What they/he means to me

I started using they/them pronouns about two years ago. It remains to be the pronoun set that feels most correct for me, and in a perfect world, everyone would just know to use them and I would never have to say a word. However, this is not the case.

In the beginning, when I first came out as trans, I had only just started taking testosterone so I looked and sounded basically the same as I had before. People who had already known me would routinely still misgender me using she/her pronouns, and that bothered me a lot. I still feel on edge when I mistakenly think someone is talking about me using she/her pronouns. It feels horrible.

It wasn’t until about 9 months into HRT that I started to be consistently gendered male by strangers and new friends. I was in Pittsburgh for RailsConf and for the first time since being on T for a while, I was in a new city with lots of people who didn’t already know me. I got called “sir” by virtually every bartender, waiter, hotel concierge, you name it. It didn’t feel bad, necessarily, but it felt weird. Like I was a spy doing a really great job. I’ve never felt like “a man,” so being gendered male wasn’t particularly validating, it was just… different. Not bad! Just different. Whereas when I hear “she/her” I just scream internally, when I hear “he/him” I kind of just giggle and think “haha, they think I’m a man, what a novel idea.”

When I first came out and started taking testosterone, I knew this would happen eventually. Secretly, I hoped that once people started using he/him pronouns for me, I would find that I actually really liked it and felt validated by it. I hoped that I would turn out to be more of a genderqueer boy than whatever non-binary mess I actually felt like. I try to be out and proud and everything, but I don’t love the experience of being a non-binary person in the world. It’s not easy.

It’s been over a year now that I’ve been gendered male consistently by strangers and new friends. I still can’t say that I love hearing he/him pronouns but I can say I honestly feel neutral about them! This comes up more often than you’d think. At my job, people routinely use he/him for me before correcting themselves and saying they/them. It’s great that people acknowledge their mistakes and correct themselves, but sometimes people are a little overly apologetic and it’s not really proportional to how upsetting it is for me (it’s mildly annoying at best). This is one reason I started thinking about using they/he, so people would understand that if they say “he” it’s not my favorite, but it’s also not the end of the world!

I started thinking more deeply about why being both out as trans and using they/them pronouns (at least most of the time) means so much to me. Not all trans people feel this way, but I’m very connected to my experiences growing up as someone who was perceived as (and thought they were) a little girl, then a teenage girl, and an adult woman. The people who raised me, who I looked up to most and still hold dearest in my heart, were all women. I still relate strongly to, and identify with women, and it’s important to me that anyone who is going to really know me, knows and respects that part of my history. I realized the reason I can never solely use he/him pronouns is that it feels like it erases my history, which is a huge part of me that I don’t want to give up.

Gender is complicated though! I do feel mostly like a genderqueer boy, but a femme genderqueer boy who experienced the world as a girl and a woman for many decades (37 years!!!)! I only recently started using the word “femme” to describe myself, but I’m realizing more and more that it is another label that’s right for me. I love pink, and pastels, and painting my nails, and wearing makeup sometimes. These were things I, ironically, as a little girl turned away from because I was such a tomboy I felt like I wasn’t allowed to like them. I thought “being a boy” was the best thing I could be (hello, trans) but I also thought that “being a boy” meant eschewing all these other things I also loved! It turns out you can totally love both toy cars and toy ponies! I would love to go back in time and tell that to little me.

I also feel like there is a lot of power in being a femme person who is perceived as a man and uses he/him pronouns! Gender is a prison anyway! Tear down the bars! I got a lot of inspiration especially from this interview with Jonathan Van Ness (who is as close to a physical embodiment of my gender as I can think of), where he comes out as non-binary and still uses he/him pronouns. That’s really powerful!

Anyway, this blog post is a hot mess! And I’m not going to edit it! The TL;DR is:

  1. Gender is weird and complicated for me!
  2. There is a definite hierarchy of pronouns for me:
  • they/them: YAY 🎉
  • he/him: meh, it’s fine 😌
  • she/her: I will die in front of you ☠️

This also doesn’t mean you can just be lazy and use he/him pronouns for me all the time! I still prefer they/them, but feel free to mix it up a little!

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