Why using “phe” is transphobic

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The Gender, Power, and Sexuality Workshop (GPS) is a 10-week, peer-led, discussion based workshop that aims to destigmatize marginalized identities by providing comprehensive sex education and facilitating honest dialogue. The GPS Spring 2016 facilitator group is comprised of Perla Montas ’17, Sadie Hope-Gund ’18, Anastasiya Gorodilova ’16, Sage Fanucchi-Fones ’17, Neidin Hernandez ‘18.5, Madison Shiver ’17. 

Despite being a pronoun used commonly on Brown’s campus today, the word phe now has a damaging effect that diverges from its original intent and can harm trans* and gender nonconforming (GNC) people. This has been brought to our attention multiple times and the Gender, Power & Sexuality Workshop would like to publicly acknowledge our complicity in fostering this environment on campus.

We changed our name last fall because we believed the name “FemSex” was not inclusive of people who did not identify with cis-femininity. As we shifted our curriculum to better reflect the space that we wanted the Gender, Power and Sexuality Workshop to be, we left the use of phe behind. Although we have stopped using phe within the GPS space, it is still widely used on campus, in publications, and on social media. – an issue we would like to draw attention to and address.

The word phe was created by FemSex in 2004 with the intention of serving as a gender-neutral or gender-intentional pronoun. The word is typically exclusive to Brown and is often associated with campus culture, despite now having a transphobic meaning. GPS wants to take this opportunity to strongly encourage people not to use this term and underline its transphobic connotations.

The word phe has been and still is widely used as a way for cis people to neutralize gender without interrogating the power structures that uphold it. It has become a lazy way to imply consciousness and inclusivity. Further, it has also become funny and cool to use phe on campus and beyond as a sign of Brown’s stereotypical liberalism.  When phe is used in a funny manner or as a Halloween costume, it mocks and invisibilizes trans* and gender nonconforming (GNC) people and their lived experiences. When someone uses phe to refer to a trans* person as an excuse for not using their correct pronouns, it is a sign of disrespect and transphobia. Additionally, wWhen someone refers to a trans* person as “a phe” instead of “a person,” it is mocking and transphobic.

Using the word phe does not imply inclusivity. It does not mean that the user no longer sees gender. The use of this word is often paired with the argument that gender is not a binary but a spectrum. However,  gender is very much still constructed as a binary and interpreted on every body as such. In fact, gender is a socially constructed, binary category used to explain and justify unequal power relations, with devastating and violent consequences for trans* and GNC people.

The Gender, Power & Sexuality Workshop does not advocate for gender to be defined as a spectrum instead of a binary. We advocate for the abolition of gender as a system at large. We encourage people to work towards unlearning the gender binary and all its connotations. We encourage people to refuse gendering others without their consent. And we encourage people to stop using the word phe and perpetuating its harmful effects.

Instead of using phe, we encourage people to use “they” as a gender inclusive pronoun. And most importantly, we always encourage that if you do not know someone’s pronouns, ask them.

Blog is open to guest submissions from anyone on campus! Email info@blognonian.com to submit a pitch. 

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