P.E.I. person wants to be referred to as neither he, nor she, but they

Rory Starkman tried to conform to the female-side for a long time

Published on November 19, 2016

Rory Starkman identifies as a non-binary individual. They want to open up the discussion around gender as a social construction, and how confusing it can be when someone’s gender identity doesn’t match the body they’re in.

©EVAN CERETTI/ TC MEDIA

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - Rory Starkman wants to be referred to as they. Not she. Not he.

The 27-year-old from Charlottetown identifies as a non-binary individual.

If you consider gender as a spectrum, being exclusively masculine at one end, feminine at the other, many non-binary Individuals identify more in the middle, or as in Starkman’s case, not even on the spectrum, but outside it.

In regards to gender expression, Starkman identifies more on the masculine side, in terms of traditional gender roles.

“I’ve always kind of been a tom-boy.”

I know it’s complicated… because ultimately the idea of masculine and feminine and male and female is socially constructed Rory Starkman

Starkman has short hair, often wears baggy clothes and wears a chest-binder. Top surgery is a consideration for later in life, once the idea becomes more comfortable, in order to identify less as female but not necessarily more as male, said Starkman.

“I know it’s complicated… because ultimately the idea of masculine and feminine and male and female is socially constructed.”

Every person has the right to be referred to by their preferred pronoun, ‘they’ being the choice for many non-binary individuals, said Starkman.

The use of they as a singular pronoun is a hot topic in Canada due to the enactment of Bill C-16 and the conversation surrounding it.

The bill modifies the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code of Canada by adding gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination, protecting transgender people from discrimination and hate propaganda.

Jordan Peterson, a tenured psychology professor at the University of Toronto, has received national media attention after he posted a series of videos to YouTube criticizing political correctness, objecting the bill.

Peterson has said the bill infringes on free speech, and he refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns, such as they, when requested by someone.

Starkman said Peterson seems to have no problem with binary trans people.

“It’s anyone who’s non-binary. He just doesn’t understand how there can be something other than male and female.”

His argument doesn’t have a strong base, said Starkman.

Although Starkman understands where Peterson is coming from, the problem is he’s not respecting humans for being humans, said Starkman.

“I don’t know if he’d be too happy if a bunch of people started calling him Mrs. Peterson.”

Starkman tried to conform to the female side for a long time as was expected by family and society, and started questioning gender a couple years ago.

It’s been one year since Starkman started referring to themself as Rory, as they were never really attached to their birth name.

Starkman doesn’t correct everyone who uses the incorrect pronoun, as it would be exhausting.

“In customer service it’s really difficult. I have customers coming through all day saying, ‘thank you, ma’am.”

Most people who have difficultly referring to individuals as they is because they is typically plural, and people don’t want to be incorrect, grammatically speaking, said Starkman. 

“It really disorients them to call one person two people,” said Starkman, jokingly.

Ann Braithwaite is the co-ordinator of diversity and social justice issues at UPEI.

It’s easy for people in a privileged position to say ‘I won’t address you how you want to be addressed,’ said Braithwaite.

“[Peterson’s] not going to be misgendered as he wanders through life.”

Not only does Braithwaite have no problem with using they as a singular pronoun, she encourages her students to do so when referring to anyone, regardless of gender identity.

Starkman said there are ways around referring to people as they for those who don’t want to.

“You could just use someone’s name. You don’t have to use a pronoun at all.”

It takes some practice, Starkman said, as it’s not something we grow up doing.

It’s not a problem that should affect people personally, said Starkman. It’s just a matter of people not questioning their privilege, as most people have no problem being referred to in their preferred gender of he or she.

“I’m asking them to try.”

No one is trying to limit people’s freedom of speech, as Peterson is saying, said Starkman.

“I think ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s just a matter of respect.”

“I do know who I am, it’s just that who I am isn’t represented well in this society,” they said.

newsroom@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/PEIGuardian

QUICK FACTS

Rory Starkman’s view on what it means to be non-binary doesn’t necessarily represent the whole non-binary community.

– Gender identity refers to how people think and feel about their gender.

– Biological sex refers to objectively measurable organs, hormones and chromosomes.

– Gender expression is how people demonstrate their gender (based on

traditional roles), through physical appearance and interactions.

– Sexual orientation refers to who you are attracted to based on their gender in relation to your own.

– Prof. Ann Braithwaite will be facilitating a discussion on the social construction of gender at UPEI on Nov. 21.