The term "Guys," gender, and pronouns


#1

I use the term “guys” all the time, and in my mind it’s neutral in terms of gender/orientation/self-identification.

For me, “guys” is just a way to address multiple people informally. For me, it’s equally applicable to my dad, to a room full of frat bros, if I’m hanging out with two girls, or to a mixed room of ages, genders, orientations, identities.

But I’m interested to hear what others think. Especially when it comes to non-binary folks. Is “guys” appropriate for all kinds of people? Male and female, trans and non-binary, and all other ways people can identify today? Or, is the word wrapped up with meaning I don’t intend?

Interested in everyone’s thoughts


#2

everyone’s going to have different feelings about different words and it’s your responsibility to listen to requests to stop or pick up on cues that not everyone feels the same way about whichever word. often it’s pretty embarrassing to try and justify one’s own identity by requesting someone to rectify their gendered speech, so just because no one says anything doesn’t necessarily mean everyone’s cool with it.

use your common sense and treat everyone how they wish to be treated, which includes doing the emotional labour of at least trying to guess how they would like to be treated beforehand, instead of waiting for someone to come to you with a complaint or request for you to change your behaviour


Self-moderating our vocabulary
#3

The main thing I’d focus on in this context is people who experience constant microaggressions and more overt daily harassment & abuse relating to gender.

If someone (trans/NB) is constantly on edge (possibly in a state of hypervigilance or other anxiety-induced thinking) waiting for the next person who will harass them or question their humanity, if they’re constantly looking out for who is about to become abusive or even violent, if their survival depends on reading such things and being cautions… anything cis people can do to lessen that burden is valuable.

In that context, everyone should attempt to reduce how much we rely on terminology open to misinterpretation or that has gendered connotations when applied to people. “Guys”, “dudes”, etc can be used as non-gender-neutral, so using them to a mixed crowd can be read as a microaggression, one that might put someone on edge as they await any more signs that misgendering is the start of a wider attack. When alternatives exist, we should work to reduce how we all fall back on such language.


#4

This makes a whole lot of sense.

Do you think there are alternative terms to use that can be used as truly neutral? Or, is this too dependent on individual experiences and preferences for what they feel comfortable being called?


#5

It’s contextual and dependent on your audience. Personally, I steer clear of it entirely, for some of the reasons that jaguar outlined (such as people might want to speak up but feel embarrassed to in the moment). I do think it’s a gendered word and there’s a lot of contexts where it can be erasing (if there’s only a few women in a group dominated by men) or harmful (using it to describe someone who does specifically does not identify as ‘a guy’).

This is one of the cases where there’s great alternative words to informally refer to a group, whether you’re asking them “what’s up” (e.g. y’all, gang, folks) or describing a group of people.


#6

Thanks! I really like using ya’ll and folks, but it still isn’t as natural as “guys.” Just gotta work on fixing that I guess.


#7

I think it’s possible to build up lists which work in most situations and then aim to move towards the gender-neutral stuff (which works at least 99% of the time). On the very basic:

‘he’, ‘they’, ‘she’.

It’s not complete, people have specific preferences like ‘ze’ that if you know you should use. But if we’re being generic or uncertain or don’t know a preference (presumed or explicit - and remember that if you make a mistake and someone corrects you, they’re far more interested in not making it a big thing). So above I never assume ‘he’ as generic pronoun because we have an actual gender-neutral ‘they’ that can be used throughout. There’s no need to potentially gender someone generic in our language (which also has the feminist issues around gender assumptions “the doctor is he, the nurse is she”) or use more esoteric forms (like changing between he or she each instance of a pronoun). We have simple solutions that are genuinely gender-neutral rather than overloading a gendered term or using unorthodox grammatical formats (changing pronoun can be hard to read). They work 99% of the time and that’s what is needed for a generic use (addressing crowds, talking about generic rather than specific people).

‘Guys’ and ‘dudes’ can be gendered so we should assume it could be read like that. ‘Folks’ is a good non-gendered alternative. Of course, variety is good. I find that variety comes from alternative specificity - when addressing groups of friends then just call them that. ‘Friends’ is a great way to an address a group of people you know well/socialise with.

Look to where a collective noun can be used that describes the people you’re addressing rather than gendering them.


#8

Personally I do not like y’all because it’s one of the go to phrases people use when trying to “comically” portray people from the south. I get that it’s a fun silly thing to say but it feels like I’m being mocked every time I hear someone say it and it’s clear that not only are they not from the south or heard it growing up so it became just a natural part of their language but they are doing it as a comedic hello to a group.


#9

This is a good and tough point, @Wazanator which also touches on my initial “guys” question, and the difficulty of language in general.

I’m from North Carolina, for the first 18 years of my life, “ya’ll” was something I heard dozens of times a day unironically. Now I live in Portlad, OR, not exactly traditional “ya’ll” territory. So, while I like using ya’ll and folks, outside of the south I do worry that people think I’m using it ironically or not genuinely, when really it’s very natural for me, something I grew up using but am increasingly less comfortable with

(That said, irony is also fun in day-to-day life)


#10

“y’all” is really common outside of the south as well you know. like i live in toronto and i grew up saying it


#11

That’s an interesting perspective. Since I live in Kentucky, “y’all” has become a huge cultural marker for people from here. There have been a lot of pictures online of the Florence, Kentucky water tower, which says in big, uppercase letters, “FLORENCE, Y’ALL”. I use it every day because English needs a second person plural pronoun. But to your point, I use it with people who live here. Either way, I use it and hear it used with a complete lack of irony.


#12

Yeah I’m from texas so my collective nouns are pretty much “y’all” and its larger cousin “all y’all.”

I habitually refer to people as dude in a gender-neutral way but I probably should break myself of that habit because it isn’t actually a neutral word?


#13

“dude” definitely seems to have a gender gradient across the country - it’s used pretty much neutrally in California but about equivalent to “bro” in other places


#14

Here in Los Angeles everyone uses dude for anyone of any gender. I myself am gender nonconforming and go by they pronouns, but dude is just my go to word for “friend” or even myself (i.e. “I’m just a dude who likes X” or “my dude Y also likes X”). It really isn’t a big deal here, and all my queer friends share my habits/views, but I can totally see why some may have an issue with it. I suppose it’s more of a regional thing than anything.


#15

yeah, even growing up in California I said/say it pretty frequently just as a natural greeting; it’s become more a natural linguistic pattern for me than anything


#16

I know a fair number of people who use it as a general term. While I’d personally prefer that they didn’t, There honestly really isn’t anything I can do about it. Just know that personally, the venn diagram of people who

  • use it as a group descriptor
  • tell me I “fit in as one of the guys”
  • get angry/mad/physically aggressive when I’m not DTF

is practically a perfect circle.


#17

I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for someone to read the use of “guys” or “dude” as a microagression, even if culturally those words have essentially lost their gender specific connotations and are used to describe diverse groups of all genders. It’s still misgendering group members, and sort of reads as if women or transgender folk in a group are not to be adressed directly, or that they should be treated as “one of the guys”. I tend to fall on the side of “misgendering of all kinds fucking sucks” so I’ve tried to replace “guys” with words like “folks” or “y’all”, or even just “everyone” even though it sounds less conversational.


#18

Folks, just want to say a sincere thanks for the thoughtful responses you’ve all posted. Really appreciate it!


#19

Living in the deep south (MS, AL), “y’all” and “folks” have really been embraced by LGBTQ+ organizations around here as gender neutral terms completely unironically. This kind of allows to bring southern charm and hospitality that will hopefully encourage more welcoming spaces for those seeking it in and around the South.


#20

I used to use dude and guys a lot both online and in person. I’ve switched over the past several years to y’all and folks for online and I just use names in person. Y’all does not sound good coming out of my mouth irl. As always: Respect people’s preferred pronouns.