Who? Or What? Word Choice Matters!
Two blog posts in one day?! Yikes! Well I guess when it is flowing there’s no point stopping it.
If you haven’t read “Breaking Out of More of Society’s Chains” please do so. This post does not make much sense without the context of that post. I was actually just sitting down to write this post and struggling to introduce it in a way that was not egotistical or offensive. At that moment, a comment appeared on that previous post, from Wendie. Here is an excerpt of that comment:
…After listening to the song it made me feel slightly sad that it was written in such a way to say, what I am. You are not a what or a thing you are a beautiful person.. You are a who. I hope you can be proud to be, who you are. …
I was sitting here and reflecting on that very word choice. Yesterday when I first heard the song, I thought it was “who.” When I went back to look up the video to link it today I realized the song is “what.” Looking back, they were singing “what” yesterday but I automatically edited that in my mind to “who.” When I originally wrote the blog post, I wrote it using who, not what. I had so sit and think about why they would choose the word “what.” I went back and I changed all the whos that I wrote to whats. Here’s why:
They repeat the word choice so much it cannot be a mistake. Why would they choose to write the song “what?” That led me into in-depth analysis of the song. Not only why did they choose that word but also why did I auto-correct it in my mind last night. I did what I do best… Over analyze. First I went searching for definitions. I have bolded the definitions that apply as the song uses the word what.
- asking for information specifying something. “what is your name?”
- asking for repetition of something not heard or confirmation of something not understood. “what? I can’t hear you”
- the thing or things that (used in specifying something). “what we need is a commitment”
- (referring to the whole of an amount) whatever. “I want to do what I can to make a difference”
- (Dialect) who or that. “the one what got to my house”
- (in exclamations) emphasizing something surprising or remarkable. “what some people do for attention!”
- asking for information specifying something. “what time is it?”
- (referring to the whole of an amount) whatever. “he had been robbed of what little money he had”
- (in exclamations) how great or remarkable. “what luck!”
- to what extent? “what does it matter?”
- used to indicate an estimate or approximation. “see you, what, about four?”
- informaldated: used for emphasis or to invite agreement. “pretty poor show, what?”
- What or which person or people. “who is that woman?”
- Used to introduce a clause giving further information about a person or people previously mentioned. “Joan Fontaine plays the mouse who married the playboy”
- The person that; whoever. “who holds the sea, perforce doth hold the land”
If you presume that it is not always being used as dialect then there was a conscious reason for avoiding the word “who.” After a couple moments thinking about it, and looking at the definitions, I realized why they used what instead of who…
They chose to use the word what by this definition
- The thing or things that (used in specifying something) “what we need is a commitment”
For society as a whole being transgender, transvestite, genderqueer, or bi-gender over rides any other fact about whom you are. It becomes the thing specifies who you are. Since society as a whole does not understand it… Society fears it. Society does not see me being transgender as one of the facets of who I am. Society sees being transgender as what I am. The singular thing specifies what I am. I am not a multiple faceted person anymore. I am a thing. I am a what. Until society accepts us as multifaceted people, the lyric remains what. For me, in my mind, it is and always been who. I see the multiple facets of myself and being transgender is only part of who I am. That song spoke to me in a way that I always heard it as about me at least partly and that made me edit it in my mind to who.
To an extent Gays, Lesbians, and Bisexuals had the same problem. All of a sudden in the last couple of years, they have changed to using who. Why? Society as a whole can now look past someone being gay into the deeper sections of who they are. So now, it is only one facet of their multi-faceted existence. As being Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual becomes more acceptable more and more of the people in those groups are using the word who.
I hope that someday, we can too.
This is their commentary on what society thinks of us. Society thinks about us as “what” but we know in our heart that we are a “who.” What we are makes news. Who we are is not the news worthy part. Listen next time there is a news item about a transgender person. It’s damn near offensive. Why should we give society the benefit of glancing into our heart and seeing who we are, when all they can see is what we are?
Wendie, thank you, You saw that it should be who. You saw that it was clear that we are people too, not just things. I hope many people are bothered in the same way you are. Only in that way will we achieve progress and equality. The word choice was specific to further bring awareness to the problem that being transgender is used to define us. Many things about us are assumed because we are transgender. Transgender is what we are to society.
Please watch the song again with all that in mind. Please note: that before the song even starts Georges says “They are who they are and they’re on their way here” about the people trying to crush their life style. Georges gave people trying to destroy their lifestyle the respect of using who, but because of the way society looks at transgender and trans* people in general… Albin can’t use “who” in a song about him.
It’s a song where he’s trying to hold up his identity. He’s trying to validate himself but the entire song is undermined by society as a whole…