I am someone who is inhabiting a world in between genders. There is a growing set of words, a subculture of sorts, and there are political agendas surrounding this experience. And in theory, I am on board with all I’ve seen (and let me clarify that what I’ve seen is almost entirely online at this time, and not reflected in the world I actually live in). But in actuality, not every part of it appeals to me personally. Which is OK – I can still support it while simultaneously getting the word out that not all non-binary people have the same needs, preferences, and agendas.
I’m going to go with a break-down of three categories: Pronouns, Bathrooms, and Legal Designations / Forms. And talk a little about the discussions I’ve seen, but also how I personally feel.
Pronouns: I prefer to be referred to with male pronouns: He/Him/His. The reason for this is: because it is my preference. It really is as simple as that – no explanation needed. It feels the most right (although no pronouns actually feel “right” for me). That’s all it comes down to – a feeling.
Many non-binary people go by They/Them/Their, along with a myriad of more obscure pronouns. Some people have assumed that I go by They/Them/Their, because I identify as non-binary. That is fine. It’s not my preference, but I’m not offended by this assumption, nor do I mind being referred to in this way. I have felt some pressure (from within myself only) to adopt the They/Them/Their/ set in order to align myself more with an idea of a non-binary identity, and to take a stand / stand-out more for what some people truly feel they need (which is to be referred to with gender neutral pronouns – it is definitely a need for some people). But, bottom line, it does not feel right for me. Male pronouns feel (more) right.
(And I imagine if I really break it down, this correlates to how I see my gender: I do not feel as if I am without gender, genderless, agender, or gender neutral. Instead, I feel as if I am an amalgam of genders, a kaleidoscope. And so it feels right that I view my identity’s make-up as pieces from all genders, rather than a rejection of anything that is gendered.)
I have seen many preferred sets of pronouns online (such as Ze/Hir/Hirs, Ey/Em/Eir/Eirs, Xe/Xem/Xyr/Xyrs and also ones based off of nouns). But in actual real life, I have come into contact with only one person, so far, with a preference for a set like this – and I immediately proceeded to mess it up when talking out loud. I have met a couple of people who prefer They/Them/Their, and that feels immediately do-able in real life, because these are words we’re all familiar with pronouncing. And… that’s kinda the difference – much of the online world is written, it’s visual. And it’s easy to backspace and try again. The real world involves much more talking out loud, at a conversational pace, and I personally am a long way from incorporating these newish words naturally into a conversation. That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to. It doesn’t mean I don’t support it. It means, in practice, I have a lot of work to do. And that work is difficult to do if I do not have people in my life who want to be referred to in this way – it’s hard to practice if I’m not actively practicing, essentially. And, since I am someone who identifies as non-binary, I might be, in theory, someone on the most sensitive, most open, end of the spectrum, in terms of the general populous. I have a lot of trouble with it, from a practical perspective, at this time.
To summarize: Incorporating these newer pronouns is do-able. I support it. For some people, it is not a preference, but a need, in order to feel comfortable. I personally do not need or prefer to be referred to by gender neutral pronouns. I have a long way to go in terms of enacting this language. Which, I believe, means the general population has a much longer way to go. It’s hard to make progress if I’m not actively using the words in regular conversation. At this time, I am not actively using the words in regular conversation. This is where I’m at with pronouns. It’s hard to gauge where the world at large is at, but I imagine progress will be very very slow. I’m just thinking pragmatically here. Ideally, I wish it were easy.
This got a lot longer than I thought it would. It’s complicated! So again I’m going to break the topics up; look forward to yet another series! Up next: part 2 – Bathrooms and part 3 – Legal Designations / Forms.
I’ve been out of the office (and by office, I mean table in the dining room) quite a bit lately because I’ve been working a series of 12 hour shifts at my real job – filling in for my supervisor plus doing my own work. But that’s not really what I’m writing about right now…
For a few years, I was very much disconnected from the trans* community, and I’ve been recently back in some big ways (online at least… for now). Where was I from roughly 2007-2013? Why was I not involved? How was I involved before that time period? Why did I decide to come back? These questions are basically teasers for right now. I’ll be elaborating on all of that in the near future, but in this moment, I want to focus on some things that have changed in that short time period, linguistically speaking.
When I started to dip my toes back in the water, I started at LiveJournal, a space I’m familiar with and had been an active contributor in the past. I joined a group that’s all about non-binary identities but was quickly confused by a bunch of phrases and acronyms I’d never encountered before. I had no idea what AFAB/AMAB, FAAB/MAAB, DFAB/DMAB, CAFAB/CAMAB* stood for, or why there was an asterisk now attached to the word “trans*.” The most commonly used gender-neutral pronouns, last I was aware, were “ze/hir/hirs.” In fact, I hadn’t even heard of any others, not even “they/them/their.” !!! I’d never come across the honorific, “Mx.” I had not heard of the terms “neutrios,” “agender,” or “bigender,” although these were easy enough to figure out. In fact, in the past, I had identified (and I still identify) as genderqueer, but at the time, I strongly wished there was a better word (and maybe it was there, all along – I just wasn’t aware of it). I would have definitely identified as “agender” or “neutrois” if I’d been familiar with those words then. Now, not quite so much.
(I’m getting bogged down by trying to link everything! Here is an additional good resource, and I’ll just leave it at that. Nonbinary.org The internet is, you know, pretty search friendly anyway. You can do the work yourself, haha.)
Coincidentally, I came across a book at the library last week, called Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture. I’m only 36 pages in, but it’s already one of the most interesting books I’ve EVER read. Highly recommend! (If you’re into quantifying things and looking at social trends.) Basically, the authors teamed up with Google and created this website. Google has been digitizing over 30 million books over the past 10 years, and they’re just getting started. What that provides (among many things), is a database for how frequently words and phrases are used within languages and over great spans of time. And these guys came up with a search engine lens to chart this stuff. I decided to see what a graph would look like between 1980 and now (it cut me off at 2008, unfortunately) for the phrases “female-bodied” vs. “FAAB” vs. “AFAB.” It looks like this:
What does this all mean? Well, it means we can look at how words and phrases shift over time. (We can also see how infrequently these words/phrases are used, but that’s beside the point, a little bit…) It’s incredibly exciting to me that I could have been out of the loop for roughly 6 years – a very short time, relatively speaking – and when I came back to these dialogues, there was a bunch of new terms I’d never heard of! The trans* umbrella is an amazingly rich and dynamic area of changing identities, linguistics, politics, health initiatives, etc. It feels like there are endless things for me to write about and stay up to date with! Let’s continue discovering…
*What do all these acronyms stand for?!! Well! here is the long string: Assigned female at birth / Assigned male at birth, Female assigned at birth / Male assigned at birth, Designated female at birth / Designated male at birth, Coercively assigned female at birth / Coercively assigned male at birth. These terms are gaining traction over “Female-bodied, Male-bodied,” which was previously the dominant way to describe someone’s birth sex, I believe…