On Calling Him Daddy, and Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Roe McDermott

Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.


Dear Roe, I’ve been with my boyfriend six months, and the sex has generally been good. The other night, we were getting pretty into it, and in a close-to-orgasm haze, I called him “Daddy”. It was something I used to say with my ex, and it had always turned me on. I know it’s a bit weird, and I don’t know why I find it so sexy, but my boyfriend clearly doesn’t share my turn-on.

In fact, it completely freaked him out. He finished, but not before pausing, and he was quiet the rest of the night. The next day, he told me it had completely turned him off and asked me whether I had issues with my dad. I told him I had a great relationship with my dad (which I do), and that it wasn’t some weird incest thing, I just find it sexy and can’t explain why. He wasn’t satisfied, told me he thought it was messed up and that I had serious issues and should probably see a therapist (??).

We haven’t had sex since, and I’ve been so on edge. I feel awful. My boyfriend obviously thinks I’m some psychologically damaged freak, and now I can’t stop overanalysing this turn-on of mine. Is it completely abnormal to be into this? Am I messed up?

Dear Letter Writer, There’s nothing wrong with you, and nothing wrong with finding the word “daddy” sexy. In terms of the very few sexual things I would define as “wrong” (actual incest, bestiality, sex with Donald Trump), dirty talk has never once made a blip on my radar.

It’s a fucking (literally) WORD. And as dirty talk goes, it’s a fairly low-level, almost clichéd one at that. But hell, don’t take my word for it. Watch, oh I dunno, 80 percent of 1970s porn. Or ask both your girl and guy mates – I guarantee someone’s into it.

Or, easiest of all, just look at your own history. You’ve already slept with someone who respected your love of wordplay, and enjoyed turning you on by indulging it.

So the problem isn’t your (pretty mild) kink. The problem’s your boyfriend’s shitty reaction.

Look, if the word “daddy” turns him off, it turns him off. But there’s a big difference between not being into something and shaming your partner for being into it.

Good sex comes from feeling safe and respected, not judged. It’s about communicating desires and limits so that you can lower your inhibitions and fuck with wild abandon. It’s feeling like you can do what you want, be what you want.

And so having someone tell you their kinks is a privilege – they’re not just opening up a dialogue, they’re offering to entrust you with their most raw, sexual self. So even if their kink isn’t yours, the decent thing to do is to respond with a respectful and open mind: to ask them about it, to try to understand it, to give it a go if you’re willing.

Still not your thing? Explain this gently and without judgement, and try to come up with a compromise so they’re not left bereft.

Your boyfriend’s ignorant, unquestioning, shame-causing judgement? Unacceptable.

Oh, but before I forget? The problem is also you.

Aww, and I seemed so on your side! And I am. But I’m not letting you entirely off the hook either.

Because that dialogue we’ve just spoken of? You didn’t facilitate it. You say you don’t know why the word “daddy” turns you on. Bullshit. You know, even if you’re haven’t acknowledged or articulated it just yet.

So let’s go through just a few options:

1. It’s a basic – and very common – submissive/dominant dynamic. “Daddy” represents an authority figure, one you have to submit and surrender control to, maybe be punished by. Assigning labels or names to your dom is the norm, and some people find labels like “Master”, “Sir” and “My Lord” too formal and inorganic. But “Daddy”? Hell, we’ve all said that.

2. It’s a lusty taboo. You like the idea of being so sexy that you can seduce people who really shouldn’t want to fuck you, i.e. Daddy. Spend five minutes on any porn site and you’ll find 5 million variations of this: dads, step-dads, moms, brothers, uncles, teachers, therapists – you name it. They shouldn’t want to fuck you, so you love the power and validation that comes from making them want to fuck you. Simple as.

3. It’s simple sexual abandon. You’ve heard of people using the word “daddy” during sex, whether in porn or films or rap songs or wherever. And you grew to think of it as something a bit naughty and dirty and nasty (in the good way). This word/situation association hits whenever you’re particularly turned on, and you want to heighten the sexiness by expressing it.

Now, for the most part I don’t think there’s a need to analyse your kinks – mainly because when people overanalyse they tend to do what you and your boyfriend did, and jump to some scare-mongering Freudian psychosexual explanation and label themselves as dysfunctional, damaged freaks.

But understanding why something turns you on is a very useful tool, because it means you can explain to your partner why something turns you on. And that’s where you missed a trick in this situation.

If someone’s unfamiliar with a kink or has negative associations with it, a well-worded description of how it can be sexy can easily convert them – or at least leave the door to that particular kink ajar, instead of slammed shut.

So, if you really want to stay with this guy, sit him down again and try to explain why you like a bit of Daddy role play so much. Appeal to his wannabe-Sex-God ego.

Say it makes you so wet, makes you feel so dirty and sexy, that he turns you on anyway, but using that word with him just drives you wild. Assuage his Freudian fears by explaining that no, it’s nothing to do with your own father, and simply everything to do with evoking a sexy, naughty atmosphere with him.

And if he still insists on being a stupidly literal idiot who thinks you actually want to have sex with your father?

Ask him if he’s ever called a girlfriend “babe” or “baby.” When he says yes, scream in horror, slap him, run away, and threaten to tell the Gardai that your boyfriend harbours latent desires to have sex with infant children.

Trust me, he’ll get the point and realise that a religious adherence to the literal in the bedroom is a serious buzzkill.

***

Dear Roe, One of my cousins is after coming out as transgender. They have changed their name to something that could be a man or woman’s name and they have asked that people say “they” instead of “he/she”. I haven’t spoken to them yet as we don’t live close, so all I know has come from my mother’s conversations with my cousin’s mother, and my aunt seems unclear on whether my cousin is now using “they” permanently or if it’s just while they are transitioning.

I will be seeing my cousin over Christmas, so I’m trying to do some research to make sure I can be supportive, and also so I can hopefully give my parents some guidance as they’re completely at a loss. While I’ve told my parents it’s important to respect my cousin’s choice to be referred to as “they”, my parents (and I, to be honest) are confused about other relationships words, that often indicate a gender – e.g. “niece/nephew”. Could you give me any guidance on the language around this? Thanks.

Dear Letter Writer, I really want to commend you on your letter – first of all, I can already tell that you’re respecting your cousin’s gender-neutral pronouns, and secondly I love that you’re reaching out and trying to do some research so that your cousin isn’t responsible for educating your entire family at a time that’s already going to be filled with challenges, and a lot of time spent answering basic and sometimes ignorant questions about their gender and identity.

So all the gold stars to you for doing the research and trying to be supportive.

I can’t tell you whether your cousin will be permanently using gender-neutral pronouns. Some transgender people are also gender non-binary, which means they don’t feel that they belong to either gender category, man or woman, so they use gender-neutral pronouns.

Some gender non-binary people use gender-neutral pronouns permanently, and some change their pronouns according to how they’re feeling and expressing their gender identity. Then some trans people use gender-neutral pronouns during their transition, and will then begin to use masculine/feminine pronouns when they feel comfortable.

All you can do is ask which pronoun they prefer, and respect their wishes.

You’re also right to note that many relational terms are gendered, which shows just how difficult it is to navigate life as a trans or gender non-binary person, and how our language can erase their identity and experience.

Luckily, more gender-neutral terms are emerging, and I’ve listed some below that might help you and your parents becomes more comfortable with gender-neutral terms. However, I would advise not enforcing any language on your cousin that they’re not comfortable with.

It might be a lovely gesture to send your cousin an email before Christmas telling them you love them and would like to support them in any way you can.

Ask them if they feel comfortable telling you what pronouns and what relational terms they feel comfortable with – and offer to tell your parents and other relatives, to save your cousin a lot of trouble and to help ensure they don’t spend their entire Christmas being misgendered.

Or if you don’t feel comfortable emailing your cousin, maybe ask your aunt to ask them and to let you know.

There are also some great resources for trans people and their families that you could find helpful. TENI (Transgender Equality Network Ireland) are fantastic, and are great for giving advice and feedback as your family try to support your cousin.

And most importantly: don’t make Christmas all about your cousin being trans.

They’re still your cousin, and they still have an identity outside of their gender. So once you get the pronouns down and make sure they know that you love and support them, move on to asking how they’ve been, how’s their job/school, are they excited about Star Wars, isn’t Donald Trump evil incarnate. You know, the important stuff.

Mum/Dad

  • Parent: neutral, formal.
  • Per: neutral, short for parent.
  • Par: neutral, short for parent.
  • Maddy: queer, mixture of mummy/mommy and daddy.
  • Muddy: queer, mixture of mummy and daddy.
  • Moddy: queer, mixture of mommy and daddy.
  • Zaza: queer, based on mama and papa/dada.

Sister/Brother

  • Sibling: neutral, formal.
  • Sib: neutral, short for sibling as sis and bro are short for sister and brother.
  • Sibster: queer, combination of sibling and sister.
  • Sibter: queer, combination of sibling and brother.

Aunt/Uncle

  • Pibling: neutral, your parent’s sibling.
  • Auncle: queer, combination of aunt and uncle.
  • Cousin: neutral, as sometimes people say aunt/uncle for parents’ cousins, or much older cousins.
  • Titi: neutral, from the Spanish for aunt (tia) and uncle (tio). (However, it is often a diminutive of aunt.)
  • Zizi: neutral, from the Italian for aunt (zia) and uncle (zio). (Note: zizi is also a French children’s “cute” word for penis.)
  • Untie/Unty: queer, combination of uncle and auntie/aunty

Niece/Nephew

  • Nibling: neutral, combination of niece/nephew and sibling.
  • Chibling: neutral, the children of you sibling.
  • Cousin: neutral, as sometimes people say niece/nephew for cousins’ children, or much younger cousins.
  • Sibkid: neutral, short for sibling’s kid.
  • Nephiece: queer, mixture of nephew and niece.
  • Niecew: queer, mixture of niece and nephew.
  • Nieph: queer, mixture of niece and nephew.

Daughter/Son

  • Child; neutral, formal.
  • Offspring: neutral, formal.
  • Sprog: neutral, informal.
  • Oldest: neutral, refers to age instead of sex/gender.
  • Youngest: neutral, refers to age instead of sex/gender.
  • Kid: neutral, informal.

Grandma/Grandpa

  • Grandparent: neutral, formal.
  • Grandwa: queer, based on grandma and grandpa.
  • Grandy: neutral, short for grandparent, grandma or grandpa.

Granddaugter/Grandson

  • Grandchild: neutral, formal.
  • Grandkid: neutral, informal.

Girlfriend/Boyfriend (non-serious relationship)

  • Date: neutral, the person you are dating.
  • Datefriend: neutral, the person you are dating, but fitting the boyfriend/girlfriend pattern.
  • Datemate: neutral, a rhyming version of datefriend, the person you are dating.
  • Lover: neutral, often implies sexual relationship, but simply refers to someone you love/who loves you.
  • Boifriend: queer, “boi” is a particular gender identity.
  • Girlboyfriend: queer, for bigender or androgynous people, or perhaps binary trans people.
  • Boygirlfriend: queer, for bigender or androgynous people, or perhaps binary trans people.
  • Paramour: neutral, someone you are having a sexual relationship with.
  • Bothfriend: queer, for bigender or androgynous people, or perhaps binary trans people.
  • Genderfriend: queer, based on boyfriend and girlfriend.

Girlfriend/Boyfriend (long-term/serious relationship)

  • Partner: neutral.
  • Significant other: neutral, quite formal.
  • S.O.: neutral, short for significant other.
  • Other half: neutral, informal, and implies monogamy.

Ms./Mr.

  • Mx.: queer, from mix or X as opposed to M or F.
  • M.: neutral, short for any and all titles. (Note: M. is also short for monsieur, making it masculine in French-speaking countries.)
  • Misc.: queer, the word miscellaneous.
  • Msr.: queer, mixture of Ms. and Mr.
  • Mq.: queer, based on the M beginning of Ms./Mr.

Do you have a question for Roe? You can submit it anonymously at dublininquirer.com/ask-roe

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Roe McDermott: Roe McDermott is a journalist, arts critic, Fulbright awardee and sex columnist from Dublin. She lives in San Francisco, where she's completing an MA in Sexuality Studies.

Reader responses

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David
at 25 November 2015 at 15:02

Hahaha. Is this a parody? It must be.

What if someone wants to be addressed as Sir ZogTwittle the Eight? Should we acquiesce, or should we get them help. Some of the issues mentioned above suggest there’s a lot of people that need counselling, and of the real kind, not the superficial nonsense posted above.

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