The past imperfect: I was thinking about my pronouns. I recently joined a group that starts off every meeting with each person sharing their first name, preferred gender pronouns (PGPs), and answering the question of the week (e.g. who is your favorite cartoon character?).
Most cisgender people have no problem disclosing their pronouns, and resort to the pronouns they were assigned when they were born. Their gender expression is the same as their sex, and both are congruent with their pronouns. It is tidier when everything matches and nothing changes. There is nothing to explain.
I feel trapped when asked to share my PGPs. I can barely say they/them/their. I know I secretly prefer he/him/his, but I won’t say it. It would be a “pronouncement” that I’m transitioning socially. I’m not ready. I may never be ready.
Being asked to state my pronouns makes me feel like I’m “not trans enough.” I hedge my answer. I explain that most of the people in my life, including Donna, use she/her/her, but I prefer they/them/their. I don’t hear the question as “What do you prefer I use when I refer to you?” – I defensively hear the question as “Do you use male pronouns and why not?”
In my mind he/him/his pronouns and testosterone go together like love and marriage. As the song states “you can’t have one without the other” even though I know several exceptions to this rule (butches on low dose testosterone who use female pronouns, and trans guys who have never gone on testosterone and use male pronouns). Name change and top surgery don’t push you over the pronoun cliff unless you choose to jump.
If I could think of the he/him/his pronouns as masculine, as opposed to male, I might be able to use them. If I could think of he/him/his as the pronoun equivalent of men’s jeans (constructed for men but also worn by others for a variety of reasons) then they might fit me. I wouldn’t be caught dead in women’s jeans. But every day I live with she/her/her.
They/them/their would be fine if I could screw up my courage and ask people to use them consistently. Even asking friends to use they/them/their pronouns makes me feel like a demanding special snowflake. Gender expression is full of nuance; gender neutral pronouns are grammatically clunky. It is unrealistic, but I hope that somehow, someday, someone will start using they instead of she, and it will gather momentum and snowball.
I don’t want anyone to play along condescendingly. I want them to understand that, until everyone uses the same gender-neutral pronouns, my pronouns should have some relevance to who I am and how I present. She/her/her are wearing thin.
I don’t want to be referred to as “her” for the rest of my life. I struggle with residual feminist guilt over it. When I try to articulate why female pronouns annoy me, all I can say is that wearing anything feminine and being called by anything feminine bothers me. It always has and it always will. It is why I changed my name. It is why I dress the way I do. It is why I see myself as a boy, with my dog.
The title of my blog is “A Boy and Her Dog” because it captures my conundrum. When I started the blog I hadn’t started trying to use they/them/their. If I called it “A Boy and Their Dog” you wouldn’t get the picture. If I called it “A Boy and His Dog” I’d be probably be sued by the author Harlan Ellison.
Notes: While stumbling around looking for a history of gender neutral pronouns I discovered the term “epicene pronouns” and this article by Dennis Baron. I mistakenly assumed that the English language search for gender neutral pronouns started in the 1960’s or 1970’s. He traces it back to 1850.