What are pronouns and why do I care about them?
I have identified as trans and genderqueer since my mid-20s. That was around the late 1990s. In the early 1990s I found out I was genetically, chromosomally, and hormonally intersex. The specific type? Klinefelter’s Syndrome, mosaic, 46/47, meaning that some of my cells have “normal” sex chromosomes and some of them have sex chromosomes with an extra X chromosome. I also have weird hormones, tending to have lower testosterone and higher estrogen than typical male-shaped bodies. When I started identifying as trans, it was both in real life (aka the “big room”) as well as online. On the bits of the almost prehistoric Internet that I grew up on. Online, I used neopronouns called Spivak pronouns, specifically the LambdaMOO type. The disadvantage to them is that when spoken, they sound like uncertain and noncommital slurring of syllables, and not intentional, realistic pronouns.
So in real life, I got very casual and accepting of anyone’s attempts to even half-ass try with my pronouns. And in turn, because vocal trans folks were kinda few and far between as I was growing up, and gaining my adulthood, I really am not very strident about my pronouns. I do care, I’m just not as passionate about it, and I generally don’t take or find offense.
But the reason you’re reading this is that you’re delving for some reason. And now that you’ve asked, I have your answers.
On level one, you’ve been trained by someone or learned the hard way that trans folks often have special pronouns that we prefer and you’ve learned to ask. Actually using them casually is hard, especially if they’re nonstandard, but you’re a good bloke so you’re trying. For you, I have an easy answer! Please just use he/him or they/them pronouns for me. Your choice, easy peasy, and it takes the social pressure off of you. Job done.
On level two, you may sense that I’m just sort of fobbing you off. I’m not convinced you’ll take Level 2 well (lots of people don’t), so I’ve given you Level one. But you want more. For you, I have the “I don’t really mind, one way or another, honestly.” By which I mean, you can use any pronoun you like for me. Whatever feels most comfortable at the time and in context. Go nuts. For me and me only, you have my permission to use whatever pronouns you want to to talk about me (to my face or when I’m not around). Go nuts!
On level three, you feel like maybe I’m being too noncommital about my pronouns, and you suspect maybe I’m a fake trans person? Do those exist? Who would want this clout? But I guess there are people who gain clout by pretending to be the social justice topic of the day, I mean look at Rachel Dolezal and Lakota Man! Level 3 isn’t meant to convince you of my authenticity, but it is intended to make you practice neuroplasticity around pronouns. On level three, you get to play a game with me. Well, not so much with me, but about me. Because one thing I figured out rather late is that pronouns are rarely used in front of the person they’re about. Pronouns are generally used by other people when they talk to still other people about me. So odds are, I won’t be in the room unless someone’s introducing me, I guess. So level three is about cultivating neuroplasticity for you and the people you’re talking to (presumably in some way about me).
The game involves 2 things:
- Knowledge of the possible pronouns in use these days. (These resources may help: UWM, NPR, TIME, Springfield, Wikipedia on Spivak pronouns, and Wikipedia on Neopronouns. You can probably find more.)
- A willingness to be uncomfortable, to explore that feeling of discomfort, and of using odd words you’re not used to.
That discomfort is rather the point.
Here’s my level three pronoun game:
- Every time you talk about me, use a pronoun set that feels the least comfortable to use about me. Keep it consistent in the same conversation, sentence, or paragraph, whatever seems right. But keep pushing into the discomfort.
- When you get comfortable using a specific pronoun set to refer to me or talk about me, switch to using another. Keep going until none makes you particularly uncomfortable – WIN!
- Don’t play this game when you don’t have the energy or time or will to do it. Wait until you feel reasonably good about it. The point is not to cultivate resentment, but to get more flexible in the way your brain engages with these pronouns. If you are too tired or feeling poorly or grumpy or whatever, feel welcome to default to level 2 or level 1. No hard feelings!
- Remember that I, personally, the inventor of the game, am sort of average at it.
Whatever level you choose, good luck, and I hope it’s a good experience for you!