Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Gender Neutral People And Pronouns

Once again, I'm waiting in Bradford Interchange after another Cineworld stint. I'm regularly irritated by this train station's lack of ticket facilities and have missed trains before after office hours when long queues of folk are waiting at the only working ticket machine. I've even complained about how under-staffed the station is at times and have accordingly received compensation.

Tonight, few people are about and there's only an elderly lady in front of me who seems to be having problems working the machine. I decide to ask if I can be of assistance. As she turns to register my concern, I try to conceal my shock - "she" is neither old nor female. Standing nervously in front of me is either a cross-dresser, a transgender, a transexual or a guy in fancy dress who seems to favour more mature fashions. She or he is carrying a large momsy cream handbag and wears a neck scarf with a matching pastel-coloured floral skirt/jacket and small kitten heels. S/he is exceedingly nervous and apologetic about his/her incompetence. I ask where s/he is trying to go and select the appropriate fare as s/he cluelessly looks on, practically waiting for me to insert the correct money. 

When the ticket is printed, I have to reach down to retrieve it and hand it over. I have honestly never seen anyone so dependent for help in order to complete a task so routine to me. Even tourists I've seen trying to fathom the mind-boggling maps of the London Underground, have needed less help when purchasing a ticket from the machine. I walk away, feeling like I've done my good deed for the day.

As I'm about to go through the barrier, I glance back and see s/he is still standing by the machine, looking perplexed. I feel an inexplicable sense of responsibility so turn back. "It doesn't say where I go to get the train," s/he despairingly says with childlike innocence, clearly crying out for more help. I virtually take him/her by the hand and guide him/her to the barriers where I indicate the ticket needs to be fed through the slot. S/he shuffles through anxiously awaiting the return of the ticket. Tickets safely back in hands, we walk to the platform screens and I quickly establish there's no direct train from Bradford to his/her desired destination. I ask the guard the best plan of action and we both board the same train. I'm going straight to Leeds where s/he will have to change trains. I dread to think how that's going to go.

I can't help but reflect how lucky s/he was that there wasn't the normal queue for the machine and someone was on hand to help. I'm also incredibly curious how someone dressed in such unusual garb can be seem so shy and vulnerable. The combination of the outfit selection with s/he not being able to operate a ticket machine or even know how train information boards work, has left me searching for unreachable explanations. Whatever the circumstances, the whole experience has amazed me. I'm almost more amazed by this than the lack of gender neutral pronouns in the English language. Surely by now linguistics could have come up with an acceptable solution to the "s/he" and "their" debate? After all, English is an ever burgeoning and developing language and society has finally recognised people are no longer easily categorised into just two sexes. Come on you influential Linguists!

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