State of Maine Language evolves. Remember ‘Ms.’?



OK, friends and neighbors, we were recently discussing long-shot candidates, why they run and whether they really think they can win. If money is the measure, then no, they can’t. Does long-shot mean no-shot?

At this point in Maine’s U.S. Senate race Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democrat Sara Gideon have attracted 98 percent of the funding. That leaves three other Democrats, a Maine Green Independent and two independent (unenrolled) candidates with a meager 2 percent of the takings between them.

Sara Gideon is the Democratic Party’s choice at both the state and national levels to oppose Collins. The six other wannabes are going to be hard-pressed to get traction. Lisa Savage will have what resources the Green Independents can muster, resources that will not be remotely competitive with Gideon’s.

The two independents, Tiffany Bond and Danielle VanHelsing, are on their own. Bond, an attorney, developed some name recognition when she entered the race for the 2nd Congressional District in the 2018 election. She drew a warm response for her plain-spoken campaign, but she eschewed fundraising and ended up with less than 6 percent of the vote.

Of the three Democrats, Betsy Sweet, a longtime advocate in Augusta, has had some exposure. She is an unknown to much of the state but has an infectious energy that has drawn some support. Ross LaJeunesse entered the race quite recently; it is yet to be seen if he can make a dent.

Bre Kidman, the third of Gideon’s Democratic rivals, is an enigma. Early in the race, Kidman claimed “mermaid” as part of their identity, but now explains that to be a playful reference to their work as a theater activist. Kidman is the first openly non-binary person to run for statewide office and prefers the pronouns “they” and “them.”

A demographic that skews old-ish, as Maine’s does, is not particularly practiced in the art of adapting to the gender choices that young people are now free to make. Those choices can lead to a vocabulary that does not fall easily on the senior ear.

Back in the day, it was “Ms.” that was the revolutionary innovation to identify a woman without reference to her marital status. After a decade of scorn and derision, “Ms.” became an accepted alternative and society turned to challenging the use of male pronouns to reference both men and women.

Thus began the search for more inclusive pronouns, leading to the clunky “he/she” or the random sprinkling of he’s and she’s in equal measure throughout speech and writing to indicate that various activities, professions, hobbies and habits are not restricted to one gender or the other.

Now we need pronouns that represent non-binary people who do not identify as male or female. The problem is that our only gender-neutral pronouns are plural. There are “he” and “she,” and “his” and “hers,” but gender neutrality appears only with “they,” ”them” and “theirs.” These are the emerging terms for the non-binary, but the use of a plural pronoun to refer to a single entity is confusing to the traditionalist. Says Kidman: Language changes slowly, but it does change.

Kidman’s life holds both trauma and tragedy. They have made choices about how to present themselves in ways that fly in the face of societal norms, but Kidman is unapologetic. “I am who I am,” they say. “I put myself out there and then I say, ‘Yeah, that’s me, did you like it?’” Given some of the ways Kidman has put themself forward, it will be a bridge too far for many voters.

They decided to run for office hoping that if someone as far outside the mainstream as Kidman could run, it might encourage others who are not the “usual suspects” to run, too. That’s a noble goal, but when it comes to politics, how far off the beaten path can one wander and still have credibility? Kidman thinks ranked choice voting, now adopted in Maine for congressional elections, might be what can lead a long-shot candidate to a win.

It is easy to make a caricature of this person who can be so flamboyant, but there is a thoughtful and intelligent person in there, too. A criminal defense attorney, Kidman is articulate about social justice issues. Kidman’s campaign events encourage donations to local causes. Kidman is committed to a low-budget effort. “Elections can be bought, but they shouldn’t be,” says Kidman.

They believe that they are aligned with the values of Maine Democrats, if not necessarily those of the official Democratic Party. The party chose Gideon as its standard-bearer almost a year before the primary, before a single Democratic vote was cast. Kidman is philosophical. Their campaign offers a way to explore whether a candidate can bring a whole new vision to “what representation might look like.”

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Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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