of years is that I’m always myself. It doesn’t matter what new situations come along, I’m still me, even if it’s a different me. So, pregnancy has been a relatively easy adjustment, because I’m still here, just being myself.