Why I’m Awkward When You Ask Me What My Pronouns Are.

Me, my sister, and friend. First day of school 1997

Last night I was closing up shop with my coworker Darren at Bishops, the hair salon where I’ve been working for six months. We were chatting a bit, and he was telling me what a great job I’m doing and how I should feel free to ask him for help whenever I need it. Darren’s been a great resource for me in my new career, and I’ve learned a lot just by watching him cut hair. Then, seemingly out of nowhere he said,  “Hey, I’ve actually never directly asked you what your pronouns are.” 

Asking for someone’s pronouns is becoming more and more commonplace, and it’s a practice I’m on board with. I’ve come to realize over the last few years, as more and more of my friends come out as trans or nonbinary, that you really can’t know someone’s gender until they tell you how they identify. I love that idea, that you can’t assume to know a person’s gender by their outward appearance, and until you know, it’s best to refer to that person by the gender neutral pronoun “they.” Our family is friends with another family with two kids and the parents noticed that their younger child didn’t seem to be exhibiting any specific male or female characteristics so they decided to refer to that child as “they” until they were able to choose for themselves, the label they felt comfortable with. 

How I answered Darren was this: “I like the term nonbinary because I like the fluidity of it, but I’m not sure if that’s the term I want to use for myself. I feel like I’ve fought so hard to be comfortable with being female.” After a moment I said, “I guess that’s not a very good answer.” A couple years ago at a Christmas party someone casually asked me, “What are your pronouns?” I froze for a second then said, “she/her, as far as I know.” 

I’ve wondered, what is so hard for me about that question? Why can’t I clearly assert that I’m a woman? What is all this fumbling about? And I think what it is is that I feel like I already went through my gender reevaluation back in my teen years. When I was 15, 16, 17, I didn’t feel like a girl. I had a feminine body for sure- curvy, with hips and breasts much larger than I was comfortable with. I got a lot of unwanted attention for my breasts. I also had cropped hair and thick body hair and wore boyish clothes most of the time. I was envious of boys- their lean, muscled bodies, the way they could wear their facial hair without shame, the way they weren’t expected to do themselves up with makeup. I suffered from acne and hated the time I spent in the bathroom, cleansing and exfoliating and covering up my skin with products, not to mention all the time spent shaving, plucking, and primping. I was attracted to boys but I also wanted to be the boys I was attracted to. All my heroes were men. Honestly I was a little embarrassed for women and didn’t like being associated with them. I decided for a while that I was a gay boy. I didn’t know anyone who was transgender at the time, in my world or even on TV. Actually I knew of one transgender person, Kate Bornstein, who I learned about from reading her memoir, “Gender Outlaw” (borrowed from my wild, artist mother). This was in the mid 90’s. I think if I had known of the term nonbinary at the time I would’ve been thrilled and latched onto it like a life raft. 

Me and my sister, first day of school 1998

But what ended up happening was when I was 18 I was able to get a breast reduction. I went from a DDD to a C cup and felt truly liberated. Suddenly my gender crisis just didn’t seem relevant anymore. Instead of feeling like a gay boy I felt more like a boyish girl. Funny that the decrease in cup size helped me feel more like a girl but it was really that I wasn’t resisting femininity so hard anymore. It felt easier to be a girl, not such a burden. And that was the beginning of not only feeling ok about being female, but really sinking into it, embracing it with a fierce pride. In college I ended up spending a lot of my time with women because even though I have remained consistently attracted to men, most of my best friends are lesbians- it must be something about their blend of masculine and feminine that I relate to and feel comfortable around. 

Even now, when filling out a new patient form for a doctor’s office or routine survey, I feel good about marking the female box, even if there’s a nonbinary option. And with that always comes a relief, that I identify with the gender that I was born with. I’m aware of what a privilege that is. 

Ok but this nonbinary thing is still appealing to me. Because the truth is, no matter how proudly I can state “I am woman!!!” There’s a part of me that’s like, “Yes, and also I’m still such a flaming gay dude.” And I’m also neither of those things. But since I’ve already had my gender exploration I don’t particularly care much what my label is. I’m aware that I tend to be dudelier than most women, but I also understand that the term “woman” is a big enough category to include dudely women like me. 

I think when someone inquires about my pronouns I’m hesitant to say “she/her” and leave it at that because that makes it sound like I haven’t done my homework and I’m just going the lazy route, taking what I’ve been given. I want them to know I’ve given it some serious thought, that I’ve considered other options and decided that women rock and I’m honored to share their title. But I also wonder if there’s a part of me that’s afraid to make the leap from “she” to “they”, not wanting to be dramatic or make people around me uncomfortable. 

Really I would love it if we could all just be nonbinary- just people, without needing to specify further. If we could make choices about our hairstyle, wardrobe, career, body language, hobbies, based on our desires and not so influenced by how our gender is supposed to act and look. Maybe that’s why I like being female. I like to show that I can be a woman who’s not necessarily conforming to all the female stereotypes. I can choose what being a woman means to me. 

The mullet is the perfect blend of masculine and feminine. How did I live this long without one?

Digging In

 

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I’m working on a piece of writing and it feels big.

It started the other day when I was reading a memoir by Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent and I Love Dick- both radical, feminist, paradigm shattering TV shows. Their book is called “She Wants It” and it’s about their journey as a TV writer and director and how it’s tied in to their journey to find out their identity, sexuality, and voice.

I was reading this and thought, “Hey, I have a story like that too. I wonder what my story is. I wonder how it ends.” It occurred to me that my body has a story. I thought about what the story of my life would be from the perspective of my body. Luckily, I had the luxury to slip away not long after being struck by inspiration, and tap out a beginning to my story. I decided to write it on the computer, not in my journal, so that it already felt special and more like actual “writing.” That night after my family went to bed, I continued.

I’m using writing to explore my life in terms of identity, gender, and consent. The words are coming easily to me, that feeling that the thoughts are rushing at me faster than I can type. I think I’ve been preparing to write this for a long time, I guess my whole life. It’s the first time I’ve written memoir with a purpose in mind, a question.

My question is, who am I? Who am I in context of my family, my friends, my society? What does it mean to be a woman? Am I a woman? I like the term “non binary” but do I want to adopt that term for myself? What is consent exactly and what has been my experience with knowing what I want and don’t want and communicating that? How do I teach my daughter what wasn’t taught to me? What does it mean to have a body in this world? What does your body and how you use it say about you? What about me is the same throughout my life, and what has changed? How do I protect myself but also stay open and vulnerable? What does it mean to live authentically?

I’m not cracking open old journals yet, just drawing on memory and my recollection of my writing, but I think as soon as the words run out I’ll start looking back for entries that focus on identity, body, and consent, to fill out the writing and give it even more truth and detail. It started out as a blog post but it’s turning into my life story.