I attended a writing workshop yesterday. On Zoom. It was hosted by the University of Manitoba which is, according to that search engine and map, 3,178 kilometers from my home and a 33 hour drive. The proposed route leads me across Quebec from Montréal to Timmins ON, a route I would never consider driving in winter let alone summer. So make that a 40 hour drive. But I digress. I attended a pretty good workshop I probably never could have attended before the pandemic.
I’ve come to love Zoom. I am on calls every week, and it’s my only contact outside my home and Pete’s Fruitique in the City Market where buddy calls me Buddy: “Hey Buddy, is that everything?” I find myself wanting to tell him my name: “I am not your buddy.” Like a woman saying, “I’m not a deer!” And then last week a young lady was in the checkout line ahead of me and buddy said to her, “Hey Buddy, is that everything?”
Over Zoom, I’ve come virtually face-to-face with people in Ontario, Mexico, Portugal, Egypt, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, Victoria BC, Toronto, Nairobi — I bet nobody else has had a Kenyan Cow bomb their Zoom meetings! — and now Winnipeg (and wherever these participants lived.) *One of them actually lives in my city. I didn’t know them and made friends with them on Facebook during the call. They could literally be my neighbour, met 3,178 km away.
Anyway, the Zoom writing workshop was on poetry and was led by a graduate student who I believe identifies as gay. His bio contained several LGBQ keywords, and… whatever. He seemed qualified to lead it, so I joined. Honestly, I don’t care about people’s sexual leanings. What you do is your business, and what I do is mine. It’s something we don’t need to talk about.
The session had about a dozen participants: the young, gay-identifying leader who had a trim beard, more than a single screen of participants I would describe as female, a couple of pictures with no picture at all but with female names, and me, the now senior-citizen-white-male. I like to know people. I am a people watcher. I am a people voyeur. I want to know everything about everyone. So I typed the full names (some used only their first name to keep stalkers like me off their tail) into Facebook search to see what came up. The first thing I noticed when I began reading the participants’ names were pronouns in parenthesis after their names, such as “Janet Smith (she/her).”
Cute, I thought, but why? I could find suitable pronouns to match their names/pictures, couldn’t I? I acknowledged that my visual cues might be incorrect, that one of these John-identified-females might actually identify as… whatever. Like sexual leanings, your personal sexual identification doesn’t concern me. Then, as my mind tends to do, I played out conversations that might take place where I might use these pronouns. “She said this, but I disagree.” I shook my head. These were conversations I would not undertake.
The leader gave his — his was his chosen personal pronoun, or I would have written their — housekeeping rules. Good leader! I rarely give any rules in my meetings. In fact, I tell participants in my prompt-writing there are no rules. Anyway, he said please pick your personal pronouns. I watched the remaining screen names expand to include “(she/her/they/etc.)”. I wasn’t sure what he was asking. Pick my own pronouns? The Paul Simon song, “You Can Call Me Al,” played through my head. I did not change my name.
This was a new experience for me. I assume the participants who had their pronouns already designated were familiar with this exercise. Extrapolations ran through my head. Is this some new practice being adopted in social media? I haven’t seen bracketed pronouns in any of my social media circles: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Zoom. Should I look closer? Is this a trend? If I ever get business cards printed, should I add my pronouns to my name and title? John Hanson, Writer. (Male binary he/him/his) My brief research since then indicates this is more of an academia and workplace practice. I am not involved in either.
The leader scanned his screen, probably saw that I had no personal pronouns designated, then went into a spiel about how to change your name in Zoom. And he/him looked right at me on the screen! I bet he/him thought I was the socially ignorant white senior male just getting his feet wet in social media — we will ignore the fact that I began using email around 1987, was a BBS junkie in the early nineties before finally getting on the internet in 1994, and have coded many complex websites and applications in my previous career. I sighed deeply and appended “(hey you!)” to my name. No, I don’t give a shit what you call me. I am the white, senior-citizen mansplainer stuck in his tropes. I have a dozen participants to refer to, to pick pronouns for, but I have trouble finding words to say about subject matter at the best of times. I have no time in a discussion to scan all the names to be politically correct. “I think the volta is this line, and I think… just a sec… her… no, she was wrong.” I have come to use “they” when referring to anyone: they/them/theirs. If they/them/their bothers you, I can’t wait to read your blog.
During the two hours and fifteen minutes, only one reference was made to another participant by a participant, and they used the person’s name. The leader referred to several of us but always used our names or the pronoun you. “What did you think of that?”
Nobody said, “Hey you!” to me.