Crystal Blanton gave an excellent talk on the code switching that happens when any African American has to deal with the dominant white culture and it sounded very familiar. And then J one of my friends pointed out how transgendered people use ‘they and them’ but any gay person who has had to ‘pass’ in anyway among straight culture is very familiar with pronoun switching and does it after awhile unconsciously, I still find myself doing it sometimes even around people who know even after 35 years of being out.
When I was a Girl Scout professional sometimes I’d have to switch mid conversation when someone who didn’t know or I knew was homophobic would join a conversation. When I was hired my boss knew I was a lesbian. She didn’t care. She was from the Virgin Islands and said she had known enough discrimination in her life that she sure wasn’t going to do it to me. It was one of the many reasons I loved having her as a boss.
But I also knew that while Girl Scouting did not discriminate against lesbians, individuals often did. When C became my lover I became adept quickly at switching from saying, ‘my partner, she’ to ‘my partner, they’. Saying they and them when referring to your personal life is a very strong indicator that the person you are talking to is gay and they aren’t sure if you or another person in the conversation is gay or straight.
C came into my life right before St Patrick’s day 1985 and while she knew I was a pagan , she had not figured out that maybe St Patrick wasn’t a celebrated person to a pagan that has Brighid for a personal goddess. Anyway, she sweetly ordered a huge bouquet of green carnations and a teddy bear with an emerald green bowler hat and shamrocks to be delivered to me at work with a card. My co-workers guessed it was from my lover but I spent most of the day trying to dig out of the hole and hide the fact that it was from a she and pretending to the visitors like Leaders, to the office, that they were from someone special to me while hiding that person’s sex in the third person plural pronouns.
But there is another side to the language use of ‘they and them’. It’s the use of ‘they and them’ to distinguish as “Not me” or other. And that was the language I considered to be lesbiphobic in my survey responses; As in “I don’t care what THEY do in bed” or “THEIR sexuality has nothing to do with THEIR spirituality” which is wrong in so many ways it isn’t funny but it is phobic because it immediately makes it clear that the person identified as “THEY or THEM” is not part of the group, they are OTHER and that is why it is homophobic or lesbiphobic or any other kind of discrimination because the person saying it says you are OTHER, You are NOT a part of my group but because they are allegedly open minded they will LET you into the group. It’s not an okay use to a person of the alphabet community, ie LGBTQXYZ community.
Some people objected to this, this weekend even another lesbian but using ‘they and them’ is betraying the way someone thinks and gives the person being spoken to a picture of where you stand and it isn’t in Circle with them.