Sunday, June 04, 2006

Pronominal Form

I've received a couple of emails recently that have contained comments in them that have prompted some interesting and not uncomplicated thoughts about pronouns.

I've had the delight (luxury, almost) of not really thinking to much about my pronouns these days, because pretty much everyone in my life calls me he now. It's really lovely not to have to think about passing, or being she'd, or what have you.
In fact, before I launch into this discussion, I have to say that while I continue to think about my gender a lot these days, I'm no longer worrying about it all the time. My thinking and processing is much less anxious- I'm not stressing out about this transition. I'm being mindful, and thoughtful, instead of self-critical. Perhaps I'm still over-analyzing, but I feel like it's coming from a better place these days. So that's good.

Anyway, these emails both contained just one line about pronouns that threw me off.

One of these emails was from somone who was mentioning a friend of hers who has apparently rather recently come out as FTM, rather late in life. Near the end of the email, she wrote "I still often call him "her," which is something you may be used to!!"

That has stuck with me over the cpast week or so, as has an excerpt from a second email from another friend who's coming to visit.

"...because I don't ever want to be that person who slips up and she's you and ruins your weekend."

For both of these emails, my dominant reaction is to be glad that the person in question is reaching out, and being proactive in their support. I'm looking forward to seeing them in person- they're both coming to New York soon- and I'm not at all concerned about either of them interacting with me now that I'm Eli.

But at the same time, I want to figure out why those sentences have stuck with me like little burrs this past week. The conclusion I've come to is that my reactions to both of these comments are coming from a similar place- that is, a sort of mild indignation and defensiveness at the implication that female pronouns should have such power over me, or even a place in my life.

Regarding the first statement, I find myself getting a bit defensive. My retort is that no, actually, I'm not used to people in my life calling me she. I'm used to people in my life recognizing me as the guy that I am. I'm also used to the people in my life who know about my trans identity, and who knew me as female, respecting me and calling me by my preferred pronoun.

At the same time, I recognize that being able to say that so unequivocally is a new piece of privilege, one that's steadily developing as I physically transition and become more evidently and entirely male in my appearance. It's not perfect now, by any means, but people who meet me these days generally don't question my manhood, and I like it that way. That's only going to be more consistent as my transition continues. Also, pretty much all of my friends and family are well acquainted with Eli now, and don't ever slip up. I can't remember the last time someone close to me called me 'she.'

But there was a time in the not too distant past when I did have to endure folks calling me 'she' rather frequently, whether because they didn't know me and were reading me as female, or because they used to know me as female, and hadn't gotten used to the pronoun shift yet. And my word choice (endure) is deliberate here, because it was uncomfortable at best, and downright painful at worst, and it wasn't something that I was 'used' to, ever. It was something I put up with, until the people who cared about and respected me put forth the effort to stop making me uncomfortable.

But even as I type that sentence, I recognize that it's not quite fair. I know how hard it is to reconceptualize someone that you've known for years in one light, by one pronoun, who is now asking you to change your thinking. It's hard to change your thinking. It's hard for me to use gender neutral pronouns for my friends who request them, because they don't come naturally to me. It's hard for me to remember to use a new name for folks I know who decide to go by their full name instead of a nickname, or a middle name, or any new name. I have to be very careful and conscientious, and I mess up sometimes. It's hard!

Which is why I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for being also uneasy about the mention of pronouns from my other friend's email.

My first inclination upon reading that sentence, and what has been in my head this week, was to respond with "Well, just calling me 'she' isn't going to ruin my weekend! I'm stronger than that." I know that my friends are trying hard, and that one mistake doesn't have the power to invalidate me, just as strangers who have erroneous assumptions and erroneous pronoun usage, too, aren't that important in the long run. They need to be corrected, maybe, but it doesn't really matter.

But what's this? How can I write in one paragraph about how difficult it is to endure female pronouns, and then in the next about how I just shrug them off?

I guess this is part of the complexities of gendered interactions, and the necessity of context to make things better. And it comes down, again, to me being in a more stable place now, and more sure of myself, and not worrying about other folks misreading me or misremembering me, and coming up with the wrong pronoun. I know, though, that it's easier to let it slide when someone uses a wrong pronoung if they've previously made it clear to me that they're supportive, and that they're making an effort to remember. And it's easier to let it slide now when strangers think I'm a girl because I'm more confident in myself as a guy, and I'm not constantly relying on feedback from the rest of the world to confirm my masculinity. I'm confirming my own masculinity, these days. (sweet!) And I'm also confident that these misreadings of my gender are going to get fewer and further between, until soon they'll be mere memories of days past.

Which will, naturally, bring up a whole other set of concerns about passing and being stealth and disclosure for me to wrestle with in my head, and in my life, and on this blog. To Be Continued!

No comments: