About those pronouns...

By Dylan Wilder Quinn 

Note: I encourage you to read this with a Google page open so you can look up any new words or phrases to you. I'm hoping to figure out how to do pop-up definitions on my website soon, but until then, I'm hoping you'll be willing to do this. 

I'm trans and non-binary, and my favorite pronouns are they, them, and theirs. What does that mean? Instead of saying "he facilitated a workshop" or "she made a beautiful website," I feel more seen and safe when people say "they facilitated a workshop" or "I went to their website, and I want to know more about them."

But in actuality, I use all pronouns. He/she/they/ze/hir/zir and any other ones you can come up with are all fine. Why? It's not because "it doesn't really matter to me," like I hear many cisgender people say when we are in circles and do a pronoun round, or "I feel like both a man and a woman as well as non-binary," like I've heard cisgender people assume about me, or anything like that. In fact, people in many women-only spaces and men-only spaces have been very violent to me. 

I use all pronouns because I strive to be intersectional and compassionate to all people in a very intentional way. I'm white, and my people have a history of policing people of other races' language in very violent ways. My people have a legacy of enacting cultural genocide (and actual genocide) on the indigenous people on this land through forced boarding schools, beating Black people for learning to read and write when we enslaved them, discriminating against Black people for speaking African American Vernacular, and I have many close friends of color who were beat and bullied by white teachers when they were in school and not speaking "correctly" or writing "right." In addition to the complexity around race, having there be a "right" way of speaking is also triggering for many white people coming from poverty and lower classes, and many different types of neurodivergence makes being impeccably perfect with words very stressful.

So in my body, it doesn't feel like misgendering when a Person of Color, disabled person, neurodivergent person, or another person dealing with significant marginalization misgenders me. And while it does feel like misgendering when a cisgender white middle class person uses "he" or "she" with me, I can hold that complexity - it's worth being able to have the ability to build deeper relationships with people I want to be fighting for liberation alongside. 

 

And while it's tiring, I can also hold complexity for cisgender white people making mistakes - I know that liberation involves a learning curve, and I don't want to be a part of a culture that requires everyone to be perfect in order to be seen as intelligent or worthy.

 

Given that information, I also want to add more complexity by explaining a bit more about how pronouns affect my body:

 

When a stranger uses "they" with me - my chest opens up, my breath is deep and relaxed. My body opens up to connection with this other person - they have had enough exposure to trans people and non-binary people that they think it's responsible to use gender neutral pronouns with me. They may even use "they" with all new people in their life, just in case, and may even be considerate enough to introduce their pronouns to me, and to ask for mine. My body instantly feels safer - it won't be totally relaxed, but my body knows that this person is not likely to intentionally try to hurt me physically or verbally if they know about "they" pronouns and use them.  

 

When a stranger uses "he," it feels okay, but I often spend some time confused and wondering who they are talking about. It slows me down. And I feel somewhat seen, but my survival instincts kick into play and my body wants to overperform "maleness" (whatever that means - though that's an entirely different piece of writing) to make sure I don't put myself in danger of harassment or beating by being overly femme. I deepen my voice, cover my chest up so that people don't see breasts. If I want to further the cause of non-binary visibility, I have to concentrate hard to maintain my gender expression so that I'm not trying to hard to fit into this stranger's box that may keep me safe in the moment, but ultimately is not serving me or any other non-binary person in this world. 

 

When a stranger uses "she," I feel like someone is squeezing my stomach or punching it, depending on my resilience that day. My survival instincts go into hyperdrive. I raise my voice an octave and giggle and am more submissive. I usually cannot think clearly, and have to get out of that situation as quickly as possible in case they notice my beard hair or if they make me laugh - my laugh is deep now and has given me away before, resulting in violence. 

Neither of these gender expressions are wrong - what I do when a stranger says "she" or "he" is not bad in and of itself - many forms of gender expression are perfect as they are, on whatever bodies they are on. The reason why it's an issue for me is that it's a survival instinct - it's accompanied by sweating, heart racing, and my pre-frontal cortex shutting down because survival is more important than any conversation topic we may be talking about. So if I'm about to show up to facilitate a workshop and I arrive without the critical thinking part of my brain working because I'm worried about my safety - well, that's a problem. It's a problem I deal with every day (not just because of pronouns, but the many other things we trans people need to do to navigate daily). 

This is not an invitation for all cisgender people to start dismissing the pronouns of all trans and non-binary people because of my personal philosophy for my own body and my own work. This is just about me. Respecting people's pronouns is one start to being more trans-inclusive, though honestly it's a pretty small and insignificant step compared to making sure we all have access to healthcare, economic stability, non-oppressive work and community, and care for the many other intersections that our community faces. 

If I wanted to be fully seen every time someone does a pronoun round in a class or workshop, I would say this whole piece every time. Since I can't, "they/them are favorites, he/she are also fine" is going to have to work for now.