After yet another very long hiatus, I am back again with another conversation on gender and language, this one taking place in March 2019.
Kyng, previously known as Lucas Charlie Rose and previously praised on this very website, is a jack-of-all-trades who takes no days off, between songwriting, rapping, mixing, producing, activism, and creating visual art. Kyng is the founder and head of the Montreal chapter of the all-trans music label Trans Trenderz. It was certainly an honor and a privilege to talk to Kyng in their home studio (with their four-legged companion by their side) and I’m excited to share their words with all of you.
*Interview has been edited for clarity*
Kyng: My pronouns are he for cis people and they for cool people. (*Both laugh*) And we’re here with Whiskey, who doesn’t have pronouns ‘cause she’s a dog.
Max: What this project is that I’m working on is kind of looking at (non-binary) people in Montreal, specifically those who speak English and French, what their experiences are in Montreal, how they navigate the French language which has historically been very gendered and things like that. If you have any thoughts about that or you want to talk about languages you know…
Kyng: That’s one of the reasons why I feel comfortable with the pronoun he is because in French there’s no (singular) they. And I don’t care what people say about creating new pronouns. That’s gonna take generations to be adapted into the language because people are really anti-it you know? Personally, I find that the gender-neutral pronouns that they are trying to come up with in French, it doesn’t roll off the tongue naturally.
Kyng: So, for me, it’s really hard…so they—it’s in the English language, so you say it as a gender-neutral pronoun all the time when you don’t know who you’re talking about. So basically, I don’t like French and that’s why, for example, I make music and I just released an album in French after making music in English for the longest time, but I didn’t speak English til I was 17-years-old.
Max: Oh, wow.
Kyng: But I don’t feel comfortable speaking French because it’s too gendered. Like I don’t like when (francophone) people correct people who don’t know how to gender a table, but my pronouns are not as important, you know?
Max: Oh wow. Yeah, it’s ridiculous.
Kyng: Yeah, so that’s why, for me, I feel like I don’t like how gendered French is, so for me it’s just easier. ‘Cause I remember, I was 15-years-old when I started going online and having an online presence. I had this blog, it was on SkyBlog, it was back in the day. I would write about myself and didn’t want people to know what gender I was and it would be so hard to write about myself without putting any gendered language in it. But, in English, I could do it for an hour and nobody would know. So, for me it was really a work of language. I really had to think my sentences through to make sure there was not an extra e added anywhere and shit like that, you know? So it was really hard. So when I started speaking English it was like: Oh my God! Freedom!
Max: Yeah. Wow, that’s awesome. You said that you did you record an album in French recently. So, I guess (I want to ask) what brought that about?
Kyng: I feel like, even for example, recently I was listening to my old songs that I wrote in French and the flow is really choppy. It’s really hard. It comes off as cheesy really often. The lyrics just off as cheesy, ‘cause French is really complicated as a language and so if you write (French songs) the same way that you write English songs, it’s just not–like you can’t say “I love you! I miss you!” in a French song or else it’ll be like: Really homie? That’s all you can do? They (francophone rappers) would need to go another level to be considered lyricists. Like, it’s really hard. And so, for me, I just found that English is also melodic, so when you’re talking it already sounds like there’s a flow, and in French it’s a lot harder. I feel like, because I was able to learn how to write songs in English, to get that fluent, I was able to transfer the flow part to the French, but not the lyrics if that makes sense. I did it ‘cause people were asking me to do it and then I tried and ended up I couldn’t do it. I don’t talk about my gender in French. I don’t talk about racism as much in French. It’s hard. French is really…I don’t know…I don’t like it.
Max: (laughs) Yeah, but I know that those are things that you talk about a lot in your English raps.
Kyng: Yeah, like, I talk about my gender, sometimes. Yeah, I don’t know ‘cause—the album in French has the same things as my English songs, but deeper.
Max: It’s deeper in French or in English?
Kyng: In French. Like there’s a song I made for example,…in English it’s more direct for me but in French it’s more like you’re painting a picture you know. And there’s a song that I’m putting in my next album and it’s called “Tiny Body, Big Heart” and the last verse is in French. The first two verses are like “this is my life. This is me. Hi, what’s good?” and the last verse is a whole metaphor. And it (the last verse) goes deep ‘cause. I feel that maybe ‘cause French is my first language but I don’t know. But I feel like it’s a lot more poetic ‘cause, you can say a lot more in different ways. I feel like in English it’s more direct, I don’t know. But it sounds more fluid.
Max: I recall that you said (when we first met that) you lived in the U.S. for a while, as well.
Kyng: Yeah, I lived there for three years in *lowers voice* Bethesda.
Max: Yeah, that is, like rich-kid suburbs right there.
Kyng: Yeah I was at the French International School. It was horrible.
Max: Oh my God.
Kyng: ‘Cause not only is it like a bunch of rich kids, but on top of being rich kids they’re (the children of) diplomats.
Kyng: So that comes with a certain level of entitlement. I was friends with, you know, the black queer kids. But my brother was friends with, like (rich kids). Those people are weird. It’s weird, They’re weird. I don’t like them. Rich people are weird.
Max: Yeah, they are. I’ve never understood, like, how, like…what? It’s a foreign country. It’s a whole different planet.
Something else that I’ve been asking people, and you’ve kind of touched on this, are there ways that French can be made more inclusive? Is it so past hope that sticking with English (is better)?
Kyng: I mean there are ways…I’m sure there’s ways because language evolves. I don’t have the energy, I’m personally doing so much other stuff that I don’t have the energy. But I personally feel that the gender-neutral pronouns that they have right now ,again, it just doesn’t come out right. ‘Cause it’s not “yel” it’s “iel.”Like, if I’m trying to think of a word that those syllables (sounds) exist (in that order)….yeah, like, I don’t even know. Every time I hear people say “iel” it feels weird. It doesn’t come out right. For me, it’s the phonetics or something. Maybe that’s a thing; having something that rolls off the tongue more naturally and feels more natural to the language and can be incorporated in the sentences in a more natural way would help people. And I don’t know how we can do that, ‘cause I know that in English we have they and that’s already natural, so, yeah, I don’t know. It’s tough, ‘cause, I don’t know. French is just fucked up. Just speak Creole.
Max: (*laughs*) Did you grow up speaking that (Creole) as well?
Kyng: No, but some people in my family spoke it so I understood a little bit.
Max: From what part of the world? What type of Creole?
Kyng: Martinique. So French Caribbean. Yeah, there are several types of French Creole, but, yeah, different from the Haiti one.
Even in Spanish you know how they put the x (i.e. Latinx) like, how would they do that in French? It’s hard, and that’s why I have a real love-hate relationship with that language (French). It’s really pretty if you use it right, but oh my God is it a fucked-up language! For example, I don’t think you can incorporate gender-neutral pronouns and have people also use them naturally if this (points to table in room) is fucking gendered. Like, for me, when I started learning English the fact that things didn’t have a gender was such an alien concept to me that I was like: “How the fuck am I going to wrap my head around that?” You know, for example I would be like: “Oh she (when referring to) the table.”
Max: (*Laughs*) And, of course for someone like me who learned French (later) that (assigning objects a gender) was a foreign concept to me. For me, I think that will always be a really weird concept—gendering inanimate objects. But I can definitely see what you’re talking about.
Kyng: Yeah, cause now it feels weird. I’m like: “Why?” ‘Cause I was fifteen-years-old when I moved to the states, so learning English, still my English was like high school English so it was shit. But I came to the states and was like “How the fuck am I supposed to…? So, like dogs have a gender but (the word) table does not?” It really took me a really long time to get used to the idea that things (don’t have grammatical) gender, you know?
You know there’s several steps to be like…you can’t just introduce a new gender-neutral pronoun (in French). If you want to do that you have to stop gendering the table too. ‘Cause you can’t come in and be like “la table!”and try to introduce a gender-neutral pronoun and have people understand that concept. Because (then grammatical) gender is not gender anymore—it’s just a way of speaking. So, I don’t know.
I’m thinking of the, like, old white French people who don’t wanna learn new things. And I’m thinking reasonably these people are never going to understand what it is to have a gender-neutral pronoun. Progressive people will but I’m not interested in preaching to the choir. Like if I say: “Trans people deserve rights!” and the only people listening to me are the people who already believe it, you know? For me, I’m trying to break that and put all of these ideas in front of people who never thought about them before, ‘cause that’s when you can actually, you know (make a difference). And I’m thinking, like which ways, like, by experience, giving more workshops to people who don’t understand gender, who don’t understand all these things, you have to do it in progressive ways. You have to really put it in a simplistic way, paint pictures really easily. The thing is if that picture of gendered objects…not just gendered objects, gendered everything… like everything. (Even) the weather is fucking gendered, like, (the French word for) rain is feminine. So if you first try to break that picture and try to bring a gender-neutral thing to objects, then do humans. That’s what I would do.
Max: I think you’re the first person (I’ve spoken to) that suggested that. So that’s really interesting. I’ll keep that in mind.
Kyng: One of the things that I stopped doing was…that I refuse to do… that if you’re an English speaker and you misgender the table (when speaking French) I’m not going to tell you how to say it. And for me that’s the first step towards (more gender-neutral French). Because…why?…why? You know what I mean? Like, I don’t get it.
For example, (one time) my mom, and my grandparents came to Canada, my grandparents didn’t know (I was trans) only my mom knew and I was dating a girl at the time who spoke English, like she barely spoke any French and they kept correcting her (when she misgendered objects but) my mom wouldn’t use the right pronouns for me. So whenever they would correct her for, for example: “This is not the gender for (the French word for) the fork. (I was) like: “Are you fucking serious?”
It took years for my mom to be able to gender me properly, but they expect people to know the gender of all these different objects. And there’s a famous joke that in French, that’s like: “Oh, Dad look! There’s une helicoptere.” Then the Dad’s like: “No, it’s un helicoptere.”And the child’s like: “How can you see from down here?”
Max: Oh my gosh. Wow!
Kyng: That’s good because it’s like, children. Children know the truth. Like, why the fuck–Why is that masculine? It’s also funny because for (the French words) body parts like a boob, a vagina, clitoris—that’s all masculine, but a lot of kitchen-related items are feminine.
Max: Does it maybe have to do with this stereotypical, patriarchal, like, ownership?
Kyng: Yeah. Even, for example, the way that if there’s one guy surrounded by (all girls)…
Max: Yeah. It becomes ils plural. It’s so stupid.
Kyng: Unless you start saying il for everybody and have the ils with an s become the gender-neutral base, for example, or (start using) elles as gender-neutral. ‘Cause in English, when there’re two people, it’s gender-neutral. We don’t say “shes. Oh! The sheses are here!” So why not try to use only one of those (pronouns) and banish the other one and be like: “Fuck gender altogether! We’re just gonna use one!” I don’t know.
Something that’s simpler, something that would probably take a lot less time actually is to come up with a time-travel (machine), travel back in time and kill all the French colonizers. Stop them from colonizing. ‘Cause it’s like America—it’s founded on fucked-up principles, so burn the whole thing down.
CW:suicide…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..I present a conversation from January 2019 with a young English-and-French-speaking non-binary life-long Montrealer who became a dear friend of mine during my time here. It is with a heavy heart that I announce that this friend is no longer with us, as they took their own life in March, 2021, at the age of 24, not long after someone close to them took her own life. They are immortalized forever in the words below, but have chosen, for now, to keep the pseudonym that I used in the original post. R.I.P, my awesome, vibrant, gorgeous friend. ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..
As Alex* explains, they “go by they them in English and in French I tend to use the masculine so…il lui.” They have a lot to say about language, gender, social media, toxic masculinity, queer spaces in the city, drag (!!), and the strange habits of straight people.
The following interview has been edited for clarity.
Max: So, the first question is: how do you or others that you know, especially non-binary people here in the city and throughout Quebec navigate the French language?
Alex: It’s especially hard as a non-binary person because there (are) not very (many) gender neutral options in French as opposed to English and probably other languages that I’m not aware of and things tend to be very, very binary, it’s always either one or the other, there’s no neutral. So, I clumsily navigate around it try to avoid as much as possible but since you need to conjugate the word, (in every sentence) you will get stuck, you will have to decide on a gender at one point or another, unlike English.
Max: Yeah, that is something that I’ve definitely had to deal with myself and it’s, like, ‘why?’ Is it really that hard for the powers that be to just get on board, with inclusive language that’s neutral that makes things easier instead of more complicated?
Alex: Yes, true, but I think it’s not just about the social aspect of it and inclusiveness it’s like very rooted in language, but, like I said, the adjectives…if you don’t want to conjugate them, let’s say if you don’t want to conjugate them, let’s say feminine, the omission of the feminine defaults it (the adjective) to be masculine, it’s not neutral. So, it’s really hard and I’ve met francophone non-binary people recently when asking them about their pronoun they said that in English they go by they them and in French they use il and elle en alternance.
Max: Oh wow.
Alex: Yeah. I’m not sure how that works and I didn’t get much explanation but 3 to 4 people I know have told me to use “il et elle en alternance”, so alternating between the masculine, feminine, I’m not sure how they do (it).
Alex: That’s how (non-binary, francophone) people deal with it (French being very gendered).
Max: So, how can queer spaces whether that’s in terms of, like, language or just in general, um, how can queer spaces be more inclusive?
Alex: That’s a very good question. I guess self-awareness, checking with yourself, whether it’s as an individual or as an organization is key. Always reach to educate yourself always reach to consult the minority or minorities…The concept of inclusiveness way too often is just tolerating, but you need to be, well, in my opinion, I think, I believe, you need to be proactive about including people and actually offering representation and showcasing and, like, consulting the minorities within your environment to make sure that they all feel comfortable.
Max: Yeah, definitely. The next question I had was how accessible the language is, (English versus French). I remember when we first met you had mentioned that when you’re talking about queer issues, even though, even though your first language or Mother Tongue is French, that when it comes to talking about queer issues it’s easier to talk about them in English and I was wondering if you could expand on that.
Alex: True, true, um, it does link up with what you just said earlier in this conversation about French not trying very hard to be inclusive, so, yes, there is the issues rooted in the language, like grammar and syntax and semantics, and other linguistic structures, but there is also all these neologisms that are, like, you know, words that just describe realities that wouldn’t be acknowledged a couple decades ago and now they are. I usually learn them (queer terms) in English first because of (*in exaggerated voice*) the Internet. And then the queer scene in Montreal, the one I tend to gravitate towards is mostly Anglophone. So, that’s where I learn most of this vocabulary, so that’s why it’s hard for me to target them in French. But I do, I have seen recently more and more translation like new words in French for, let’s say to misgender like in English, (I learned recently in French) I would just say misgendered”in a French sentence, but now I try actively to say the correct word which would be mégenré
Max: Well, that’s good to know that there are those steps being taken that aren’t, you know, uprooting the entire language and turning it upside-down, cause obviously that would be very, very difficult for, like, anyone and everyone, but it is nice to know that there are little phrases and little words, like, little changes here and there happening.
Alex: Yes, and I think, also to be fair it’s also English nowadays is a much more global language. And also, like, when talking about these queer issues it makes it accessible to queers all over the world no matter what their Mother Tongue is. So it is unifying and stuff. But then, the local communities need to find their own translation for these words.
Max: What would your advice be to a queer person in Montreal who’s trying to find their way around, looking for those, good, inclusive spaces, and all that?
Alex: Get on social media. And, I think we’ve discussed this the first time we met, you and I. Montreal is very geo-centric in my experience, and by that I mean most of the events and communities are really centered around specific neighborhoods. So, sadly, if you do not attend art school or are not located in these trendy neighborhoods or, yeah, or don’t have the connections it’s really hard to find the scene cause, yes, of course there’s The Gay Village but it’s not what I would call inclusive.
Alex: Yeah, we can talk about that later, but that say, as someone born and raised in Montreal but a much more remote neighborhood, um, it took me until I was twenty-two, actually this (past) summer until I discovered an actual queer scene that I felt good in. I felt like just a small town American kid moving to the big college city just by moving to the Mile End.
Max: Oh wow.
Alex: But, if you can’t afford these “trendy neighborhoods” and don’t happen to go study arts and stuff or whatever queers study on Facebook there is a lot of community organizations (such as) Montreal Queer Fam** and Chez Queer Montreal which is also a great, it’s trying to be a safe space for, like, safe housing for queer people. I would say as advice Facebook will be your best friend because that is how you make awesome connections. That’s actually how I met you, so.
Max: And that is something that, um, I was definitely thinking about and, um something that I actually just wrote about yesterday, is like even in like the very early stone-age of the Internet, it’s always been like…
Alex: *In dramatic fake-menacing voice* There are gays!
Max: *In dramatic excited voice* There are the gays! They are here! I can find them…at least on the Internet. That’s always what I’ve thought is, like, really cool. Cause even though sometimes I might think to myself Oh no! I spend too much time on social media! At the same time, I feel like if I didn’t use social media I would just miss out so much on all these spaces.
Alex: And there you go. And that’s actually an argument I give when people are like: “Ugh! Social media’s the devil!” And I’m like , well to be honest it had a very positive impact on my life. In the past few months, I’ve made really healthy connection due to social media so, eh, sure Facebook’s the devil, Mark Zuckerberg is Satan but, you know, gotta make the best out of it.
Max: Yeah exactly, yeah that’s all good stuff. Could you go ahead and go back to what you were saying about the Gay Village and how, maybe it’s not as inclusive of a space as one might hope?
Alex: So, I would describe it as very old-school. Its Golden Age would’ve been in the 80s I would say. And I’ve heard in the 90s it was still going, but again, like that was when it was the Golden Age of “The Gay” and by “Gay” it means a white cis man. So it was very diverse as you had the Leather and the Daddy and all kinds of bars, but targeted towards cis gay men. And it hasn’t really evolved much ever since. Even the drag scene over there—it’s getting better but, so…not only is it not inclusive, it also doesn’t feel safe to walk around. I’ve personally experienced, depending on how I present, I feel like the more femme you look, the more harassed you’ll get. You see older men, shamelessly cruising, but on the street which can be very uncomfortable. Yeah, and it’s just not something that I’m used to in going to queer spaces, like in my own community I don’t expect to have to be in defense mode, but it does happen in the Village, the Gay Village, so I consider it neither safe nor an inclusive space.
Max: Yeah. It’s one of those things where I was very conscious of that when I was walking down (the street). And you also have a lot of, like, cis straight women.
Alex: The bachelorette(s)!
Max: Yeah, bachelorette parties. Oh my God.
Alex: Oh no, it’s the downfall of The Village. So that was just queer-wise, but yeah the bachelorette(s) fucking ruined it. And, nowadays, it’s also the tourists they come and check it out like a zoo. It’s like: “Oh! See the gays!” Yeah, it’s just a big ol’ mess, to be honest. Also very fueled with alcohol, drugs, lots of parties. I just don’t feel like it’s a very healthy environment.
Max: Yeah, because there’re so many other ways to socialize. Like, I’ll always think that gay bars and stuff are very important, because they are those safe spaces to express yourself. But, if…not queer just “Gay” socializing is just alcohol or drugs, and sex, there’re just so many other things…
Alex: That’s a big problem in our community. It’s a worldwide thing, I believe. But, it’s getting better. There’re more and more queer cafes opening. Shout out to Café Velours! So, yeah, fully agreed, but, it’s getting better. There are more and more queer hangouts that are organized and stuff. That are centered around more healthy activities than just binge drinking.
Max: Yeah, exactly. And it’s really sweet. I’m just thinking about, like, when I think of the more progressive, inclusive queer spaces it’s like, there’s always like…tea…and…knitting…and people reading each other’s natal charts and it’s like so different from the, like, cis white Gay Village.
Alex: That’s exactly what I had in mind. I was thinking about the “Stitch n’Bitch” thing that I saw. And drinking tea. And talking about your chart. And talking about making a zine.
Max: Yeah exactly. Yeah, I was just thinking about Chez Queer Montréal which you had mentioned, which is how I found the place I’m living now. I was just thinking about how every single place that I visited that was listed on Chez Queer Montréal I was offered…one place offered coffee and I had coffee, but everywhere else was tea. The place where I ended up living I did not have tea there, but I was offered tea and the only reason why I did not drink tea there is because I visited another place (*Alex laughs*) that day and I had tea there.
Alex: This is hilarious because I also had tea (at) every single interview with Chez Queer and the place I moved in this summer at the Mile End, well, we had the most delicious chai. I also met my current roommate on Chez Queer. It’s just great.
Max: Yeah, I mean I have heard there are occasionally those, like, nightmare situations but, that happens with any…
Alex: That’s life.
Max: Yeah, that’s life.
Alex: And our community is not exempt of bad patterns and toxicity.
Alex: We’re just humans.
Max: Yeah. And I think there’s a lot of conversations in the queer community about how to handle things like that. If you do see someone do or experience another queer person who’s just being very toxic or just, not being very mindful or abusing drugs or alcohol in front of you…I think people are a little more conscious especially when they step back and are like “ok this person needs help. No, I should not be in the vicinity of this person, but I do recognize that they need help…I think people are also starting to move a little bit more towards restorative justicewhich I think is good.
Alex: Absolutely, yeah. I’d say that we are definitely more equipped and I think that we’re better at dealing with these situations than “The Straights”. However, I will say, because it is something I’ve had to deal with recently too and it’s just part of the community. Queers love art, it’s no secret. The thing is, when you get to the art world it’s very much of a contact, a matter of contacts and relations and connections and there’s kind of hierarchies sometimes, who you are in the business and the industry, getting your name out there. So when there does happen to be a problem involving, like, someone, sometimes, even within a queer community, it can be very hard to call out this person if you know they’re very influential or there will be people trying to silence you and stuff regarding that and that’s that.
Max: But, yeah, I think you’re right. I feel like these are all issues that happen so often, especially, related to mental health and the arts and toxicity and abuse of power and things like that I think we’re so…
Max: Yeah, trauma, a big word, yeah. And it’s like, those are things that affect, essentially every queer person that I know…
Alex: Is there a single queer that doesn’t have trauma?
Max: It’s really sad. It’s to the point where when I hear the word “trauma” I think “queer.” Like it’s almost part of queer experience.
Alex: Well it is traumatizing to be born not-straight in a straight patriarchy…I would say it (trauma) is not inherently part of our identity, but it’s a matter of context and since we are in a heterosexual patriarchy how not to be traumatized when you’re queer?
Max: That’s true too. I think we’re definitely a lot more equipped on how to deal with it and sensitive towards it, whereas I think a lot of cisgender, heterosexual people are like : “I don’t know what’s happening. What’s wrong with this person? “ No, it’s like, I’m always aware that sometimes people might be triggered…the possibility of someone getting triggered by something or, just not having the spoonsto do something, just you know things like that. Giving people space versus checking in on them.
Alex: Exactly. It’s not even words in their (cishet people’s) vocabulary.
Alex: And also they get away with or are trying to get away with so much shit by invoking traumas. It’s like “Oh, but I was hurt before.” Well guess what Susan, I was hurt too! So I think at least I think that, like we said, all queers are traumatized, I guess. Well, it’s not something you bring to the table while dealing with it in argument. We all know that we are sensitive and we all know that we have our own shit and emotional baggage. And it is not an excuse to have an (un)acceptable behavior. Compared to let’s say, a more hetero community, at least, there’s this like this thing you don’t have to deal with of trying to justify your shitty behavior with your trauma. Yeah. I mean it still happens, but…
Max: Yeah, definitely. I will say that a couple of days ago I saw this really good video from…so there’s a few different queer websites out there. There’s like them.AndOut Magazine and this was from INTO (IntoMore)which I think is a newer one and they had this video on YouTube that was “Are Straight People OK?” and it was looking at all these tweets and videos…
Alex: *Clapping excitedly* Yes I’ve seen it! Like: (straight women say) “boys who text before 10pm are very important!” Like (queer people respond): “Are straight women ok?”
Max: I just feel so bad, because these things that are so normalized in straight communities. And, I’m like this idea that in a straight, cisgender couple that women are like a “ball-and-chain” and then men are like these babies that need to be taken care of. I’m like…
Alex: Yeah “man child”.
Max: Yeah, I’m just like: “Y’all need to, like, examine all this. And it’s all very much tied into toxic masculinity– which is also an issue in the queer community as well—
Max: But in a very different way a lot of the time and it’s…oh my God.
Alex: Yeah, and the conversation is getting bigger and bigger about it. Like it’s being addressed much more, more than ever before, I think.
Max: Yeah. Oh, yeah and speaking of masculinity, umm and gender and all of that, can you, uh, tell the audience a little bit about your, uh, experiences with drag…dragging and starting all that?
Alex: Well, I’m a non-binary person. Hi. (*giggles*) But I’ve also stumbled upon a word this summer in the (*in exaggerated voice*) Queer Mile End neighborhood that I think fit very well with to describe my gender and identity and that is transmasculine.
Transmasculine people are not exempt from perpetuating toxic masculinity and it’s something that I had to learn to be self-aware of. It can be very tempting when first transitioning and still not passing to try and overcompensate by resorting to those tired gendered stereotypical attitudes. I for one rejected any trait I deemed too feminine in me, be it clothing or behavior wise, trying to fit within this traditional and patriarchal view of masculinity.
Doing drag has been very liberating to me in terms of gender expression and dealing with the pressure of passing. It’s been an interesting journey in reconnecting with “femininity,” which had become so taboo to me. Funnily enough, allowing myself to drag it all up–putting on a wig, painting my face, wearing some nine-inch heels – has helped me to find balance and comfort in the way I present in my daily life and overall disassociate it from my core identity. Moving past the gender binary instead of relying on it.
*name has been changed
**Since the interview took place, this page has been renamed Montreal Queer Social Group, partially over concerns that the term “Fam,” a term originating in AAVE, is culturally appropriative for non-Black people to use.
The following are sources I recommend for anyone interested in learning even more about queer language, communicative repertoire (Rymes, 2014) and identity:
Gender Museum: This Instagram account is the brainchild of Jamie Grace Alexander. Trans individuals submit an image along with an accompanying caption, in which they describe their gender identity. Gender Museum showcases the unique identities of transgender people and the language people choose to identify themselves. Of particular interest is one submission which features a person who has written the phrase “I am Marissa” (soy Marissa) in Arabic, although the individual’s L1 is Spanish; I find this to be a powerful means of communicative repertoire and using different language for different reasons (Rymes, 2014). The contributor explains that this was a means to hide their identity from their parents.
Kyng Rose (Blxck Cxsper): Originally from France, but partially educated in the U.S., and living in Montreal since coming to the city to complete a Bachelor’s degree, Kyng is a Black, trans jack-of-all trades who has made quite a career as a rapper, producer, activist, singer, songwriter, videographer, and visual artist. They write, rap, and sing in English and French and is the founder of Trans Trenderz ,a nonprofit record label for transgender artists. Their communicative repertoire ranges from the two languages they speak, to the language of hip-hop, to reclaiming slurs, as seen in the name of his record label. Rose proves that language is one of the most powerful tools in expressing a queer identity.
Rymes, B. (2014). Communicative repertoire. In C. Leung & B. Street (Eds.), Handbook ofEnglish Language Studies (pp. 287-301). New York, NY: Routledge.
The following piece is modeled after the Communicative Repertoire assignment for Dr. Mela Sarkar’s course EDSL-623- Second Language Learning.
December 14, 2018, Montreal, QC, Canada: Outside, it is a relatively warm, but wet and slushy afternoon. Thankfully, we have found ourselves in the warm, cozy confides of Coop le Cagibi at its new home in the Petite Italie neighborhood. Although I had initially planned to hold one-on-one interviews about queer language, linguistics, and identity, enough people from different walks of life were available at the same date and time; therefore, it made sense to make space for a group conversation. The conversation consists of the following participants:
Myself, Max: He, they pronouns. L1-English, L2-French. Born-and-raised in Maryland, US. Moved to Montreal for studies and activism. Biracial (mixed- Black and white).
Meg: She, her pronouns. L1- English, L2- French. Originally from Texas, US. Has been in Montreal for 4 years as a student. White.
Ro: They, them pronouns. L1-English, L2- French. Grew up in the American Deep South, but has spent the past several years in Oakland, CA, US. Has lived in Montreal for less than a year, but is already very involved in activism and other activities. White.
Brian: He, his pronouns. L1-English, L2-French. Originally from Vancouver, BC. Moved to Montreal a few years ago, but has only recently started a degree program. White.
Eden: They, them pronouns. L1 French, L2-English. Quebec native. Student who is very involved with LGBTQ activism. White. They were meeting with a client and was, therefore, not able to join our conversation until a tad later.
The smell of espresso and vegan baked goods wafts through the air. 2018’s Best Album, Janelle Monae’s Dirty Computer, plays in the background, setting the mood for a discussion on queer pride, solidarity and looking towards the future. The cups, plates, chairs, tables, and knickknacks are as cohesively mismatched as our group.
*The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length, while staying true to the communicative repertoires of each individual*
Max: All of you have come to Montreal for different reasons and do different things here in the city. What has your experience been as a queer person thus far?
Brian: I’ve lived in Vancouver and I’ve spent a lot of time in Toronto as well so, I mean, compared to those places I would say that, uh, there’s a couple of factors. One is that there’s not, you know, as many…I wouldn’t say there’s not as many, say, people of color or communities with people of color, but it’s also more divided along linguistic lines which kind of makes each group a bit smaller, which means that…
Ro: What do you mean by linguistic lines?
Brian: Well, if they’re English or French-only. So, like, you have a group of…
Ro: In Montreal?
Brian: In Montreal, yes,
Brian: So, you have a group of like, English speakers which might but might not necessarily create a space, you know, they would be more likely to be tied to that side of the community, then they are by that than say…I should, I yeah, I mean I’m generalizing a bit, but, cause I have been to say, queer POC spaces that are bilingual as well, but, uh, you know that doesn’t always happen, that, yeah. They tend to be kind of segmented into either the English or the French side, which means that, like I have friends who were coming here from Toronto and they were like “oh when is the POC Night for Pride?” ‘cause they were coming for Pride. I’m like: “Oh good question. I don’t think there is one.” And, ‘cause you know in Vancouver, Toronto there’d just be a given that there would be something like that. Um so, yeah so, I think that… I wouldn’t say there’s a case that there’s more integration…I wouldn’t say it’s integration, per se, exactly. Um, but, yeah, I’d say that it’s just, yeah, it just tends to be kind of dominated by, especially I would say on the French side, I would say that it tends to be dominated (by white people).
Max: Alright, ummm…
Brian: Unless people… you might have had some other experiences with that, so I’m curious to know if people have had any other experiences.
Max: With, like, POC spaces?
Meg: Yeah, one thing my roommate, they were an intern at _____which is a queer and trans youth organization, over the summer and one thing that they had mentioned is that youth of color who are French speaking would come looking for French resources ‘cause _____is mainly anglophone and then ,like, my roommate is a person of color and they would feel uncomfortable recommending them to some of the French-speaking organizations cause they felt they were pretty white. And so, it seems like, my roommate was saying that, there are like a lack of resources for like, French-speaking youth of colour.
Meg: which is just kind of, I don’t know, I find it’s just like, I don’t know understand why. But because it’s like immigrants, you have to go to French-speaking schools so, it’s like, if your parents don’t speak English as their first language they’re learning French so…it just seems, like, there should be a lot more resources than there are.
Max: Yeah, I actually just volunteered at _____last night, um, and, um, so, I can say that, yes there are some people of color, like, probably, maybe, more than there used to be, I don’t know cause I just started volunteering there. But yeah, it’s definitely one of those things where there’s such a… divide I guess, a lot of the time. And even between, like, between the francophone or predominately francophone kids and then anglophone kids and it’s just um, yeah, and it almost seemed to be divided based on language and also, like interest, there’s like, there’s this one way to be queer and then there’s this other way to be queer.? And it’s like, you know, like, yes, some queer people like playing video games and stuff like that and some queer people don’t and it’s like, yeah, it’s really interesting.? But yeah, that’s something that I definitely, like want to look more into, is like, yeah, like francophone kids of colour, especially like can be isolating, and I’m just thinking of like, my own experience and it’s like “yeah, yeah, it can feel a little weird, a little… not like intentionally tokenized most times, and sometimes you’re just like….mmmm…ehhh…” Um but yeah, and…. there’s something else that I was thinking about… oh yes, something else that I wanna that I have heard about and I think I want to research more on this is, so I’m giving, like, correct information is, um…refugees who come from other countries and then if they’re LGBT refugees like coming to Canada because they’re seeking asylum for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity it’s um, like they have to very much follow this script of like “Oh, you have to like to like take a picture of yourself at a Pride parade or doing some like…queer things… and it’s like…very like…it almost seems like LGBT…like the people who made these regulations…like LGBT is like a culture and it’s all like a monolith and in order to be ‘really gay’ or ‘really trans’ you have to be like this and, that’s you know..
Brian: And how can you do that when it’s not safe to do that?
Max: Yeah, yeah.
Meg: Exactly. There’s a good book that I just saw at the library that talks about, like, queer refugees in Canada…which I forget the name of.
Max: I think that even like that single story idea… I mean it’s a huge issue even with like, white transgender people who are looking to medically and legally transition and this sort of idea that they have to, like, conform to this single story, but then when you’re a queer refugee there’s this extra layer of like “oh, and all of a sudden, you’re just going to like be this completely new identity and this identity of LGBT means this, that, that and that and it’s like not fair and especially if they’re like going to queer spaces and they don’t really, like, relate to the people there and stuff like that so…or don’t know the same languages… I mean there’s just a lot that’s like (*flexes neck and bares teeth, indicating discomfort and disagreement*) ” ennhhh” My next question will be more queer linguistics-specific. Does everyone (not including me) here identify as or is cisgender?
*Meg and Brian nod but after a pause Ro shakes her head*
Max: (*Gesturing towards Ro*) So tell us about it.
Ro: Um, I, I like to identify as rheostaticmeaning an entire spectrum or uh…gender atheist um, I think that the performative functions of gender are not terribly important in huge urban environments like this and we have kind of a privilege in being this sort of space to be more likely to break out of those molds. I think that those changes culturally are born and bred in larger environments and I’ve been lucky to have large communities around me um for most of my adult life um. Yeah, I’ve vacillated over the years from male-passing to lipstick-lesbian identified to… whatever. (*laughs*) that’s kind of where I’m at now.
Brian: I’ve never heard the term rheostatic before. How would you differentiate that from, say, genderqueer or non-binary?
Ro: So non-binary, for me, means that I’m maybe somewhere shifting in the center and over my lifetime I’ve gone on the extreme of either end and I think genderqueer definitely is in the same realm as rheostatic, but I find that the term “queer” is often sort of co-opted to mean certain things and that does not sit well with me. (*laughs*) I can’t sleep right *laughs*. So I just prefer to kind of take my own route.
Max: Yeah, and, likewise, that was actually the first time I’ve heard that term. It’s really interesting. Does anyone else want to share their experience about language they might use to identify themselves or any sort of good things about language like great experiences with this queer linguistic thing you’ve experienced or not great things that you’ve experienced (such as) having to censor yourself? Any thoughts on that, feel free to share.
Meg: Yeah, one thing I’ve noticed (since coming here) and it’s difficult, cause, like I moved here from high school and so I wasn’t really out in high school and so, like, my experience with queer community has been in Montreal, but it seems like here, people who call themselves queer are also more involved like, politically and it’s more of- like an overall identity rather than just like, referring to your sexuality. Just what I’ve noticed. And you, know there’s like queer movies, queer events and so…yeah, it seems like it’s becoming a new thing.
Brian: Yeah, I don’t know how I would, like, use language to describe myself um…I guess sometimes I feel like there’s…the language is…yeah, like I’ve been out for a long time and language is always changing and sometimes it’s a matter of…(*laughs*) even just a few minutes ago…I’m learning new terms…so, uh you know, and even, like when I first, like came out, like no one was using say they pronouns…like that’s really been the last (pauses) 10 years or so? Um, so you know, there are just things like that… I guess it’s just a matter of adjusting.
Max: And for those of you who have studied the French language: What says you about the French language? I mean you know it’s very, very gendered. What’re your feelings about that? How have you navigated it? How have people you’ve known maybe navigated that? How does that compare to English? Or what are things you find to be really cool about the French language or how the French language is evolving? Any thoughts about that?
Brian: Well sometimes people can get confused, like, if you say mon petit ami, they’ll just assume I’m referring to something different, so, uh, yeah that’s a mistake I make. So, yeah, so that’s the only real issue that I’ve had. I mean in Montreal in most contexts—I tend to be in queer environments where I’ve used French so I don’t really have to explain all that much. Um, and I’ve found that they’ve adopted a lot of English turns, like, you know, queer and gay, are like, basically Anglicisms so…
Max: Yeah, I’m gonna pause right there
*We are joined by Eden, a non-binary trans person from Quebec. Unlike the rest of folks present, their L1 is French. I noticed that Eden sometimes used the word France when they meant French and vice versa*
Max: Alors, on etait en train de parler sur la langue comme, francais, et aussi nos identités et tout ca et comment, bon, comment ca
Eden : Well let’s take a second. French is a messed-up language.
Max: Ok *laughs*
Eden: So fucking, like, messed up. It’s really gendered. I mean, like, just the fact that everything–ok, a linguist would fight me on this because they would say that grammatical gender is not the same as…physical gender but they are linked. We gender everything in French our gender is male, female where other languages, they are, this is unlimited and French is really, like, gender everything like… That’s why I like to speak in English more because I can be, like, I don’t have to gender myself, I can be neutral I can be…when you say your pronoun in (French) the gig is up…it’s done. You don’t have, like, you will never, like I can use your name, I can say Max the whole sentence: Max, Max, Max, Max, Max, Max without gender you. I can say: “Max is a student Max is happy. Max is tall.” But in French I have to gender you, in everything. Usually when we do grammar in French we have to not say our pronoun but our…what kind of gender that we like to mark that we use and for non-binary people it’s a mess. When I started my transition, I asked people to do both, to include, but…after two years, I’ve sort of given up on that on people, like I’ve just want people to not gender me to the masculine. Like, cause I just gave up, because, they say “oh this is too complicated.” Like I had a teacher who asked “well, yeah, but, this is so difficult.“ And so there’s no consensus on how to have it be natural, even though we used to have natural gender in French, by the way, because ,like, Latin is…in Latin they have three gender; male, female and indeterminate.
Brian: Can you explain with the indeterminate gender, like, how do they conjugate adjectives?
Eden: Well, first, in Latin, everything, you conjugate everything, every fucking thing
Brian: Do you know how it works in Latin, like what do they say?
Eden:Do you know what epicenemean? Epicene is something that means not genderfied ever, like, let’s say…like instead of “Max is a student,” I can say: “Max etudie…fais des etudes” which is general. t…a friend of mine tried to give like a gender-neutral trans workshop in light there’s some rule, like with the words that end with “eux” and there were some words there is…some people try to say “euxes” but there’s no consensus now, like, just say…on the pronoun let’s say they are just getting to the fact that iel (i-e-l) is becoming more and more and more and more like, there was like, maybe, like one year ago or so a huge plethora of pronoun that was…that’s why there’s a lot of French queer are going to speak English or going to English space. Not only that queer is more advanced in the anglophone world—I think there’s no, like second (thought) about that—but also because English offers us a more…neutral— and ever it will make, like a scare the more? kid nationalist? Here. (*putting on exaggerated Canadian anglophone accent*) “oh you speak English?”
Brian: I have a question for you. Are you from France or Quebec?
Eden: Because…and I don’t think I would speak this much good English if I came from French (France). Yes, in French, in France (*pronounced as someone speaking French would say France*) this is a mess, speaking, and also everything, in general, but France is a queer nightmare. Really. You can’t be too gay in the street and hold your hand to your lover and “do not speak about those people”. Half of the—I know a lot of French queer who exonerate themselves or seek refuge here. Like, a lot of them.
Max: (*clarifying question*) Who seek refuge here if they’re queer?
Eden: Yeah. A friend of mine came here because they couldn’t…she was living in the south of France with uber-homophobic, transphobic and she’s a trans woman, so it was not alright. And she was, she was told, like, she was not feminine enough like, it was a metaphor like, she came here, like…if you compare (Quebec) to France—it’s going to be an easy pick. Like even in the French area here… Like we are starting to speak about non-binary people, but, and these are huge, like, struggle to have a neutral gender mark and, like, I think because in Quebec especially in Montreal, because we are in contact with the anglophone area we are more advanced like and we’ll like know a lot about these kind of issues but the queer francophone space are not really that small. I mean, the gay space are there. I make a distinction between gay and queer. I mean the (Gay) Village, buuuuuut…it’s full of white, cis, gay men. So, and even like, homonationalist people, but the queer is not much and francophone go to the more anglophone area to like escape all the…the nightmare and like, just to say that…like let’s say that the first name change into the university. (Last year) McGill and Concordia did it. UQAM, it took years, they just recently make an arrangement. UdM: shit. Like, so that’s what it is…and I think, personally, that there is more use ever in feminist circles, and to white feminists, I feel like there is less resistance to queerness, like because of some masochistic idea…for me there is more TERFs (*Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) in the francophone area
Max: Wow. Thank you for sharing that. That was very, very insightful…I definitely learned something new as well. Um, so, does anyone have any final remarks or thoughts about gender, queer linguistics, life in Montreal? Any other things you want to touch on?
Meg: (*clarifying question*) (I is) like another pronoun to use?
Eden: No, like another, like is someone else.
Max: (*clarifying question*) “I is another?” I’m not sure I understand.
Brian: (*clarifying question*) Like another pronoun?
Meg: (*clarifying question*) like you’re, like a whole other thing, like…to talk…like you have a lot more to say than just like what you were just talking about like with the French language? Like, it’s a whole other topic to talk about?
Eden: Most like that the, like, the person is speaking with pronoun like, the” I” itself like, someone overcomes certain thing…I think and “I” is another gender or, like, because it mean that when you speak I it’s someone else who is speaking of…
Brian: (*clarifying statement*) You mean you speak from your own perspective.
Brian: Yeah, instead of cause…I mean I’ve heard some of that stuff about Quebec before but when I say it as an anglophone, you know, that can be, you know, it can be called Quebec-bashing or something, which does happen as well, but, um, I… I guess and that, what you were saying is really interesting and, uh, I mean I think in, you know, French in Quebec it’s a very sensitive topic and I guess I’m wondering, like, do you think that people are, like say the, OQLF would be like, open to that sort of linguistic change, and that people in Quebec are open to embracing linguistic change?
Eden: I think that OQLF would change before French (France).
Eden: Without a…uh…a ghost of a doubt.
Brian: Oh interesting
Eden: Because, like, you know…here in Quebec we are more…flexible to add new term… but in (*in sarcastic, accusatory tone*) France, it’s really, like…and the national Academie Francaise, it’s really (more) chauvinistic, really dude.
Eden: So it’s…and they are like…and also they…they are against inclusive writing. Like when you wrote a text, they want to keep, like the masculine, like, standard. Like, I think that Quebec will change before French (France) like…
Ro: I’m kind of curious …um…it’s not something that I’ve come across here, but I haven’t been here very long. And I’m wondering if people are talking about moving away from the LGBT alphabet and utilizing, let’s say GSM, like Gender and Sexuality Minorities, or diverse gender…or you know, DSG. Is that conversation that’s happening here and (*clapping hands together signaling urgency*) How. Can. We. Make. That. Happen. More?
Brian: That’s such a great topic and I’ve thought, like, about that for so long about, like how I find that, none of the queer terminology really suits me I mean, the only term that I ever wanted to use, I can’t. It’s ,like, I love the term Two-Spirit which is the Indigenous term, cause I think that’s the only term that does any sort of justice to the sort of queer experience, um, but it’s appropriative to use it, unfortunately so…
Max: Yeah, it’s very, like, yeah I would not use that.
Brian: Can we make a deal (with Indigenous people)?
Max: No we cannot make a deal to appropriate Native identities. We cannot do that. Ummm, yeah, (*in sing-song-y voice*) let’s not. But I’m sure that there will be more inclusive terminology.
Eden: But ?you can explain this? But I heard there’s a lot in the French non-binarial queer world a term which is MOGAI which is Minorités, d’Orientation et de Genre…Something, Something…MOGAI, I do not remember what it stand for but it’s like “minorities …gender” and “gender, like, marginalized, minorities, like”. And more and more and more I see the term MOGAI in the queer Facebook French space, which is like…not all, but yeah it’s like…yeah…because the LGBTQ we can have, like, every word like that.
Max: So MOGAI is that (*spells in French*)M-O-G-A-I? C’est ca?
Eden: I think it’s the traditional for like, we say like, GM…Mmm?
Ro: (*clarifying statement*) like Gender and Sexual Minorities or diverse gender and sexuality those two terms.
Brian: (*clarifying question*) this is “MO-JAI”? “MOGAI?”
Eden: Yeah, MOGAI
Brian: (*clarifying question*) So this means…this is like an umbrella term that’s related to queer or…?
Eden: Yeah. It’s referring to any oppressed gender or sexuality, like…
Brian: Ok. And what is it like… Were you saying the definition or…? How would you define this term exactly? Or is it just that or is there more to it than that?
Eden: I think it’s any, uh, sexual orientation or gender identity…or
Brian: But I mean it’s literally, then, defined by oppression
Brian: So, I mean, if there’s one thing I guess that I was saying about, you know, the Two-Spirit concept, in a way, is that, it’s a term that is not…it’s queer, but not defined by oppression. And I feel like, terms like queer and gay they’re all defined by oppression in some way.
Brian: I mean even if it’s, say, “re-claimed language.”
Eden: I feel like this is that, but I feel like with terms like GSM and MOGAI we are saying that why we find those groups, why we are a community is because of oppression. We are bound not by blood but by oppressions the link, like because there’s nothing in common because with an asexual person and a gay trans woman, either because of the fact that they are oppressed, because they are queer like…and another, even for me, there’s….someone who wrote in her journal (newspaper- *a false cognate*) in the Nova Scotia that they should put the S in LGBTQ for “Straight.”
Eden: Someone actually wrote that.
*Laughs and groans from the table*
Max: Yeah it’s, like…”No! No! No!” Yeah, I remember growing up it was LGBTQA, cause they’re like (*in cartoony voice) “LGBTQA like Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Allies!” and it’s like (*puts head in hands*) “Oh God, help me.” So thankfully (now) A is for Asexual, just so you all know. Or Aromantic. It is not short for Allies. You do not get a sticker for being an ally. You get, like a, y’know…
Max: You get nothing except for…Look you’re…
Meg: You’re a decent human being!
Max: Yeah, you’re a decent human being! You’re doing, like, what you should be doing, so. Yeah. Cool.
Ro: I have a terminology question. Something that…grates on me, I’d say, with ?resistance publicly? Seeing persons who identify as allies also taking up terminology that is in that alphabet. So, somebody who has lived their entire life as the sex that they were born with and the gender that they were presented with and are living and have always lived as heterosexual and benefit from all the privileges that come with all of those things and then identify as pansexual or queer-gendered. I don’t have an answer for that. It’s just a question of terminology and I understand that people want to feel they’re included as allies. But, at what point, do we…that do identify in those areas say (*slams hand on table*) “You’re an ally!”
Ro: So, yes, you feel the need to procreate these terms as your own and bring them forth to others but—where’s the line?!
Brian: I think what you’re talking about is that…it’s kind of like James Franco in a way. Like, you feel appropriated, and (straight, cisgender) people…they put themselves in communities and they end up just taking up so much more space. And, you know, I lot of straight celebrities do that on the covers of these magazines and, you know, they get so much more attention than…
Ro: It’s taking up space…
Brian: …than a lot of queer artists. You see that especially in media, I find.
Max: Yeah, that’s really interesting, and then, I’m thinking of someone I know who I think does identify as polysexual, like attracted to multiple but not all genders, but it’s like sometimes I wonder…are you really queer or just like alternative, like fem people, or like…You know what I mean? It’s not necessarily being queer, it’s just like, you’re attracted to people who might seem queer. You know what I mean? Which is not necessarily the same.
Eden: I know there’s this like…I saw a meme recently which is like “Hey there, I am…” it is a girl with a septum (piercing) and a guy with a manbun “Hey there! We are a couple and we are queering heterosexuality by having a joint profile on Tindr!” I feel like there’s a lot of hipsters who want to be, like, cool be queer. I saw a dance show and the guys who said like “This thing is gonna be like really queer, but it was a guy dancing with a girl and it was still, like… male.”
Eden: And in Teen Vogue, like if you’re questioning yourself really but if you’re not what…you know like “I am a straight guy, but I am queer. I just want to say that I am alternative and I want…and I want to hook up with queer women.”
Max: Yeah, it’s really hard
Eden: Or, like—I remember a girl saying to me, like, when I spent time with their friends, she said “Yes, I am fluid. I can wear whatever I want!”
Meg: I feel like I’ve seen it (queering straightness/heterosexuality) a lot where, as like, being queer is becoming more accepted, people who are straight feel like they’re not special anymore and they want to be and so they take on this queer language and I think it’s also seen as, like seeing white people who were doing, like their ancestry DNA test and saying, like “See! I had an ancestor who, you know, came from Europe, so, like, this kind of absolves me of, like, needing to work on being anti-racist.”
Max: Oh my god
Meg: (*laughs*) And I see that happening with queer people doing the same thing like “Oh I identify as this!”
Ro: “Therefore, I get my ally check mark!”
Meg: (*laughs*) Yeah, without doing anything!
Max: “I’m one sixteenth Cherokee on my Mom’s side.” That’s what all people from the U.S. say. It’s, like, “Is that true? No!” And even if you are, “Yeah, yeah, you’re still white.” Let’s be real. But yeah, ally cards (*tsk tsk*) ayiyiyi. Thankfully, I feel like, for the most part we’re getting…baby steps towards working past that, but still….Sometimes, I feel like “Yeah we’re past that!” And then I’ll go to certain spaces and it’s like: “Nooooooo!”
Eden: I don’t think that we’re in the space when the “Yay! We’re gay! Homophobia and trans dah dah dah…” No no no. We are still in Middle Ages.
Max: Yeah. Agreed.
Eden: Or Rock Ages of queerness. We have the Rock Ages, I think.
Max: (*checking for understanding and offering corrective feedback*) The Rock Ages? Like the Stone Age, with cavemen?
Max: Yeah the Stone Age. Well, thank you all for sharing. This has been a great conversation. I will definitely incorporate a little bit of everything I’ve heard. I’m really excited to see where this project goes and thank you for being a part of it!
This conversation highlights the wide diversity of queer experiences, identities, and languages. We see how much language can be both a dynamic system, and a limiting one. Although all of the participants agree that Quebec is more progressive in terms of queer-positive language than other societies, i.e. France, there is still a long way to go before language, and other systems are truly inclusive. Some particularly prevalent systems that may hinder a richer communicative repertoire, and overall quality of life, include racism and immigration laws. In order for positive change to occur for all LGBTQIA individuals, there needs to be change across the many systems that can impact an individual.
Throughout the conversation, we gain a glimpse of each individual’s communicative repertoire. Eden’s contribution is of particular interest as she thoroughly deconstructs both her L1, French, and L2, English. Additionally, we see many instances of translanguaging (Garcia, 2009, cited in Rymes, 2014). For instance, there are several times when they say the word French rather than the noun France.
Ro’s communicative repertoire is also of particular interest, most notably with her use of the word rheostatic to refer to her identity. Even after some research, she is the only individual I can find who uses the term to refer to a queer identity. This makes me think of Larsen-Freeman (cited in Douglas Fir Group, 2016)’s use of the term Complexity Theory in SLA. Ro, like Larsen-Freeman, refers to a term previously only in use in the hard sciences, to apply to something outside of the sciences. Also worth mentioning is Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) use of the term rhizomatic, a term which could very easily be confused with rheostatic. Ro and others prove that a just how dynamic language can be; perhaps other queer people will be inspired begin to use the term for themselves.
It is clear that queer language is generally easier in English, even for French-as-L1 individuals, due to the fact that, as Eden explains, English has much less gender-specific terminology. That being said, there is much to be said about the strides that Quebec is making towards more inclusive language; Quebecois French is a much more dynamic language system than its counterpart in France. l’Academie Francaise’s (2017) strict definition of what standard language does not seem to encapsulate all the different identities and realities in the francophone world.
However, although this is an engaging conversation, there is a gaping hole that cannot be ignored: the lack of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) voices. This is a particularly glaring discrepancy as a person of colour, myself, not seeing any faces darker than my own. Additionally, all speakers are from North America and, even though we all are conscious of different points of view, we still engage with a very Western perspective.
I hope that this conversation is one of many and that each conversation is a chance to add to understanding and perhaps to broaden my own, or for others to broaden their own communicative repertoires. These conversations are a chance to check for understanding and to learn from one another.
Max Jack-Monroe (he, they pronouns) is a queer, trans, Black, biracial scholar born-and-raised in Maryland, USA and currently residing in Montreal, QC, CA where he is studying Second Language Education and Gender and Women’s Studies. He created Queer Language Evolution as a means to make information about queer language and sociolinguistics more accessible to anyone who is interested. In addition to teaching, reading, writing, languages (English, French, + a few phrases of Spanish), and all things queer, Max enjoys traveling, film, good food, good friends, and good conversation.
Max can be reached at email@example.com.
As someone who has studied French, a heavily-gendered language, but who is also a part of the anglophone queer, transgender community where inclusive language and understanding of diverse gender identities a huge priority, I have at times felt that my interests are contradictory. Historically, institutions such as l’Academie Francaise have maintained that the French language must continue to follow an established set of grammatical rules rather than make space for change. When comparing French to English, this discrepancy is particularly obvious when we look at pronouns. Singular they has long been prevalent in the English language (Baron, 2017). This pronoun can apply when hypothetically talking to a person of an unknown gender and it is the pronoun that many, but not all gender non-binary individuals use to identify themselves. In standard French, on the other hand, there is no such equivalent. Instead, French contains what Ayoun (2007) refers to as the “masculine as default” (Ayoun, 2007, p. 141), when referring to someone of an unknown gender or when referring to a mixed-gender group of people. Furthermore, a descriptive nouns such as those identifying a person’s nationality or occupation. For example, while in English the word Canadian describes any person or people from Canada, in French a person, or group could be canadien, canadienne, canadiens, or canadiennes.
Standard French can be a tough language to navigate for gender nonbinary individuals. English-as-L1 nonbinary individuals may be forced to “pick a side” when learning and/or speaking French (Hord, 2016) which can lead to gender dysphoria and general anxiety. According to Doenyei (2005), anxiety about the language means less success in the SLA classroom.
Although traditional, mainstream French remains very heavily gendered, more niche groups, especially LGBTQIA groups, have taken strides to adapt the language. In recent years, pronouns such as iel, ol, li, and ul (The 519) have gained popularity. This is especially true of queer, non-binary transgender groups in francophone Quebec.
One of my big questions concerning the intersection between Second Language Education and Gender and Sexuality Studies is what can be done in the French language classroom to encourage more gender-inclusive language. This may be difficult as textbooks and other means of learning a language follow a standard model of French. But what if we incorporate newer, emerging pronouns in the classroom as well? This would go against traditional French textbooks and curricula, but would allow all students to use language that is more inclusive, even if there are no non-binary students in the classroom. We can talk about theoretically about a person with the pronoun iel or refer to a group of people as iels.
I have a general idea of what teaching gender-neutral French in the classroom might look like, but I want to first collaborate with others who have pursued teaching and/or using gender neutral pronouns in French or another historically-gendered language, such as Spanish. Teachers out there who have incorporated gender-neutral pronouns in the L2 classroom– how did you do it? What resources did you use? What worked? What didn’t work?
Feel free to comment below or contact me with suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you!
Baron, D. (2017). Pronoun showdown 2017: Are nonbinary pronouns and singular they ruining the language or making English great again? Retrieved from http://www.english.illinois.edu/- people/faculty/debaron/essays/Whats_your_pronoun_2017.pdf
Dornyei, Z. (2005). Other Learner Characteristics. The Psychology of the Language Learner: Individual Differences in Second Language Education. (197-217). Abingdon, U.K.: Routledge. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com
Hord, L. C. R. (2016). Bucking the Linguistic Binary: Gender Neutral Language in English,Swedish, French, and German. Western Papers in Linguistics/cahiers linguistiques de Western, 3(1). Retrieved from :https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/wpl_clw/vol3/iss1/
As someone born, raised, and living in North America, it is important that I recognize that I live on stolen land and take the time to try to understand the implications of settler colonialism. This led me to look into how the language used to describe queer Native American and First Nations people has changed over time due to cultural belief systems and other systems that impact language use and evolution (Douglas Fir Group, 2016).
In many pre-colonial societies in North America, gender identities and sexual orientations who fell outside of Western concepts of heteronormativity and genderconformity were not only respected, but revered. People from these communities who exhibited both male and female qualities were often healers and warriors. Different Nations used different terminology to describe these identities. Botes, or bades, played a big role in Crow society (Morgensen 2011) and asegi were revered in Cherokee Nation (Driskill, 2011). It was not until much later, in the postcolonial third space that an umbrella term was created to encapsulate non-heterosexual and gender variant identities.
It is important to note how intrinsically linked queer and transphobia is with settler colonialism, When colonizers from Europe came to North America and witnessed gender expression and expressions of sexuality that did not fit into white, Western, Christian, cisgender, heteropatriarchal “norms,” it was used as validation for their conquest (Morgensen, 2011). Colonizers and settlers saw gender variant people and same-gender relations as things that needed to be eradicated in order create a more civilized society (Morgensen, 2011).
One of the many ways that colonizers established dominance over queer Indigenous people was through language. They began to refer to sexual and gender-variant people as berdaches, meaning “kept boys” or “boy slaves” (Morgensen, 2011, p. 36) a French slur that had previously been used as a means to validate violence by Christians against Muslim and Middle Eastern men (Morgensen, 2011, p. 36). Berdache was a term with great power in that it became the term to refer to all queer Indigenous people in North America well into the twentieth-century. As non-Native people in North America, such as Christian missionaries, used berdache in written accounts, it was the term that was most accessible to non-Native historians and anthropologists (Morgensen, 2011).
In the 1970s, the height of the Gay and Lesbian Liberation Movement, white LGBTQ historians and anthropologists were particularly interested in what they continued to refer to as berdache because they saw it as a means to validate the fact that queer people had always existed in North America (Morgensen, 2011). In addition, the predominately white, gay, male back-to-the land movement used images of berdache and Shamanism as symbols of their movement and validation for both gay liberation and living off the land (Morgensen, 2011). Appropriation of non-white language, culture, and identity continues to be prevalent among white, cisgender, gay men.
Whereas settlers from before the 20th century saw gender and sexually variant Indigenous people as validation for colonization, 20th century white LGBTQ activists, historians, and anthropologists saw it as validation for, essentially, themselves. Once could argue that this approach placed the wants of above the lived realities and needs of queer Indigenous people.
During this time, Indigenous LGBTQ people worked towards their own liberation, acknowledging that their needs were not the same as white LGBTQ people. Many LGBTQ Indigenous people moved to big cities with the hope of more liberation and acceptance, but still found themselves isolated and discriminated against in many queer spaces. Indigenous LGBTQ people knew of the impact that race, class, and other impacts of colonialism had on their experiences. This lead to the formation of activist groups such as the Gay American Indians (GAI) (Gilley, 2006). Such groups provided services such as creating social spaces and sexual health resources. They worked to create a sense of solidarity and belonging among LGBTQ Indigenous people.
One underlying discrepancy, however, was the language that queer Indigenous people had to identify themselves. Some Nation-specific identities, such as bote, were lost as a result of white, Settler, colonialism (Morgensen, 2011). This led to the creation of a sort of postcolonial third space (Rutherford, 1990; Bhabha, 1994, Bhabha, 1996, cited in Meredith, 1998) which incorporated elements of pre-colonial terminology and acceptance while acknowledged the impact of colonialism and . At the 1990 International Gathering of American Indian and First Nations Gays and Lesbians in Winnipeg, the term Two-Spirit was first introduced as an umbrella term for queer Indigenous North American people. Two-Spirit came from the Northern Algonquin term for people who encapsulated both masculine and feminine qualities, niizh manitoag which translates to “Two-Spirits” (Morgensen, 2011, p. 81). This term encapsulated an identity in which is as much queer as it is Indigenous.
Many, but not all, queer Native American and First Nations people continue to use the term Two-Spirit to identify themselves. Some might use the term depending on the people they are with (Driskill, 2011) or use additional terms, such as “gay” or “queer” interchangeably (Davis. 2014). Others may describe themselves using a “‘both/and’ approach” (Davis, 2014, p. 4), where they identify themselves as Two-Spirit in addition to a sexual and/or gender variant identity that is specific to their nation. For instance, a Dine queer person may refer to themselves as both nadhle and as Two-Spirit (Davis, 2011, p. 4). Still others may avoid the term Two-Spirit all together (Driskill, 2011). Regardless of the specific terminology LGBTQ Indigenous people use to identify themselves, language remains a tool to self-affirm, to empower, and to connect with others.
Davis, J. (2014). “More than Just ‘Gay Indians’”: Intersecting Articulations of Two-Spirit Gender, Sexuality, and Indigenousness. In L.Zimman, J.Davis, & J. Raclaw (Eds.) Queer Excursions: Retheorizing Binaries in Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford Scholarship Online. DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199937295.001.0001
Douglas Fir Group. (2016). A transdisciplinary framework for SLA in a multilingual world. Modern Language Journal ,100. (Supplement), 19-47.
Driskill, Q-L. (2011). D4y DBC (Asegi Ayetl): Cherokee Two-Spirit People Reimagining Nation. In Q-L Driskill, C. Finley, B.J. & S.L. Morgensen (Eds.) Queer Indigenous Studies: Critical Interventions in Theory, Politics, and Literature. (pp. 97-111). Tucson, AZ: The University of Arizona Press.
 These symbols are the closest on a standard keyboard to the term asegi ayetl as written in the Cherokee alphabet
Gilley, B.J. (2006). From Gay to Indian. Becoming Two-Spirit: Gay Identity and Social Acceptance in Indian Country. (pp. 25-49). Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press. Retrieved from: https://muse.jhu.edu/.
Meredith, P. (1998, Jul. 7-9). Hybridity in the Third Space: Rethinking Bi-cultural Politics in Aotearia/New Zealand. Paper presented at: Te Oru Rangahau Maori Research and Development Conference, Massey University. Retrieved from: http://lianz.waikato.ac.nz/PAPERS/paul/hybridity.pdf
Morgensen, S. (2011). (Ed.), Spaces Between Us: Queer Settler Colonialism and Indigenous Decolonization. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. DOI:10.5749/Minnesota/9780816656325.00&1.0001