One of my latest sticking points is the usage of pronouns to refer to bots. While I realize there is a longstanding tradition of using personal pronouns (she, he, her, and his) to refer to machines, I have real problems anthropomorphizing bots. It just strikes me as a slippery slope for an academic to engage in. At the same time, calling the famed Tifanny_bot “it” all the time is just clunky.

My solution to this dilemma came from an unlikely source: John Leguizamo. Driving home from the hospital I heard him interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air. Discussing his work on To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar, he mentioned that the studio hired a Drag Queen to coach him and said something along the lines of: “They hired *pause* ohh, I can’t remember his real name. Her drag name was [X] and she taught me everything.” And that got me thinking about gender designations when it comes to drag. Clearly the absolute (genital/chromosome) sex of the performer never changed. He was a he. But while in the drag role the performer assumed the gender designation being performed. Like Lou Reed once wrote “then he was a she.”

What this suggests is that culturally the chatterbot program itself can be considered an “it” while the self it performs, Tiffany for example, can be referred to as “she.”