by: Johnny Gall
Dear Romance Languages,
This is an intervention. Look, you all know I love you very much, right? French, you sound incredibly sexy. Italian, you come from a country where everyone is unbelievably attractive. Portuguese, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have that great story about the time my friend messed up and said something dirty to his Brazilian boyfriend’s mother. And Spanish, we’ve been through a lot. And even though your subjunctive still rankles me, as does the imperfect tense, you’ll always be my first love. Second, if you count that guy from South America, but you two really kind of showed up at around the same time.
There are a lot of things I love about all of you, but there’s also something we need to talk about. Why are you all so obsessed with arbitrarily gendering everything? Spanish, I’m mostly going to address you, because I know you best; but French, Italian and Portuguese, I know you all have the same problems.
So, my first issue is that it’s damn near impossible to speak in gender neutral terms in you. Not only are all your pronouns gendered, all your nouns are gendered, too. That’s difficult for me because I try to avoid gender if at all possible. There are too many ways for me to potentially hurt people I love and respect when every word, other than verbs, has to be male or female. I know you’ve made strides. Some Spanish-speaking queers have begun to use @ as a way of avoiding the masculine of feminine endings (e.g. no soy gringo y no soy gringa. Soy gring@).
And, from what I’ve heard, Italians use * for the same purpose. But I can’t pronounce that verbally. I know you’re trying, but you’re just not growing fast enough for me. Beyond that, like most things with binary gender, you’re confusing. You tell me –o is masculine and –a is feminine. But then what about el problema or el agua or la foto. Gender is confusing enough when it exists, but even worse when it’s not consistent. And it’s so much easier to just not bother with it at all, or else not in such a rigid fashion. Why can’t we allow fotos and problemas to express themselves however they feel?
And another thing about that: why is everything so arbitrary? Spanish, you make dresses masculine. Spanish, French and Italian, you all make beards feminine. Call me old-fashioned, but usually if I see someone in a dress, I think feminine and if I see someone with a beard, I think masculine. Granted, these aren’t hard and fast rules, and I understand that. But you go the opposite way. Your rules are rigid, completely arbitrary AND counter-intuitive. You force beards to be feminine, even though I’m sure many don’t want to be. (Mine certainly doesn’t.)
Part of me wants to celebrate this gendering. What better way to demonstrate the flawed binary gender system in which we operate than by demonstrating its shortcomings and confusions? Maybe your entire structure is really just a clever way of pointing out how stupid our way of thinking about gender really is. Maybe forcing every noun or adjective to be masculine or feminine is your way of pointing out that we, as people, have a nasty habit of making every person either masculine or feminine. Maybe assigning these words completely arbitrary, counter-intuitive genders is your way of questioning why we decide certain things are male and others are female.
But if that’s so, why do you have to be so hardcore about it? I respect genderfucking, but I also don’t know a single person who decides to defy the rules of gender by imposing completely different, yet equally rigid, rules of gender. I thought the point was to do away with all that nonsense, not to found a completely new system of nonsense. That’s just absurd.
I mean, let’s face it; I’m never going to stop loving you all. English has its problems too. Why are we supposed to use “he” when the gender is unspecified? Why can’t we just get over ourselves and start saying “they”? And, this isn’t even to do with the gender issue, but why doesn’t English have a plural second person? I’ll use y’all if I have to, but I won’t enjoy it.
But that’s beside the point. The point is, I want you all to find some way to be more inclusive of those who take issue with gender. I don’t hate you for these things. I want you to get over them because I love you. And I want you to start showing more affection and respect for the people I love who don’t like rigid, arbitrary gendering. It’s bothersome, and it’s just been done to death. I’m not going to leave you, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings. But I wish you would change.
Love, amore, l’amour, y amor,
Johnny Gall is so, so very close to completing his B.A. from NYU in English and Creative Writing. He has hopes of moving on to seminary, and then to ordained ministry and works with several groups which advocate queer equality in the Methodist church. He is a feminist, anarchist, person of faith, part-time librarian and an all-around good guy.