Pronouns, or how I am still figuring out how I’d like to be referred to (and not sure there is an end)
I’m just going to be outright honest in this post — I’m terrified right now. I’ve had the thoughts for this post in my head over the past six months but have felt the strongest of urges to put these thoughts into text in a post. I am not confident in what I’m going to write below but I think it’s important to share. I also acknowledge this is not a linear post, much more stream of consciousness. And I am not sorry about that.
I am now, more than ever, exploring how to make my internal sense of my gender match my expression. Last night, I got my ears pierced. I’ve painted my nails. I wear the occasional heeled shoe. I love to do all of these things. While I don’t want to present as a woman (because that is not my internal sense of my gender), I have identified as genderqueer among a select few because I express aspects of multiple genders. Even writing that is making me feel a simultaneous sense of empowerment and fear. More on that in a second. While the physical expression I control is part of this gender exploration/congruency process, a HUGE part of it has been language.
For the past two months, I have introduced myself using ze/zem/zir pronouns. In the three months prior to those months, I introduced myself using they/them/their pronouns. Before that, he/him/his was the default. I have been on a search for the pronouns (if any) fit me and the way I want to be recognized. I have not been particularly correcting people about my pronouns because they have been fluid and I don’t know where I will land, if any particular place. I know folks that have no pronouns and others whose pronouns may change with the time and context.
A friend recently asked me, from a place of genuine caring and curiosity, “so tell me about your pronouns.” As I began to share with him why I was choosing to use gender neutral pronouns, he asked why I had not necessarily corrected others or why my sharing was limited to training or small circle. I made the point that they are right now fluid and I don’t want to correct or make a point to folks of pronouns until I decide which are best for me and said “I don’t want to make it hard on other people.” That’s the moment my brain said – cease and desist, Alex.
In that moment, I unpacked and spoke about how really my non-insistence on my pronouns and gender identity was more about others’ ease and comfort. I was not centering (or considering centering) myself or my needs in my head. While all of this was happening, my friend then said: “well, why do you have to have an end goal to your pronouns?”
In trainings I do about gender and language, I always bring up examples of the amazing students I work with now and in the past who use different pronouns each day depending on their identity and I began to unpack and deal with some of my internalized genderism and dominance (because we all have internalized ish to work with and through). While I never thought others who used different pronouns each day were illegitimate, I thought about conceptions of legitimacy among my fellow student affairs colleagues if *I* changed my pronouns. I thought about how I could be viewed as less than just because folks would have “to deal” with a fluid conception of my gender (identity). I thought about how I have fought to establish myself as competent (especially with some of my identities) but feel like because I didn’t figure this all out in undergrad, I am developmentally behind in some way (which goes back to some unpacking I need to do about development theory as something that is beyond a four year process – a potential future post).
So, when my friend talked about the fluidity of pronouns and not having an end point, these feelings came up and I’ve been wrestling with them ever since. In a world that wants to consistently police my gender, choosing my pronouns is a radical act.
So then take all of those feelings and wrap it up and me feeling not enough, specifically not gender transgressive enough. There are days where I walk in my office or go around town with no painted nails, with neutral colors, with reserved expression because I just feel that way on a given day and then I wonder if I am transgressive enough to identify as genderqueer or use gender neutral pronouns, feeling like a cisgender imposter co-opting identity. Feeling a sense of obligation to the students I work with and alongside that they want to see more transgressive figures in administration and positions on our campus. And then I feel the other side of those feelings, thinking about how I am mentally preparing myself for the worst, the confrontations, the internalized ish around being loved, which is a continuous journey for me, who has been told by my Internal Judge and systems that I am not worthy of love and that I am unlovable.
All of this to say I am still in the process of figuring this all out. My pronouns. My gender identity and expression. How my other identities, particularly my race and ability and class intersect with my gender. It’s scary, liberating, and exciting all at the same time. I have great friends and framily who are great company in this process and I appreciate them so much! Next steps, deal with some internalized ish and live out loud and congruent to the best of my abilities and comfort, centering myself for a change.