“What pronouns do you use?”
I heard that question for the first time in February. I was so taken aback that I replied with a question rather than an answer.
“Why did you ask me that?”
Her simple question was so meaningful that it was practically a pick-up line. Until that point I had always operated in the realm of other peoples’ assumptions. Female body + masculine presentation = dyke.
When I finally replied to her question, I surprised myself with my own response.
“I don’t know.”
Despite questions about gender identity that had been tugging incessantly at the corners of my brain for the last few years, I had accepted the dyke identity that was given to me for the sake of convenience. I was too short to pass as a guy anyway, and I definitely couldn’t identify with traditional notions of masculinity. I didn’t think that I was “trans enough” to be a transguy. Now I realize that those thoughts were influenced by my socially-constructed ideas of a very stereotypical kind of masculinity. I clearly hadn’t read enough Judith Butler.
The Big Pronoun Question was the beginning of an important, confusing, and exciting mental process about gender identity. Recognizing The Question’s impact on me, I started asking for the preferred pronouns of people I met in queer circles. After all, it was common courtesy.
I attended a queer convergence in May where the pronouns were flowing like liquor at a speakeasy and changing like colors on a rainbow-striped popsicle. I discovered that pronouns were more than male or female. There were gender neutral pronouns, object pronouns, undecided pronouns, and even sparkly purple unicorn pronouns.
“What pronouns do you use?”
“I don’t know yet. I’d like to try masculine pronouns today.”
Five months after my first pronoun encounter, I ended up at Camp Trans, yet another space of pronoun debauchery and revolution. At the first community meeting, camp attendees introduced themselves with their names and pronouns. When my turn came, I introduced myself with more confidence than I had expected.
“My name is Malic and I like to be called ‘he’ and ‘him.’”
Finally answering the Big Scary Pronoun Question felt amazing. However, I recognize that though I currently feel comfortable with those pronouns, I’m still open to change.
Unfortunately, I’m one of the lucky few who have had the privilege of stating my preferred pronouns in a safe space. This is why I want to bring The Pronoun Question out of queer spaces and into the world at large. I want preferred pronouns to be a part of every introduction. I want to hear professors and teachers ask for the preferred pronouns of their students. I want to hear businesspeople, librarians, lawyers, and sex workers ask for the preferred pronouns of their clients. I want to see pronouns spiraling out of the firey haze of a big, glittery, queer explosion. I want The Pronoun Question to become common courtesy. I want The Pronoun Question to be a pick up line.
“Hey baby, what’s your pronoun?”
“Give me your pronouns and I’ll give you my number.”
Seriously. Just ask.