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Author: Beth Adele Long

You Guys!

Earlier this year, I decided to see how long it would take me to expunge the phrase “you guys” from my daily vocabulary.

The experiment started in February. Here’s the funny thing: I often bristle when someone includes me in a group addressed as “ladies,” but I’d been resisting the complaints I’d been seeing about “you guys.” I found myself saying things like, “I don’t mean it in a sexist way when I say it. It’s just a phrase.”

Ah. “It’s just a phrase.”

Most people don’t say sexist (or any -ist) things with the conscious intent of being sexist; they say them because those phrases are woven into the fabric of their speech. The very fact that they don’t think about those phrases is part of the problem. Sexism is a systemic problem, not necessarily a problem of people sitting at home twirling their moustaches or lady-staches or whatever and scheming up ways to piss off an entire demographic. (Although apparently there are people who do sit at home scheming ways to piss off entire demographics. These people are not likely reading my blog.)

So I decided to see if I could do it, to stop saying “you guys” altogether. And here I want to digress for a moment, because in order to understand some of my deep-seated resistance to language policing in any form, you have to understand my quirky personal history.

As kids raised in a very conservative Presbyterian house, we weren’t allowed to use profanity, or anything that hinted at profanity. Ten Commandments, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain,” etc. etc. So no “oh my god” or “jesus christ” or “good lord” (or even “Jesus H. Christ in a handbasket,” which genuinely impoverished my speech for many years). “Goddammit” was out, and so was just “damn it” because “only God can damn.” (When you believe in the eternal flames of hell, these issues become much more pressing.) Euphemisms were no good because they made you think of the original phrase, so no “gosh” or “golly” or “gee” or “darn.” (One time I got in trouble for saying “darn it” because I had to leave a Christian death metal concert early. This is 100% true.)

Unlike my Mom’s generation, we were allowed to say things like “oh my goodness” even though “goodness” is an attribute of God and so really, saying “oh my goodness” is questionable. Profanity by proxy, or some shit like that. Oh yeah, definitely not allowed to say “shit” or “piss” or “fuck.” Also, no “butt” or “booger” or “that sucks.” And for good measure, we weren’t allowed to say “shut up” or opine that we “hated” something. “Hate” is too strong a word, you see. You should say you “dislike” it.

Good lord but I fucking hated those rules. And I’ve been swearing up a storm ever since, in large part because I can, and no one can tell me not to anymore, goddammit.

Where was I? Oh. Right. “You guys.” So yes, despite my resistance to “not being allowed to say” a particular phrase, I decided to ditch the default American plural second person. Except this time I wasn’t changing my speech because someone had commanded me. I wasn’t sanitizing my speech because some deity would be offended, or because it would get me in trouble. I was changing it because a phrase that has no actual purpose to me, beyond its convenience, can cause actual living human beings to feel excluded. Unseen. Erased.

And that shit doesn’t fly with me.

So. I set out on my mission to de-you-guysify my speech. I thought it might take a month or two to see a significant change.

animated GIF of the Dalai Lama laughing


Yeah. Funny.

Nine months later, I’m finally seeing consistent results, but it’s been a slog. I know I used “you guys” a few times in September. In October, I’m pretty sure I haven’t used it once. At some point this fall, the neuronal connections to “you guys” finally atrophied enough that I just don’t say it anymore.

In general I now use “y’all” or “folks” or “everyone.” I sometimes get a little more flowery, especially when I’m teaching: “beautiful people” or “brilliant people” or “amazing folks” or things along those lines. (This seems like an upgrade. I’m happy the experiment has opened me up to more creative ways of speaking.)

Factors that seemed to make it more likely that I would revert to using “you guys”:

  • Speaking to a small group of people, most especially a couple. I wonder if my brain interprets “y’all” as too big for just a couple of people, while “you two” feels weird to say. Now I generally say “both of you” or “you both” or just “you.”
  • Speaking to people I know well. On the one hand, for a while I was more conscious of a sense of “I’m changing my speech patterns, will they notice? will they think I’m a weirdo? I mean more of a weirdo than they already think I am?” And on the flip side, I was more likely to relax into existing patterns with people I know. With strangers or acquaintances there’s already significant verbal filtering happening, so it’s relatively cheap to add another filter.
  • A stressful situation. (Ah, stress.)

Some things I’ve noticed along the way:

  • When I first started the experiment, I focused on just noticing when I said “you guys.” And I realized: I said “you guys” all the time. Like, constantly. Way more than I realized. Also, everyone says it. All. The. Time.
  • I had a lot of resistance to saying “y’all” in particular. There is a certain social stigma to phrases that sound “Southern” (which is a whole other topic). Eventually I got over it. I still favor “folks” but “y’all” is a perfectly serviceable gender-neutral plural.
  • I’m not one to address a group as “ladies” or “girls,” so I didn’t have the added burden of training myself out of other gendered terms for groups. I imagine for someone who often says things like “ladies” or “girls” or “gals” (or “boys” or “dudes” or whatever), this exercise might be even more challenging. (Note to the interested: I’m not a fan of being addressed as “ladies.” Especially by male-identified people. Unlike my overall neutral feeling about “you guys” earlier this year, this is a hot button for me, for reasons that will be explored in a separate post. If you’re male-identified in particular, please stop saying “ladies.” If you’re female-identified, at least start paying attention to how and when you use it; is it possible that the people you’re addressing feel a sense of dissonance that you’re not aware of? If you’re non-binary-identified… we should hang out.)
  • The less I say “you guys,” the more I notice other people saying it.

The experiment was even more fruitful than I expected. And as “you guys” fell out of my vocabulary, it exerted a gravitational pull on a lot of other gendered language and pulled some other phrases out of use. Things like “sir” and “ma’am” and “mister” and “lady.” This wider language shift feels even less like I’m policing my own language, and more like a natural consequence of taking off the ubiquitous gender filter. Which is just as well; mine was blurry anyway.

Which is a whole other topic. For now, I just want to thank you folks for reading.

Ukelele Nights

My neighbor is playing a ukelele and singing a little song. It’s a truly little song, consisting of two notes, both of them flat. The notes being sung bear little relation to the chords being strummed on the ukelele, which I imagine saves a lot of unnecessary neural activity on the part of the instrumentalist. Also, the order of both the sung notes and the strummed chords is erratic and apparently random, a kind of musical Brownian motion.

I was alerted to the incipient concert by the sound of a ukelele being tuned. I admire someone who sings a two-note song to random accompaniment and takes the care to tune their ukelele beforehand. That’s commitment to craft. I’ve never been skiing in my life, but I might display a similar optimism by adjusting my gear and swinging myself back and forth energetically at the top of a run before toppling down the mountainside ass over teakettle. Useless, but if you’re going to do a thing badly, at least set it up with style.

This little audio enchantment would become unbearable sooner than it does if it weren’t so utterly Portlandia. Much like hearing the Star Wars theme song played on bagpipes by a Darth Vader behelmeted unicyclist in a kilt, so too listening to your neighbor warble over their ukelele has a certain “isn’t Portland a quirky town” charm for about four and a half minutes, which is four minutes and twenty-eight seconds longer than I’d otherwise be able to tolerate it.

When the charm expires, it does so suddenly, and a deep existential angst slides into its place. The five minute mark finds me searching the apartment frantically for my headphones (which are hiding in plain view on the arm of my sofa). A few more seconds and Fiona Apple soothes my auditory cortex, preventing possible ukelele-related brain injury. You are my good defense, Fiona.

There’s a break, and then the concert starts up again. This time I’m able to drown it out with a box fan so that I’m not anchored to my laptop by my headphone cord. Of course, the box fan doesn’t drown out the competitive encyclopedia-toss event happening in the apartment above me.

But that’s a different story.

May the Lord Be With You

“And also with you.”

Today I saw Christ at work in the world. And if you know me well — the queer pagan who gets anxiety attacks in church buildings — that will sound odd, but it’s true. I saw the Christ I knew as a child, before doctrine and TULIP and fear and shame and orthodoxy clouded my eyes. The Christ who walked out into the world, who met the world in all its painful messiness, who accepted and healed and pitched a fit worthy of a diva in the temple.

I met her at a bus stop, because I had locked myself out of my office and was walking home. We walked together. I mostly listened, because I didn’t have anything useful to say.

Are you reading this? You called me an angel, but perhaps we were angels for each other. Bringing a glimpse of what the other person needed to see on this one day. Go here and re-connect.

Waking Up

On February 23, 2015, I wrote this in a blog post draft:

It’s the end of February, and I slept with the windows open last night. A gorgeous Florida night: cool and humid, followed by an unusually gray morning filled with birdsong.

I sit here, preparing for the week, and wonder what it will be like to wake up in Portland.

It’s now May 0f 2016, over a year later. It feels like maybe 8 years later; the past year is a water-drenched sponge, expanding beyond its natural density. A gift of a year.

My blog posts, sparse as they are, have been consumed with processing my father’s death. One of the seeds that grew from the scorched earth of that grief has been this move to the Pacific Northwest. And now I can report on what it’s like to wake up each morning in Portland.

This morning I woke up, after being away for a couple of nights. I was worn out last night, so I zonked at about 9:00pm and woke shortly after 6:00am. It was quiet; my white noise machine was whirring. I hadn’t bothered with earplugs. It was quiet; the occasional sound of a truck on 21st, but otherwise quiet. No rain, no crowd at the stadium, no passersby.


My heart was not so quiet. Jumpy, worried. Concerned about work, about lovers, about friends. My brain turning over on itself.


At my core, things are settling. My self-trust is growing. My capacity to process life is increasing. If you’re not a person who’s ever been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of life, this won’t make sense; but if you are, this probably resonates, this feeling that “I can handle this.” Either you’ve found it, or you’ve hoped to find it. And to you I say: it’s possible to live a big life with a quiet core. It’s possible to be bold and sensitive. To be brazen and hesitant. It’s possible to navigate life with joy even if your wounds tug at you daily. I want to broadcast this backwards, to my own self a year ago, five years ago, twenty years ago. To assure her that everything she hoped could be is in fact possible. Not assured, no; but possible.


Just about two years ago, I wrote a blog post about pursuing an elegant life. I had this idea that I would blog about this process, and that by now I’d have a couple dozen blog posts about my experience.

Uh. That didn’t happen.

But what did happen was that the handful of posts I did write (about cultivating attention, releasing obstacles, and reducing debt) seemed to take root. And now here, two years along, I have a shit ton of work left to do, but the work I’ve already done is paying off.

Last night I sat on a panel about diversity in tech, and someone asked a heartfelt question: “How do you overcome the fear to do these things you’re talking about?” And I instantly ached, because I knew where this question was coming from, but I was also thrilled, because I knew that asking that question — “How?” — is the first step towards succeeding.

My answer was this: increase your window of tolerance. Find the thing you can do now, the thing that feels scary but is small enough that you can do it, and tackle that. Don’t set impossible goals. Don’t stretch so far that you collapse back in on yourself. “Easy does it, but do it.”

Because that’s what got me this far. When people told me I needed to move faster, I stopped listening. When people told me I needed to move slower, I stopped listening. I shut out everything but the still, small voice inside — the voice that I spent years learning how to hear — and I followed my own instincts into a crazy new life. I moved 3,000 miles across the country because the conviction grabbed me, when I was sitting in the Boise airport, that I was going to move to Portland, Oregon. I took a job at the most inconvenient possible time because I knew it would make my life better if I took the leap. Next week I move into a bigger apartment because getting bigger seems to be the thing to do.

And most importantly, every day I work on showing up honestly to the people I respect in my life. I work on being more transparent, kinder, funnier, gentler, bolder. I work on connecting better to my own wild, vulnerable self so that I can show up in the ways that matter to the people that matter to me.

A year ago, I wondered what it would be like to wake up in Portland. Well, here I am, and every moment of every day, I’m waking up. I’m waking up in Portland, and it’s just grand.

Hosanna In Excelsius

Today would have been my father’s 65th birthday.

On his last birthday, he was too sick to want to go into Baltimore to his favorite restaurant, the Helmand, so we went elsewhere. On my previous visit, a couple of months earlier, he’d wondered about going to the Helmand, but I had to get back to Florida. To work.

To work work work.

I remember: I was standing in the kitchen, and he was sitting in the living room. And he mentioned it, off-handedly, the way you do when you know it’s not going to happen but a part of you thinks just maybe it might. A casual mention, an equally casual negation. “How about going to the Helmand before you leave?” No of course not. It would be nice, though, wouldn’t it? A voice in my heart whispered: stay. Stay. Take him to the Helmand, while you still have the chance.

Of course I didn’t.


Until February 23, 2014, I felt an obligatory compassion when someone talked about losing a parent. I knew it must be sad. I thought I could imagine it. Although when someone would wax eloquent about how terrible it was, how they still couldn’t believe it, I might tune out a little. Eventually you get over it, I thought.

I just didn’t know; because how could you?

If you know, you know; if you don’t, you don’t. Here’s what it is: it’s a cracked twig in your left ventricle. It’s a grain of sand in your eye, never to be flushed out. It’s a shadow in your vision; sudden turns in traffic will forever be tricky.

It’s a blade taped to your arm. Move carefully lest you slice skin from bone.

And here’s what it is: when you get that job, the one you can’t believe, the one where you’re excited to get up in the morning because you get to go to work, you’ll ache and ache and ache because you can’t tell him about it. He who taught you math, who gave you a book on BASIC programming when you were in elementary school, who taught you DOS, who gently guided your entire career path. He who would have been so delighted for you.

And here’s what it is: you sometimes think it’s just as well if you don’t find love, because they’ll never meet him.

And here’s what it is: you’ll always favor REI because he was a proud member since they were a little shop in Seattle.

And here’s what it is: nothing left unresolved will ever be resolved.

Oh so many words. Dad was more efficient; he’d have put on the right song, and none of this blathering would have been necessary.

Here you go, Dad. These are for you.