by Elizabeth Darling
Walking in the paddock last month, I turned too quickly and collided with a tree trunk. After the blood was staunched and concussion checked for, stitches and plasters were tracked across my cheek. I had a swollen eye socket, the eye completely closed, blood in my hair. Black, blue, green, and purple bruising bloomed down my face and neck. I could not see myself clearly in a glass but could see darkly in the faces of people I passed that I was an object of horror, worthy of pity. Covid made it impossible for people to reach out to hug me. The experience has left me with some issues to resolve.
After the bloodletting, there was frantic texting between myself and my hairdresser. 8 texts it took for us to arrange for a time when he could wash the blood from my hair without dampening the stitches.
In my 80th year, I suspect that current language usage, personal and appropriate, is changing too fast for me. I am currently tutoring a 16-year-old student, Isobella. We failed an online essay together despite all my degrees and English teaching experience. Meanwhile, working on a commission to illustrate a research paper, there is an intriguing little footnote to the letter of instruction. I found the phrase “preferred pronoun, she, hers.” Isobella carefully explained to me that there is an individual in her class whom she knew in Primary school as “She” but who now identifies as “He”. My flippant response that this must make marking the roll and writing reports difficult was not well received. Gender Identity is to be taken very seriously. I, for one, am confused by the increasing use of ‘they’ rather than him/ her. But I have also learnt that pronouns matter. And I know emphatically that I am not a ‘we’.
After my accidental encounter with the tree trunk, I presented for an x-ray at the local hospital. The technician assured me there was still a brain there, but also a fracture of the cheekbone. “Oh, “ said the girl at reception who checked through the various cards, Medicare, private health care, driving licence, and so on, “have we had a Fall?”. Was she reaching for the extension number for the old people’s care home, or maybe, she, not I, was seeing double. For the next 2 weeks until the bruises faded I was ‘We’d’ on and off too often.
When people begin to address one as WE it’s time to stand up straight and shout. I may be old, I might have trouble with computer-driven bill paying, form filling, banking, information collection, even passing a year 11 online essay, but I have the right to the respectful use of the correct pronoun.