Active Ally

Several months ago I joined my local PFLAG chapter. It was important to me to join because of the people in my life that I love. My friends and family fall all over the orientation and gender identity spectrum. We engage in various conversations about their experiences, and I have provided what support I can listening, learning, and acting as an advocate for them with other groups I am a part of (such as talking with co-workers, or my writers’ groups).

When my friends became members of PFLAG I had an opportunity to learn more about the organization and what it stood for. The nation’s largest family and ally organization*, PFLAG seemed like a good place for me, with its opportunity to learn more from others, and to help with outreach and support the organization provides.

This weekend I joined other PFLAG members in representing the organization in Gainesville’s annual Pride Parade that headed down a stretch University Avenue, near Main Street. The first part of the route there were a few people on the side of the street waving, and cheering each group by name, but as we got closer to Main Street and the Pride Festival that was happening downtown, the crowd grew. Rainbow-clad and happy, a mix of adults, youth, children and dogs, the crowd’s energy feed those who were walking the parade, and we reciprocated by waving rainbow flags and offering up “PFLAG loves you.”

It was a bit of surreal experience, given the prominent street we were just strolling down mid-day. The east-bound traffic had been stopped for the parade, but the two west-bound lanes still operational. We did get a few honks, which was nice. That and the energy from the ever increasing crowd made me forget how hot the day was, and filled me with the apt emotion – pride for being part of such a loving and supporting community, and gratitude that my local friends and family are able to experience a grand outpouring of that love on a fine fall weekend.

Kate, Allyson, Anne and I prepare for the Pride Parade

Kate, Allyson, Anne and I prepare for the Pride Parade; Photograph by Allyson Haskell

*as noted on the PFLAG National website

What is in a pronoun?

I would wager that I have had more discussions about the use of pronouns in the English language in the past year than most people have in their lives (outside English teachers, of course).

Most of the conversations are either with my sibling, or about my sibling, as they are trying to find the pronoun that is most comfortable for them.

The thing that is most interesting to me is the timeliness of other conversations I’m seeing on the web about pronouns, and rather than jumping into my personal opinions or experiences at this point, I would like to take the opportunity to point to some of these other articles and resources, and just remind my readers in general that there are people for whom the binary options of “he” and “she” pronouns are not the right fit. The best thing we can do is to respect them.

Pronouns and Familial Identifiers and Gender

My sibling, And, and I discuss gender and gender identity a lot since de has come out as genderqueer – that is, not identifying wholly as either male, or female. We discuss gender binary as a social construct, and how language enforces this.

Most recently (today in fact), And posted in dear blog about what gender pronouns de wanted us to use for de. As you can see from the post, de wants to road test different pronouns, and has enlisted family and friends reading the post to try out different pronouns when referring to de. I felt it would be easiest for me to use “they” and “their” pronouns, but when I got to the bottom, I saw dear preference was for a set of gender-neutral pronouns de had come up with for a story de is working on.

[cryout-pullquote align=”center” textalign=”left” width=”60%”]De/De/Dear/Dearself – I created these for a character in my current story, but I like them a lot. I would love being De and Dear. Used in a paragraph: De went to get dear backpack. De made it dearself. It belongs to de. It is dears.[/cryout-pullquote]

I had lunch with my sibling after reading the post, and I was psyched to try to use dear preferred pronouns – and I came to realize how little one uses pronouns to talk to/ about a person when they are sitting right there with you. I don’t think I needed a pronoun for And at all during lunch. So I am making the effort here to use dear preferred pronoun set. It feels like a way that I can express my affection and support for my sibling, no matter what, even if it means changing my speech patterns in way I find challenging.

The other thing that has occurred to me after gender language conversations with And is the lack of gender neutral identifiers for some familial relationships, where for others, suitable words exist. I can refer to And as my sibling, no problem, but how should our niece refer to de?

So, for my own edification, I have made the lists below of gendered and non-gendered familial identifiers.

  • Mother, Father
  • Sister, Brother
  • Daughter, Son
  • Grandmother, Grandfather
  • Granddaughter, Grandson
  • ….N/A
  • Aunt, Uncle
  • Niece, Nephew
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Child
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Cousin
  • ….?
  • ….?

You get into awkward things like “My sibling’s child”, or “My parent’s sibling” when you start getting into family that is only just a little distant. I also find it interesting that cousin is the only commonly used familial term that fits into gender-neural language without even trying.

But I feel as more people come forward and stand up for what pronouns they feel comfortable with, we will gradually see the change reflected in our language.

*Post edited (twice) 8/21/14 due to my own misuse of my sibling’s gender neutral pronouns of choice. Definitely a learning process 🙂

Thoughts on Diversity and D&D

Last month I attended/ worked at the Writing The Other Workshop/Retreat (more on this later -[yes,  I’ve said this before, and I promise it will eventually get it’s own review post]). One of the participants from the retreat pointed out to the group that the new basic rules for Dungeons and Dragons (released by Wizards of the Coast) has a paragraph that deals with gender identity and sexual orientation (two of the areas we discussed when talking about “other” at the workshop):

“You don’t need to to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for a male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.”

pg 33

I was very pleased to see this, but in the days since it was posted, I’ve had some time to think about it – although the earlier versions of the D&D rules did not address gender identity or sexual orientation in this manner, that certainly didn’t stop my group from creating characters that may be identified at various places along the spectrum(s). A few examples from characters I created.

Biologically Neuter character Weylyn, identifies mostly as male, but can pull off a dress rather well. (Picture (c) Anne Melson, used with permission of creator)

Biologically Neuter character Weylyn, identifies mostly as male, but can pull off a dress rather well. (Picture (c) Anne Melson, used with permission of creator)

  • Weylyn – a marrash fighter – born heterosexual cismale, he was turned into a marrash early in the game. A marrash “resembles a winged gnoll, except that it has birdlike talons on it’s hands and feet, and double-jointed birdlike legs.” (pg. 145, Monster Manual II, 3rd ed) Marrash reproduce by spreading the disease that created them via poisoned arrows. My character was poisoned, and my DM decided to make it a character option. I ran with it. Since they procreate via virus, I figured Marrash were gender neutral, though Weylyn did fall in love with a crazy elf, and used polymorph potions to turn male to be with her.
  • Laszlo – a bi-sexual cismale tiefling – he was mostly just a sexual being, not looking for a commitment, but looking for a good time with those he was attracted to. When he died and was reincarnated, he and I were both disappointed he didn’t come back as female.
  • Thad – elf, born female (annoyingly, I can’t find the birth name her parents gave her, just the one she went by). She disguised herself as male and ran away from home due to the racial intolerance there. She ended up at a male-run monastery, and presented as male to fit in, and kept the identity beyond her training, because that is how she was comfortable – as a male monk. It wasn’t until I sat down to write this post that I wonder if she identified as male and/or as trans*. Either of those could make sense in her back story, rather than just cross-dressing for the sake of being allowed to stay.
  • Aulette Falcon/Peregrine Barnes – This character was actually two bodies with one soul – one body each in the gaming world (Aulette – female bard, and no current romantic/sexual interest – but presents heterosexual in her flirting) and one in the “real world” – the world we occupy  (Peregrine – male temp worker, engaged to a woman). The idea is the soul splits between them – is in one body while the other sleeps- so 8 hours of sleep translates into 16 hours of waking time in the other body. This character is both male and female, and the orientation is up for debate, since society usually uses ones gender (in some regard) to define/ give name to sexual orientation.


  • Circe/Kirk (one of my sibling’s characters). Circe is the original personality; she went through a traumatic experience and developed a big brother personality of Kirk to protect her from things in the future. She is aware of Kirk, but Kirk is not aware of her – he believes he has been cursed, and his biological gender switched. In game terms, each new day a die was rolled to determine which personality was in control. When Kirk was present, the character was male, despite the apparently female body.

So, while I think it is cool that the newest D&D rule books are addressing more diversity than the different races available to play, I feel even more fortunate to the various DMs that allowed and encouraged us to play our characters in whatever manner we felt was the truest representation of the character – even if it meant figuring out house rules for the game mechanics.

Tea, World Cup and writing discussions

I am coming off of a pretty good weekend – how about you?

A while back I backed a Kickstarter that brought to life a delightful game Marrying Mr. Darcy. The game, as you can imagine, is based on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice – and even came with an undead expansion pack, for those who are more familiar the more recent iteration of the story that includes zombies.

This weekend I had about a half-dozen ladies over for tea and the game. It was good fun, and though Mary Bennet ended up wed to Mr. Darcy, Georgiana Darcy was the big winner (though I can’t recall which bachelor won her hand).

We jumped into the proposal stage a little early, honestly, because 4 pm was rolling around, and the penultimate world cup 2014 game was going to start. So the tea party morphed into a world-cup party where shortbread, tea sandwiches and fruit were the finger food.

So, Saturday was a win.

Sunday was also a pretty good day. Yes, I watched the Germany/Argentina World Cup final (though this time with just my husband), but my day started well before that.

I met with a writing friend of mine, and we discussed my current WIP – he helped me figure out why I’ve been stuck as this one point, and I am finally able to move on, I think.  (I ended up writing about 1,500 words later).

We also had a good discussion about sexual orientation vs. gender identity – how to write someone different from you on one spectrum or the other, and when you should and should not include those characters in your work. My end of the discussion was partially informed by my recent attendance at the Writing The Other retreated (more on this later). I think this is a worthy topic, though, and one that I will be exploring more as I move forward in my writing career.

Overall, it was a weekend that was a good mix of fun, intelligent conversation, and productivity.