The Middle Aged They

My name is Jamie and my pronouns are they/them. This sentence does not come out of my mouth easily. I get flustered when I’m asked which pronouns I use. I don’t like being referred to as she/her. I never have and I never will. In the past two years I’ve made some half-assed attempts to request they/them pronouns, but then I backed off. I never interrupted the conversation to tell someone they made a mistake. This week I have to get over it. Superman had a mental block against Kryptonite. I’ve got a mental block against changing my pronouns.

dont-assume-my-pronounsThey/them still sounds forced and artificial to me, but it goes with Jamie. Both are neutral, both simultaneously raise and answer questions. Both are chosen by me, not given to me at birth. Maybe I forgot how hard it was to change my name, but shifting pronouns seems harder.

I regularly attend a transmasculine support group at The Center. Each meeting starts with a go round of names and PGPs (preferred gender pronouns). The assumption is that everyone knows what they want to go by. Most use he/him, some use they/them, and no one admits they use she/her. Augie says “My name is Augie and my pronouns are Augie.” I’m stuck in a rut saying that I’m Jamie and I am pronoun challenged.

I don’t want to go through the rest of my life cringing at my pronouns or saying that it doesn’t matter when it actually does. It is increasingly disempowering for me to say I’m trans and then be referred to as “she”. This week I have an opportunity to introduce myself to a new group, and to reclaim they/them pronouns. Alexis and I will be giving a short presentation on organizing actions to the “big LGBT group with no name yet” that just formed in NYC to resist Trump. I’m going to try to make it clear at the meeting that I use they/them pronouns, and I’m going to try to stick with it, at least in LGBT circles.

I know a few people who actively use they/them pronouns in all aspects of their lives. All them are under 40. All of them complain about the difficulty of getting friends, co-workers, and family to use they/them consistently. I don’t know anyone over 50 who uses they/them. I feel faintly ridiculous doing this, but not ridiculous enough to keep putting it off. I’m not looking forward to discussing grammar, special snowflakes, or whether non-binary identities are for real. I’m not looking forward to discussing whether it is cisgender privilege to use they/them instead of he/him.

I am embarrassed that one of the impetuses for changing my pronouns is that I invited the guys from my transmasculine support group to the “big LGBT group with no name yet”. I’m expecting a few of them to show up. I invited them because I don’t want the new group to be the usual mix of lots of gay men and a handful of lesbians. I don’t want the T in LGBT to be silent. I also don’t want to be misgendered in front of my trans friends. At the intersection of my queer political circle and my transmasculine circle I want to be a third person singular they.

The start of the Trump/Pence apocalypse is an odd time to choose for splitting hairs over pronouns, but I’m not going to spend the next four years fighting for our lives while being referred to as “she” or while downplaying my gender identity. If I’m in it for the long haul, I’m in it as me.

Notes: I wish I was as eloquent and as forceful as Jack Monroe is in this post from their blog “Cooking On A Bootstrap“. In it Jack comes out as non-binary and challenges everyone to use the third person singular they when writing about them.

There are still naysayers who state that “they” is ungrammatical. For the grammarians out there, this is my favorite Trump grammar meme:

oxford-comma

30 thoughts on “The Middle Aged They

  1. MainelyButch

    I think about my own pronouns quite a bit and I am often misgendered but I have gotten so used to it that I gave up correcting people.
    I think it’s great you are starting the group with no name yet. I have been thinking of doing that same thing here. Hope you are doing well. MB

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Pronouns are weird because other people use them to talk about us – we don’t use he/she/they to talk about ourselves (except when we talk about what pronouns we use). I, me, and mine work fine when I talk about myself! I just don’t like people talking about me as if I was a woman, defining my gender in a way that I don’t relate to.
      I’m hoping that this group comes together – it is difficult to organize in NYC because people are snarky- but we’ve got the President Elect with his family and business right there on Fifth Ave. I’m psyched to do some work.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Easy to write fire, the reality is more like rubbing two damp twigs together…I did manage to tell a few people, including a journalist who is writing an article on activism and the election, and I’m going to try to sound more sure of myself – especially during those go rounds.

      Liked by 3 people

      Reply
      1. Lesboi

        I’m sure with practice it will get easier. I have the same challenge with asking for my pronouns (he/him). I do think it’s harder than the name to get people to change. They just get lazy about it unless we make a mention of it enough.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I can use they OK in a conversation, but there is no one else I’m close to who uses it, so I don’t get a lot of practice working it into my sentences. Usually when I’m using they, it is in the presence of the person who’s pronouns are they, and I’m conscious of trying not to screw up.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      I figure if we can keep track of whether someone is gay, straight, or bisexual (and pan, poly, or ace) then we can keep track of whether they use he, she, or they. I still find it awkward when I have to use they/them for other people, but I don’t have any close friends who use they so I don’t get a lot of practice.

      Like

      Reply
    1. Tam

      …defy gender. (Was the rest of that sentence). The only time I squirm about my pronouns is when I’m asked my “preference” in an lgbtq circle. As if a simple answer can really do any justice to sum up my gender. While I try not to obsess over it or try to make myself fit somewhere tidy, i am really bothered by false assumptions associated with PGPs. That assumption being that I use “he, him, his” cuz I’m masculine. OR by using “she, her, hers”, this means I can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to question my identity and therefore I am assumed to have the privilege of not having to think about my gender. When folks ask my preference I have to remind myself that men don’t own masculinity and that my pronouns alone can not describe my lifetime of bathroom angst nor can they reveal my formula of whether or not I go with the flow of how I am genders on a given day by whom and where.

      I wish I was brave enough to use they and them. I think it’s rad. Good for you. I’ve tried it on. My partner and closest pals are down with it but I’ve yet to be unapologetic enough to join the they them revolution.

      Liked by 4 people

      Reply
      1. Jamie Ray Post author

        Tam, thanks for commenting – I’ve been thinking about changing pronouns for maybe four years, and waffling back and forth along with my general waffling about what I want to do. I once wrote that I wished that masculine pronouns were like men’s jeans – no big deal to wear them – no need to wear them all the time (although I do). She/her/Ma’am/Ladies – it is all so incongruous – and binary.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Tam

        Word. I think ultimately I don’t have a preferred gender pronoun. I do mind she, her, hers. It’s what I use although I prefer men’s jeans. My pronoun is no big deal until I’m asked my preference and then yeah it’s incongruous given my presentation. Most circles where the PGP go around happens for me are youth spaces where I volunteer. In these moments I feel torn. Part of me feels like its punk and revolutionary to hold onto my she, her, hers pronouns and I want to represent an alternative example for questioning youth who might feel like they have to go by he, his, him cuz they prefer men’s jeans and that’s what all the other young trans masculine kids are doing. Part of me wants to be the oldest person I know to go by they, them, theirs which also feels punks and an awesome rejection of the binary. While I don’t correct folks when they he me, it throws me off and I then feel like I have to try to keep passing which is never my intent.

        Liked by 3 people

      3. Akiva

        I’m with you, Tam: I feel weird about all the pronouns, except for the times when I don’t feel weird about any of the pronouns. The peace I’ve made is that I get called she, he, and they in different contexts on at least a weekly basis, and that’s as close as I’m going to get. (…I’m also still not confident enough to insist on pronouns even if I knew which pronoun I wanted to insist on, ugh.)

        I loved what Leslie Feinberg (z”l) had to say about pronouns, that there were different purposes in different spaces: to turn cis-straight people’s assumptions on their heads; to respect presentation without conflating it with identity, like calling drag queens ‘she’; and more. For me, different pronouns mean different things coming from different people in different contexts, but try putting that on a button.

        Liked by 2 people

      4. Tam

        That would be a big button for sure! I think the assumption that those of us who look like we *might* fall somewhere under the trans or gender variant umbrellas have a pronoun *preference* is the where it gets problematic for me. Just because I don’t cringe or have an adverse reaction to being being referred to as she, hers and her given my masculine mannerisms, clothing choices, and behaviors that have been deemed to be “male” doesn’t imply that I prefer “she” anymore then he, they, ze, etc… Pronouns are neutral for me until someone makes an assumption about my “preference”. Frankly I see gender and gender nonconforming as this neutral experience despite the drama associated with being on this path. I want more narratives. While I feel I have made a conscious and active decision not to transition and work with what i got and try to learn to love as much of myself as I can despite some really tricky spots (full disclosure I had top surgery 10+ years ago but NOT because I hated my breasts). I am happy to call anyone whatever they want me call them, any name, any pronoun, anything. Just don’t assume that my pronoun is a preference.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Heather Stewart

    Language evolves. Grammarians need to get over it. Linguistics are much richer and much more beautiful than what we learn in grade school. Language represents us and it bends to what we do and what we are and what we need it to be. That’s why it’s so much fun to meet people with different dialects and the very reason dialects evolve within single languages to be representative of groups.

    I get that it must be hard to demand to be identified properly so often, I appreciate you for pressing on. You are a pioneer, a creator of history and the world we’re going to live in one day because that world will also be shaped by the language that we use to describe it. We don’t know each other in real life, but I hope you give them hell.
    I’ll be over here practicing proper pronouns with the trans people in my community and more mindful of it because of you. It isn’t a fruitless endeavor.

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Louis Naughtic

      Em. The very nature of language is fluid; “grammarians” should stick to mathematics, where combining rigid rules passes as imagination.

      That aside, Blog Author, and not to be unsupportive of trans [I’m undecided on whether transgenderism, or transsexuality, is psychosomatic or not; having yet to find hard science. (I’m not asking to persuaded, though anyone is welcome.)], but wouldn’t you much prefer simply not caring? Wouldn’t the pinnacle of being comfortable in your own skin be giving absolutely no shits about other people’s perspectives?

      I get wanting to be perceived by others correctly, but it rings false with me when anyone expects that to occur; and concerning one’s self with something as minor as gender and sexuality seems horrendously wasteful when compared to the far large problems in socializing. Though, if such reminders trigger dysphoria [if dysphoria is a legitimate biologic issue], suppose that’s understandable.

      Again, I’d don’t mean to be unsupportive, I’m merely undecided, and don’t allow facts to be muddied by people’s preferences.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Heather Stewart

        It only seems minor to those who don’t feel they are mislabeled. If you knew you were one thing, be it a specific gender or race or sexuality, and people consistently called you something else, it would suppress your ability to live into the real you. Society at large and people individually assign expectations to labels, so pretending our labels aren’t important misses the issue. Being able to relate to a person as who they are rather than the assumptions that you make about them when you see them or hear of them is at the heart of many of our “larger” issues. And who says anyone must choose one issue to champion? Why can’t they speak up about and support many things at once?

        Liked by 3 people

    2. Jamie Ray Post author

      The truth is that I am a follower, not a pioneer! When they started being used I decided to wait it out a bit, and see where it went. I do feel that it is starting to work its way into the lexicon.
      I’m that way about technology too. I wait and let the bugs get worked out before I jump in and buy a new piece of electronica. I recommended to “Men Explain Everything To Me” to Louis.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  3. Louis Naughtic

    Em, apparently I can’t reply to you directly, Heather. And should Blog Author decided to label our semi-divergent discussion as detraction, and remove it, I accept that.

    You misunderstand. I completely understand being mislabeled, and thus having to conform to expectations in ways that diminish my energy and happiness; I can let almost none of who I am be apparent in my socializing with most people. I’ll give you an example. Keep in mind that, while giving this example, I am not trying to open the conversation up into proving myself to be what I claim – I’m merely stating how I share the problem of being mislabeled.

    I am a genius alpha male: I, eventually, become the de facto leader of every group I inhabit; people come to me for every problem – I do not seek this role. I am not a money hording genius; I am not an artistic genius; I am not a science genius; I am an emotional genius that happens to have a collection of practical skills and positive masculine traits.

    Because of this, social environments change dramatically around me when I behave as I naturally do: socially unhealthy people seek to sabotage me; socially healthy seek my attention and aid. Both are problematic: the former for obvious reasons, the latter because I only want a very specific type of company. And that’s only the initial, simple, stages of the social patterns.

    In short: being myself puts allot of unwanted demands on my time and energy, so I have to spend an extreme amount of energy manipulating everyone around me so that I come across as banal. Having experienced all that, how someone views my sexuality and gender is frankly irrelevant to me, as it is in no way the source of my problems. Yes, misandrists hate me, unhealthy males try to out-do me, and unhealthy females sexually harass me. But that would happen, in the reverse, if I were female, so I don’t see it as a problem caused by my gender.

    In closing, let me reiterate that I genuinely do not mean to be unsupportive to the trans community by saying the following [I’ve shared a 10X10 room, for months, with two MTF whom were like family, and had my heart broke by a FTM]. Due to my personal experience, unless pronoun mislabeling causes legitimate dysphoria, I cannot support the demands that people concern themselves with it, because gender simply has little-to-no relevance to me, and I see the concern as a massive waste of energy when considering the far larger social issues that exist.

    Like

    Reply
      1. Louis Naughtic

        Exactly why I’m here. Though I don’t mean to say that I’m focused on how you, specifically, think – but trans people in general. That aside, regarding that book [which a cursory googling suggested was a feminism book], I’m afraid my previous observations of feminism have revealed the movement to primarily be nonconstructive: humanitarians and philanthropists have been addressing these issues, without gender-bias, for far, far longer than feminism has existed; and I’ve yet to hear a single feminist address destructive behaviors more common of females than males – though they certainly haven’t refrained from the opposite.

        If you’re interested in my perspectives, you can find similar ones in Aristotle’s “Politics” and “Ethics.” Though Aristotle doesn’t directly address his seeming support of slavery therein, which therefore means he does not reflect my own [I support indentured servitude to the state as both a penal system, and an education system forced upon all citizens before they are granted many of the freedoms which are currently given freely]. Plato’s Socrates is also good.

        Like

  4. anexactinglife

    Hi Jamie, The world is changing; grammar and word use are changing; people are using they/them much more in public forums. But this is a bad time with the new presidency (and the old mindset that made him so). I am happy to hear you are willing to stand as an activist and to make a personal statement as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is definitely changing with younger people, and eventually it will percolate up the age chain. I don’t find any push back with younger people, but the over thirty crowd (and definitely the over 50 crowd) are often cynical and resistant to it. Some lesbians also see it as a renunciation of being butch, but I don’t.

      Like

      Reply
      1. Mrs Fever

        I’m going to tack on to this comment, Jamie, because what you said to Dar (re: renouncing butch) is something I have wondered about. I tend to get along very well with butch women, and I think that in my own cis/mostly-het way, I identify strongly with the concept of “butch” – which I suppose is because butchness, in a lot of ways, fits me. So I have often wondered how the shift from butch to transmasculine (or riding the line in between) affects people in terms of both sense of self and sense of community.

        More to the point of your post: I have a partner whose adult child has come out as trans. They previously identified as lesbian, and I know they have changed their preferred pronouns (to they/them). My partner talks to me about his child, of whom he is wonderfully accepting supportive, and sometimes he’s very good with the ‘new’ PGPs. Other times it’s “she/her” until he catches himself, then he’ll remember and switch. It will come more naturally with practice of course. Which makes me think intentional practice in pronoun discourse – real conversation, regularly – might be a Good Thing. After all, when we are learning a new language (Spanish, Japanese, Farsi), we practice discourse regularly, in groups and with partners. PGPs are a language of their own too.

        Just thinking out loud. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        First off, butch does not have to equal lesbian, there are a number of heterosexual and bisexual women who also claim butch, so you can have a butch side if you want!
        I don’t feel as if I’ve renounced butch, or rejected the community, I feel more firmly placed in the gender non-conforming part of the queer community, and not in the assimilationist part of the LGBT community (the “were just like straight people except we have same sex partners”). There are many lesbians who feel betrayed by people who were assigned female at birth, came out as lesbian, and later decided they were transgender, genderqueer, transmasculine, non-binary, bisexual, etc. They betrayal is more about them than about us, but I’ve lost one formerly close friend because of it. She refuses to see me as anything other than a butch lesbian, which is frustrating.
        It sounds like your partner is trying to get his adult child’s pronouns right, but that it isn’t imprinted in his brain yet – you can help him by correcting him (probably not great for your relationship) – or by talking to him about what changes he sees in his kid and how he feels about them – including any sense of loss.
        I like your idea of practicing non-binary conversation!

        Liked by 2 people

  5. mostcurious

    Part of the reason I have not been back to the transmasculine group in my area is that the pronoun thing threw me. The answer I gave at the time I was going was she/her, because I wasn’t sure what the answer was (I probably should have said, “I don’t know” because that was true but seemed unfair to me somehow).

    I actually came in to say, I think it’s great (and interesting) how many people are doing things in response to Trump’s election. I’m glad you’re one of those people, particularly since you’re physically close to his nonsense. The day after the election, I knew that my answer to that bs was to a) double down on my own truth and b) talk about it. Make it clear to everyone I know, especially my conservative extended family that they know and love a transgender person. I’m not going to hide any of it anymore, because if you’re going to be hateful, then be hateful to my face and not behind my back. And if I am going to start physically looking like a man, then I am going to be an ally with my actions for muslims, women, people of color, immigrants, etc…

    Long way around to say: if you end up setting up a charitable organization please let us know because I can’t be with you physically but I’d put my money behind you folks.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
  6. queermusingss

    Great post! I found it really relatable. The first time I went to an lgbt group was only the second time I had been asked my preferred pronouns. I panicked and said ‘I’m Grace, can you just use Grace’. It was comforting that someone else said they were trying out they/them pronouns, I felt reassured it was ok to change pronouns.

    Like

    Reply
  7. bone&silver

    I’m 50 & live in Australia (where we still don’t have bloody marriage equality!) but if you told me your pronouns were they, I’d use them. It’s respectful. Same as if I told you my name, and asked you not to shorten it, I’d expect that respect, & I’d correct you if you shortened it. Ask for what you want, and you’ll probably be surprised at how easily you get it (I hope). My girl/boifriend uses both he & she to describe herself, depending on how s/he’s feeling. And when my godson became my goddaughter at age 10, it only took a short while of practicing to get the new pronoun use correct. Take a deep breath, and ask for what you know you want and deserve ❤

    Like

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s