Short film. Based on award winning story by LGBT fiction pioneer Richard Hall.

My Pronouns

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They ask me what my pronouns are. It’s a respectful and appropriate question. I have no easy answers. I was born with a physical configuration that was assigned the value ‘male’, and I’ve always been one of the girls from as far back as I can remember. I was pressured to adopt and embrace masculinity, to become one of the boys, all throughout childhood, but I wasn’t so inclined. Later, I was repeatedly invited to transition or to present as female, so that I would not get misgendered, but the price of not getting misgendered was to be mis-SEXED. You see, the body I was born in isn’t wrong, and the historical fact of being perceived and treated by others as a male is a lifelong part of who I am, and I have no wish to discard it. I’m not female, I’m a girl. Gender isn’t sex. I’m a male girl. Get used to it.So, pronouns, huh? You want the pronouns that would appropriately reference my gender, or the pronouns that would designate my sex?Yeah, exactly. Here we are, all woke and conscious and liberated from the gender binary and all that it evokes, and yet we still posit that one syllable is sufficient to designate our sex and our gender, regardless of the combination thereof. What’s the pronoun most commonly used for a male girl?I do get misappraised quite often. People treat me as a brother, a guy, one of the boys, another man, the identity that (normally) goes with a male body. In my case, that’s misgendering. Occasionally people get my gender correct — most often when I’m on the phone and they start calling me “ma’am” and assuming me to be feminine; it also happens sometimes when I’m approached from behind, especially if I’m at a table with other women, and they see the long hair and hear my voice and make assumptions. Problem is, they also assume female along with feminine person, and thus they mis-sex me. So I’m used to being gotten wrong. Doesn’t mean I like it.

Pronouns are not among the most egregious of the aspects of misassignments like these. Think about it. If they’re addressing me directly, they’re going to use the pronoun you. The gender-specific pronouns are pretty much limited to third-person references, when someone is talking to a second person and says something about me. He, him, his; or she, her, hers. I don’t spend a lot of my day overhearing people refer to me in the third person. So why (you may ask) do gender activists make such a big deal about pronouns? Because it’s an opportunity to do public education. It’s a learning moment. Getting people to rethink how they think of us. The pronouns themselves are a symptom of that thinking, but it’s the thinking that the activists want to change.

We care how other people think about us. It affects how they treat us. It shapes their behavior towards us, ranging from big conscious stuff to tiny subtle subliminal stuff that they may not be aware of.

Conceptualizing me as “she” doesn’t really fix any more problems for me than it causes.

In my case I don’t particularly crave having people think of me as female. In particular, I do not crave the sexual attentions of people whose attraction is towards female people. I would think that would make compelling common everyday sense to people, insofar as I do not in fact have female morphology, and also because people whose attraction is towards folks with male morphology would also be assuming me to be female and would therefore not be giving me attention.

Upon expressing this, I have on a couple occasions been informed that I’ve expressed a homophobic attitude. Seriously? Gay males are attracted to males, why would presenting as female (or being altercast by other people as a female person) expose me to uncomfortable gay male attention? I’ve also been told that this attitude on my part is somehow transphobic. I don’t see that either. I don’t wish to be taken for a binary transitioning transgender woman, that’s true, but not because that would be insulting or anything. Just that it isn’t accurate in my case.

Back to the pronouns. I could reasonably tell people “Please use he/his/him when you’re thinking in terms of my physical structure, and use she/her/hers when you’re dwelling on my gender”. Use them situationally, you know?

I could embrace “they/their/them” of course. Why don’t I? Well, there’s no specificity. The use of that pronoun indicates that I’m non-mainstream, but it doesn’t elaborate on how. It definitely doesn’t say “male girl” to people. Admittedly that’s true of “genderqueer” as well, and I’ve embraced that term.

Well, OK, I could also come up with my own pronouns, I suppose. Other people do. “Hi, my pronouns are ‘nee, ner, ners’. I’ve decided that that’s the pronoun for a male gender invert”.

But if my intent is to do consciousness-raising and public education, I think anywhere that people are savvy enough to ask about my pronouns is a place where I can accomplish more public education by saying “none of the above, they’re all wrong”, and explaining why.

 

Allan Hunter who maintains a blog, where this essay was originally published, is the author of GenderQueer.

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