by Jeanne Arnold
Since 1976, I’ve played around with the concept of androgyny and the use of gender-free pronouns and was captivated by the concept presented in Carolyn Heilbrun’s Toward a Recognition of Androgyny: the realization of man in woman and woman in man. I was entranced with her analysis of Virginia Woolf and her Orlando novel inspired by her beloved Vita Sackville West. These ideas inspired me to advance this concept as a new way toward equality.
Currently, many persons indicate exactly what pronouns they prefer on emails, stationery, name tags, etc. It’s amazing! And if you make a mistake, you may be considered inconsiderate.
Ms. Magazine article of decades ago described the use of neutral pronouns and I tried to write my androgynous novel and hide behind gender-free characters. I was determined to tell the world about my loving another woman and if I used neutral pronouns, I would keep everyone guessing and, at the same time, save the world from the degenerative power of gender-bias and the denigration of women.
I titled my work “being.” It was to describe what it’s like to be a human being—not a man nor a woman—but a human being. I used the neutral pronouns tey, ter and tem which creates androgynous characters in a contemporary time and place. My six major characters would interact and the reader never knows who is what gender, but it doesn’t matter. These characters are human beings searching for universal truths: finding meaning in life, experiencing loneliness and separation, having dependencies and fears while looking for love and acceptance.
My neutral pronoun is also used for unborn babies and God. It may have helped to solve the he/she and him/her language hang-up. And even more importantly, it may desex Christian’s and most religions of the maleness of God that, by tradition, subordinates the female half of the population.
My main character Andy is a liberal minister who’s married to Chris. In ter (his/her) openness to others, risks an affair with Bernie and later falls in love with Jamie. Andy realizes that each person is ultimately alone and tey (he/she) frees temself (him/her) toward self-determination.
Lots of luck pulling all that together. I didn’t finish it. Family and job responsibilities called and I answered. And writing is hard work.
Excerpts from “being” by Jeanne Arnold
Andy’s capacity for love seems infinite; ter hunger for it too. Being an only child, it’s important to be aware of what it takes to please others and replace ter loss of your loved ones. Perhaps that’s why tey chose a helping profession. And the liberal ministry was surely that. Compared to the bureaucracy of the social work, the disciplinary requirements of teaching, the rigid discipline of medicine, ter rebellion from the restraints of fundamental Protestantism, and ter need to communicate with others at a spiritual level made the liberal ministry a natural choice.
All Andy had to do was report to the board and committees, prepare an intellectually satisfying and emotionally inspiring Sunday service and meet all the needs of each person in the congregation who thinks each is as worthy as tey. It’s a challenging, delightful and inspiring tightrope-walking profession dealing with life and death, turmoil and love. Yet in spite of the intellectual standards set by divinity school, the denomination and the congregation, Andy’s faith was basic, simple and positive.
I. I believe in the goodness of people. If you’re going to love your neighbor as yourself, you better love yourself.
Tey knew that persons were not born good or bad — original sin be damned. When persons are free from fear of doing wrong and are encouraged to love and trust themselves, they can open up to let the sun shine in, and they, in turn, are able to let their sun shine out.
II. I believe that this life is good. If you live the best life you can now, you need not fear the future. It will take care of itself while you appreciate each day.
Why settle for promises, promises, promises when Paradise can be here now. Why put up with, cope with, endure for the better life after death. The joy tey felt watching the last scene of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town never left tem. When Wilder’s Emily came back from the grave, she said to the stage manager, “I didn’t realize. All that was going on and we never noticed . . . Oh earth, you are too wonderful for anybody to realize you.”
Then she asks the stage manager through her tears. “Do human beings ever realize life while they live it? — Every, every minute?
He answered, “No.” And paused, “The saints and poets, maybe they do some.”
Andy contemplated, “Which would I be? A poet, certainly not a saint.” So tey threw out all the “nays” in ter life and Andy celebrated children and other people, trees, spring, kissing and hugging, fresh air, folk dancing, skinny dipping, dogs, peanuts, peace, quiet times, fun, wind, rain and making angels in the snow.
III. I believe in the mystery and glory of this earth and this universe. How many stars are there? Yes, they found that humankind can live in space. But how big is the universe? And how does a seed in the earth know how to grow into the plant it will be?
Andy threw away the need to know the answers to all things and trusted in deeper thoughts: feeling confident with all the uncertainties, celebrating each day, and learning to live happily with vast unknowns. From Edna St. Vincent Millay, tey caught the intensity of this security in not knowing all, yet feeling all: “God, I can push the grass apart and lay my finger on Thy heart!”
IV. The constant search for truth is more important than finding it.
“What is God like, Andy?” asked a child.
“I don’t know what Tey is like, but I do know that exchanging ideas and feelings about big questions like yours let us learn more new things and care for others more deeply. I guess I believe in thinking and wondering.”
“But what happens when we don’t have an answer?”
“We will be content in this atmosphere with others that help us grow naturally toward our own faith in what we can understand and an open mind to wonder about what we cannot comprehend.”
V. We need not follow only one voice or one teacher.
We learn from many and add our voice to the lessons and we can choose what has most meaning for each of us.
Though ideas were formed from the past, we need to adapt them to understand the present. Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Confucius, Copernicus, Darwin — even before them. How far back? How did cave dwellers celebrate new life each spring? Once the past was now. There are universal concepts that unify all cultures and all ages.
“What is God like? And if we think we know, how can we be sure? And what may be sure for me may not be sure for you. Is there anything great enough for the answer? We can discover within ourselves a wellspring of wisdom, strength and beauty within our own minds and hearts that frees us to trust ourselves without another’s set of rules. We need no set beliefs because we will not be restrained in our belief.
VI. I believe we can try to make the most of our lives so that people and the earth will be glad that we have lived.
And making people happy gave Andy great joy.
A kiss that has to do with pure love, not only sex,
but love that has to do with being a human being,
a lover, a sweetheart, a friend, a sister/brother
a wife/husband, a mother/daughter, a being being a being.
Next week—3 a.m. in a small hospital
UNsung Women: the UN-known Herstory History
Loreen Greene Mohr is our SUNG woman for March. Three more UNsung women nominees will be selected from April through June, 2022.
Submit your written nomination about past or present women from Racine/Kenosha whose contributions to the wellbeing of our families, churches, schools, communities and beyond who have not or have been UNder acknowledged.
The nominator is asked to provide:
• answers to Who, What, When, Where, How and Why details of your nominee’s herstory in a document or resume format.
• photographs, drawings, illustrations to enhance herstory;
• a reference person or documentation serving as evidence of proof.
Submit your nomination details to <email@example.com> with your name and where you may be reached.
Please do not nominate women who have already been “sung.”