Sunday, 7 February 2010

It Pays To Increase Your Word Power

...according to that well-known CIA-front the Reader's Digest, anyway. Myself, I'm not so sure. It seems to me that most of the people I've seen in high-paying positions had laughably deficient vocabularies, especially when you struck out all the phatic cant about 'pushing the envelope' and 'thinking outside the box'. Language is a vicious mistress: to get the best out of her, you have to love her for her own sake, not just as a means to financial advancement.

On the other hand there are ways in which language pays immense dividends. Language can limit your world, but it can also open  it up quite dramatically. When I first came across 'genderqueer' as a term, I felt liberated. Here was a word I could use to describe my own sense of identity, and not have to couch it in other peoples' terms of reference. It's a word I've come to love. So much so, in fact, that I've stuck a permanent link to a definition down the right-hand side of this blog so I don't have to link to a definition of the word every time I mention it in a post.

I've learned a lot of new words this past year. Cis is definitely another favourite, because, again, it does what words ought to by describing something we didn't have a word for, or for which we had words but those words didn't work. Now that we can describe men and women as cis as well as trans gender, there really is no excuse beyond intellectual laziness for referring to trans people and 'normal' or 'real' people. There's no excuse for the casual dehumanisation that phrasing endorses. And yeah, for some people, that's a headfuck. But some headfucks are good. They help you learn. They help your mind to grow. They expand your conception of what's 'normal'.

Dash it all. I sound like a 60s drug guru there. But it's true. Language, when used right, is the greatest mind-expanding drug there is. But, let's face it. People don't just use drugs to expand their minds. They use them because they're fun. Because they bring pleasure.

A word that brought me pleasure recently is Mx. Mx is a genderqueer variant of Mr, Mrs or Ms. It's an honorific, a nominal title, but it isn't one which places you on any specific part of the gender binary. I found out about it when Kate Bornstein retweeted a comment by Justin Bond, who uses Mx as hir honorific, and I thought, hmm, what's that about, went looking, and found my new preferred form of address. This is how we often find our words, because we live in, at best, the margins of the dictionary. And, for us, the Reader's Digest truism is true - because when we find new words we find new ways to describe the truth of our identity.

Recently, people have began referring to me as 'Mx Fish'. I even had an email the other day from an official body which used the form. Sure, they were probably cutting and pasting what I'd written, but there is an outside chance someone there thought 'Mx? Eh?', looked it up, and learned. Either way, seeing that form being used was a hit. Language can be a drug when you use it; it can also be a drug when people use it to describe you.

Thing is, though, like all people who've taken their first hits of a drug, I'm getting greedy. I want more. Specifically, I want more words. Us genderqueer folk have 'Mx' as an honorific, and we have 'hir' and 'ze' in place of 'him/his/her' and 'he/she', but what else do we have? What's our version of 'Sir' or 'Madam'? 'Mirr'? 'Za'am'? What about 'boy' or 'girl'? What if I want to say, as I will shortly, 'this ___'_ goin' to bed' but 'boy' doesn't sound quite right and 'girl' seems to be going too far (though actually, rather like Eve Ensler, I quite like the idea that boys can be girls too)? 'Goy' is out for obvious reasons, so - what? 'Birl'? 'Borl'? 'Brrrl?' Still don't quite seem right, do they? 

Which is where I throw the floor open to you, dear readers. What words do we need to subject to a radical genderqueering so we can claim them as our own?

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