What's in A Word?

Christie Elan-Cane


Issue 15
Autumn 2001

"Pr.? Is that a title? How do you pronounce it? What does it stand for?" I have become weary with anticipation and I am baffled that a title can elicit such interest. I can be going about some innocuous general business only to find that, even in the most mundane of interactions, I am suddenly drawn into conversation with a total stranger as I find myself explaining that Pr. is a non-gender specific title. If I have the time to spare and I am reasonably confident that my words will not provoke a vitriolic reaction from the gendered person who has engaged me in conversation, I might also explain the reason why I cannot use the accepted gendered titles of Mr and Ms.

I accorded to myself the title of Pr. because none of the gender specific titles applied to me. As I do not belong within the gender system it does not make any sense for me to use a gendered title. I had abandoned a former gendered title at the same time that I abandoned the concept of genderhood as the requisite state of the human identity. There was no obvious non-gender specific title for me to use by way of replacement as I had not obtained a doctorate and I was not a member of the clergy. I could not really understand why, in these less than formal times, it was still an expected necessity to have ones' name prefixed with a title and I had been quite content to remain title-less, permitting others to address me by my first name and using only my initial and surname when formality was required. But I found even that was not an option as I regularly encountered problems with bureaucracy and companies' computer systems that are pre-programmed to demand a title (it is surely not rocket science to re-program the software so the user can opt to override this requirement).

Having developed a natural resistance to compromise of any kind, I was initially reluctant to join the ranks of the titled but, after having done so, I knew immediately that I had made the right decision. My title (pronounced "PER" and an abbreviation of 'person', incidentally) leant a certain authenticity to my non-gendered identity. There would be no more unsightly gaps in my salutation. My correspondence, when correctly addressed, no longer misappropriated to me an inappropriate gendered identification. My title is Pr. and that is official. Although the computer systems of some organisations have been pre-programmed to accept only certain established titles (unfortunately, I have to include the system of my local DHA here and this is something I intend to pursue), I've found that in most circumstances my title is generally accepted and treated as a valid title even though I am frequently asked to explain its origination.

Although my title could be adopted by anyone who would prefer to use an alternative to the gendered titles of Mr and Ms, it is a title that does not adhere to the dictate of genderhood and is therefore an acceptable prefix that does not misrepresent my core identity. The acceptance of my title by others has, in a small way, increased my visibility as a non-gendered person as I try to assert my right to be able to identify as appropriate rather than be forced into an inappropriate gendered role. I was unprepared for this beneficial effect but it does seem to indicate that individual members of gendered society are more able to accept the factuality of my identity now that I have raised the profile by giving myself a non-gendered title. Unless specifically asked, I will not volunteer the fact that my title was my own 'invention' for to do so would undoubtedly reduce the credibility of the title in the mind of the gendered person. Most people assume that my title is a pre-existing title that they have not yet come across. I feel they are privileged to be present at the point of inception but resist the temptation to tell them so. Every time I receive correspondence from a sender who has respectfully addressed me correctly on the envelope and in the letter, I feel a sense of achievement that there is now one less obstacle for me to overcome before I reach the point where I am, legitimately and for all purposes, socially classified as a non-gendered person.

My title is an affirmation of the fact that I expect due regard to be taken by others when they are categorising me through the use of a title. My title is also an indication that I care greatly as to how I am perceived and identified by others and that I expect my non-gendered identity to be treated with absolute respect by gendered society. For although I have an identity that does not enjoy social legitimacy and, within a gendered society, my identity does not have equal parity with the gendered identities of male and female I am, nonetheless, a human being and I have the right to demand that I am not inappropriately labelled with a gendered title. My adoption of a non-gendered title is to indicate that I expect nothing less and the result has sometimes been startling. I am amazed that a little word can have such a positive effect.

As we exist within a bi-polarised gendered society, so our language is hierarchical and founded upon maintaining the status quo or, in other words, upholding the absolute status of the gender system. There are no titles accorded to the intersexed people within our population and there are no specific pronouns that relate in a non-gendered capacity in reference to the third person singular. To ensure the survival of gendered society, all diversification outside the bi-polarised system had to be erased and there is no more powerful eradicator than language when used as a weapon. The human identity that is not encompassed within present day language is automatically denied the right of existence. As gendered society routinely denies the existence of those whose identities are outside the bi-polarised gender system, it stands to reason that the linguistic ability of gendered society is inadequate when it comes to defining the reality of the non-gendered identity. Although I may speak from the position of one who is oppressed by a gendered society that has no place for me, I refuse to be oppressed by the language of gendered society and I will be the one to decide how I am addressed and defined through verbal interpretation. However it is inaccurate (and just plain ignorant) to argue that a thing (or an identity) cannot be real or tangible just because there are as yet no words within present day language to define it.

Copyright © August 2001

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