“Go around the circle, and say your name, what brought you here, and your PGP.” The first Safe Space meeting of the year opened with these instructions. PGP stands for preferred gender pronoun, e.g. he, she, one, they, or ze. Members were also encouraged to only be referred to by their names, if that made them most comfortable.
I admire this unusual request. It represents two mindsets very important to me: the recognition of gender as a flexible and personal journey, and respect for each others’ self images.
Why is a PGP significant? Modern society is starting to recognize that gender is a very complicated and personal construct that varies from person to person; it is composed of biological sex, identity, orientation, and expression.
These combined factors create a distinct form of gender for each person. In light of someone’s individuality, asking them about their PGP is a sign of respect. People have their own pasts and views of themselves, and these views change throughout their lives.
When I was three, my five-year-old cousin gave me a test. “How much do you like jewelry?” she asked. I said that I had a really cool necklace. She asked me my opinion on dresses.
“They are a lot of fun to dance in,” I answered. How much did I love animals, especially bugs? I would be one, if I could!
“Okay, you’re sort of a tomboy, but not as much as me,” she decided. In that moment, I knew something had changed. A lifelong quest for tomboyish androgyny had been born.
Just as people grow and change, so does society. Yesterday’s war paint is today’s makeup. In 1918, when infant clothing was starting to change from white to pastel colors, many magazines encouraged pink for boys and blue for girls. Earnshaw’s Infants Department published an article claiming that pink’s boldness made it appropriate for boys, whereas the daintiness of blue was better for girls.
Last April, Fox News correspondent Dr. Keith Ablow raged about a J. Crew picture featuring a designer painting her giggling son’s toenails pink.
Also last year, four year old Riley Maida’s Youtube video ranting about gender stereotyping in toy marketing went viral. She exclaimed, “The companies who make these try to trick the girls into buying the pink stuff, instead of stuff that boys want to buy!”
The idea that painting a specific color on a boy’s toenails will pervert his mind is imbecilic. If a child can identify the detrimentally manipulative power of marketing stereotypes, then we, as intellectual adults, should see it as well.
Mennonites have an interesting heritage when it comes to gender. The Old Orders delineate gender with strict dress codes and behavioral expectations. However, Mennonites are known for their tolerance and visible acts of love.
In a small way, Safe Space’s custom of honoring PGPs is such an act, and one that I want to facilitate. Acknowledging a PGP is one way that I can say, yes, your gender is personal. I have nothing to say about how you should act, dress, or talk just because of the shape of your chromosomes, and I support whatever makes you feel comfortable and self-actualized.
Randi Hagi, Co-Editor in Chief