Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

normalizing respect

       Typically, i don't hold out too much hope for trans allies. i've heard too many brazen assumptions and simplifications and apologisms to not be a little bit cynical here. i can only hear the "They're just like everyone else" argument so many times from cis-lips before feeling so invisible i could scream. But sometimes i'm surprised and given hope. Sometimes i like to be wrong.

       A regular at my work, who is a real sweetheart, surprised me in this way. she is a student at a nearby university and is always at the coffee shop where i work studying. She rants about feminism and is just generally a pretty righteous individual. So, when she asked me my pronouns, i didn't doubt for a second that it was from a place of respect.

       Frankly, that question is usually pretty respectful, save one recent experience that i recounted in "a lesson learning." So i responded with a simple, "she."

       She responded, "I thought so. Me too."

       This response was where she went above and beyond. Not only did she respect my gender, but she put us on the same plane by implying that her pronouns also need to be explicitly defined.

       So often it is the burden of gender non-conforming folks to explain themselves to others. This is bizarre because all genders are assumed, constructed, put-on. Why should queer folk be the only ones to acknowledge that? Normalizing this respectful verbal communication of one's gender could go a long way toward breaking down transphobia and social stigma. i was pleasantly surprised at this level of allyship and was reminded that it is, in fact, possible.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

why i transitioned twice, and never transitioned at all.

       The word "transition" is a loaded gun. Six chambers of connotation and stereotype. Each time it's uttered there's a sure-fire game of Russian roulette in which i'm left to suffer the assumptions that lay between the ears of the listener. Unfortunately, i don't have better language for this concept and find myself using the word frequently. This is especially difficult for me because my transition has not followed any sort of socially recognized template. In many ways, i've transitioned twice. In other ways, i'm still transitioning. In others still, i have never and will never transition.

       i knew for a long time that i would need to transition at some point. i knew it in my heart and in my bones. Deeper than deep. This was the kind of knowledge that in other contexts is often referred to as faith. It was simply a matter of when; a question of motivation and resources.

       When i was about twenty-one i decided it was time. i got into therapy and started seeking hormones. i do want to pause here to state that hormones and therapy are by no means necessary to a trans identity — i don't want to reify that all too common misinformation. These were, however, elements of my personal process. i also shifted my outward appearance.
i got really queer. i grew out specific bits of my mohawk and tied a pony-tail in back and put a glittery barrette in front. i got really tight jeans and a grungy purse. i did gaudy makeup and shaved off my mutton chops. i changed my voice and swished.

       i got read differently. i had presented as queer before, but it was more of a punk-rock faggot sort of thing. So this was new. It was the first time i'd heard a little kid ask their parent if i was a boy or a girl. It was the first time i heard people say, "What was that?" when i passed by. Stares changed. Their energy shifted.

       i didn't know how to handle any of this. i thought that i would be ok. i'd been read as a freak before, but i had been able to dissociate. People being weird about my counter-culture presentation actually felt gratifying, while their adverse reactions to this honest gender presentation felt so deeply personal. All of my gender theory and general bad-ass attitude wasn't enough, but i held on tight.

       And then came the violence. i don't want to draw too hard a line here because words and looks can absolutely be violent, but here i mean physical, hate crime violence. The first few instances were relatively tame. Something thrown from a moving car along with a shouted slur, that sort of thing. And i pretended that these were isolated incidents, echoes of a high school oppression that was already fading into the haze of memory. i pretended it was random until it happened again and again.

       i grew vigilant, withdrawn, scared. But i remained determined... until i drove through St. Louis. The details of the incident aren't crucial here, but suffice to say that i would not be here right now had a stranger not put their body on the line for me.

       So i retreated. i decided i didn't have the strength or the energy to transition then. i started wearing a grizzly beard and flannel and hit. i hid from myself. i hid from others. i tried to be a man.

       And it worked, for a couple of years. But, these things have a tendency to resurface. Eventually, i shaved my face. Then i shaved my legs. i changed my name, started hormones, started actively becoming. i am now a lot further along and it's been longer than the previous time. It hasn't been easier, i've just been more ready, more fierce. i'm less silent when people say things and i have developed some, admittedly not fool proof, strategies for self-defense.

       But in the process of my second transition i uncovered something unexpected. i don't identify as a woman in the way i once did. i sometimes use that word, but it is almost always modified by the prefix "trans" or "queer." And, most often, i identify as something else entirely. Still a trans femme, but with a non-binary understanding of gender.
The word "transition" seems to elicit this image of crossing from one binary location to the other. i draw this conclusion from people's assumptions about my identity, or when they say things like, "You're just a woman to me."

       I'm not just a woman. i once longed to just be a woman. i don't long anymore. i'm in the gender i want to be in — right now at least. What's more, i'm committed to my own fluidity, my continual transition. So, if transitioning means being just a woman, i haven't transitioned. If transitioning means having to renounce my queerness, my Otherness, my transness itself, to achieve some binary that doesn't even feel right, then i don't want to ever transition.

       It's really just people's incapacity to broaden their understanding of what transition means that's the issue here. Most people seem to be incapable or unwilling to acknowledge any experience that they can't fit inside of a per-constructed box, and i just can't do that.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

cultivating femme

       i'm a femme. i haven't always been a femme, hell, at one point i was a hyper-masculine, bearded hipster. But right now, i'm a proud femme. This word is tricky though and is laden with history and connotation and subtext.

       Obviously this word doesn't apply to me in it's historical context. i'm not a cis 1950's lesbian who is devoted to her butch partner. The world has changed to the point that this interpersonal dynamic seems to be one more often read about than lived.

       But i'm so thankful for the stories of these high-heeled bombshells cutting their lover's hair and cleaning their blood stained knuckles and the like. i know that i romanticize these stories. The tension and pain of being read as straight while seeing a different type of violence done to your most cherished must have been incredibly intense. And this is not my experience. i don't want to commandeer these stories at all.

       But i don't think that my experience is so far off that i can't relate. i'm often read as cis, usually a cis man, though increasingly as female, both of which feel like i'm being cast as that which i am not. So i know what it's like to not be seen or acknowledged. And the people i love most are oppressed. So, i can relate to that bit too. These stories give me a sense of precedent for my experience.

       Mostly though, i want to learn and grow from these stories. To be able to weather years of this type of pain must have required an incredible strength, and to do it with the care and compassion commonly associated with the word must have called for a nearly infinite grace.

       My life has already, and for reference i'm in my mid-twenties, been difficult, sad, painful, violent, you name it. Unfortunately the world doesn't seem like it's going to change tomorrow. So, for me, identifying as a femme is not merely about the fact that i don't leave the house without eyeliner and carry a purse on my broad shoulders. Being a femme has much more to do with cultivating capacities that will help me and my loved ones weather the storm that is our fiercely normative culture.

       My compassion gives me the tireless energy that i need to care for the queers in my life. Compassion birthed the patience to hear about the same type of oppression over and over again without becoming disengaged, because people need to have their stories heard by someone who can relate. It bore the love needed to selflessly offer my support time and again. It gives me the courage to endure; to hear about rapes and attacks and accosting interactions and still be present when called upon.

       When i embrace others i seek to absorb their sadness and pain. When i rest my head on my partner's chest i want my affection to make them feel cared for and acknowledged. My compassion allows me to let people stay at my house when all i need is to be alone or to let people talk when i just need silence. It teaches me to feed others when i don't have food because i know a lot of other queer folks have even less. It allows me to search through my painful history for useful fragments of wisdom when others need that.

       Compassion has taught me grace. Grace has helped me to forgive the well-intentioned cis folk in my life who have said incredibly ignorant things or who have hurt me, often without their asking. Grace has allowed me to take the same type of disrespect every single day but remain smiling and full of the sun. Grace has taught me that i can be the sun for others even when the sun doesn't shine on me. That energy has been cultivated within my soul and shines outward.

       Grace allows me to admit my limitations. It's hard, but i can own what i can't do and can seek out folks who can. i can be selflessly matronly in this way. Grace allows me to be flexible and reevaluate what's needed. Grace gives me the precision to call out problematic elements in my community in a way that feels like i'm not being disingenuous or driving a separatist wedge in my community. It allows me to honor both a need to push the community to grow but also cohere it because we can't afford to be more fractured than we already are.

       Grace and compassion have taught me strength, although admittedly, strength came much easier. Part of this is about privilege, because i was taught strength both by mainstream culture and by counter-culture. Mainstream culture values masculine strength and punk culture values brazen strength. So it was valued in my youth, while both the former qualities were not, and were thus necessarily more consciously cultivated.

       But grace and compassion together helped me learn to tailor my strength. Most of the time, i can check my own pain and panic, whether this means putting my emotions on hold to support another or stalling my panic to be able to call out an offensive stranger. i've transformed my strength into a selfless, community focused, utilitarian strength.

       Femme, for me, is about passion for life. i'm not talking about a lust for adventure, but a willful embrace of the more stereotypically monotonous or mundane. i relish the opportunity to care for others. This day-to-day life is where that caring takes place. i also love to learn and grow. Although this love is partly selfish in that there is an element of pure love for growth, there's another element that loves to grown and learn so i can share my skills and my wisdom.

       None of this is perfect yet, nor do i think it will ever be perfect. But i'm going to keep refining my femme self as long as it feels right, as long as it feels useful. i am thankful that support and compassion and patience and grace all feel deeply good in my soul because they are much needed in my community.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

a lesson learning

       i work as a barista. Being transgendered and in a very public part of the service industry has it's peculiarities. A lot of it is good; a lot of people are surprisingly sweet and support me and are totally wonderful. A lot of it is terrible; some people are just ignorant or rude. But, like life, most of it is gray.

       i had a weird interaction with a regular the other day. He's sweet. He's a self-identified gay man that loves his husband. Until today he's at least tried to be sensitive around gender. The second time we interacted he called me "sir" and then caught himself and asked what i prefer. i told him "ma'am" was closer to accurate, though neglected to bring up the problematic nature of the language of "preference" in this situation. Anyway, since then he's been really good about it. He's gone out of his way to call me "ma'am" when he didn't really have to interact with me at all, which is sweet, if not a touch patronizing. It's especially sweet since a lot of people seem to go out of their way to identify me as a man, which is both patronizing and rude.

       But today, as i passed him a cappuccino, he said, "Thank you sir." i gave him a cock-eyed glare that seemed to last for a whole minute, though i know that it didn't. He apologized and corrected himself. But he undercut this apology by saying, "Didn't we talk about this? Don't you use two sets of pronouns? What do you prefer?"

       i know what i'd said to him before. But my instinct is to be open and honest and forgiving. These are instincts i've consciously cultivated for various reasons; they're all deeply important to me. So, i told him honestly, "i mostly go by 'she,' but i sometimes use 'it' with queer people that get what that means to me." Needless to say, this left me in a very vulnerable and trusting position.

       He responded by saying, "Ew, I don't like that, it's so dehumanizing." He then ignored my attempted explanation and shifted the conversation to be about him and his desire to be more queer. This is not only selfish, it's rife with privilege to want to put on queerness as a fad like this.

       i was left holding this heaviness for the rest of the day. He got to walk away from what he said. He placed his opinion, his dislike, his feeling of disgust on me and went on his way.

       i've had several dialogues run through my head. My favorite so far is the thought "How dare you ask me, and you asked me, what i prefer and not be open to my answer?" This is such inappropriate allyship. Cis privilege needs to be self-checked. i need to be allowed to self-identify in any way i want or that feels right.

       i don't care what you think of my gender or identity, because they are mine, and it is absolutely inappropriate to say "ew" or that you don't like my answer. This is especially unacceptable in the context of asking me about my identity. This type of questioning carries an implication that my answer will be heard and respected. Unfortunately that implicit trust was breached in this situation.

       Here is another site of dilemma. This idea of trust and openness has been problematic for me. i like my openness. It's loving and joyful. i learn from it. It allows me to connect with people in ways that feel meaningful and allows me to grow.

       But, my openness also leaves me vulnerable. Honesty opens a gap that allows people to hurt me. In a society that is violently normative and largely ignorant of gender variance, this is an alarming prospect. i don't like getting hurt.

       Despite my instinct toward openness, i also have an instinct not to touch a hot stove. This second instinct is wrought in pain.

       i don't know how to reconcile this. This painful experience begs me to exercise caution. That flies in the face of my desire to be a completely open human being. i don't want to grow cold, cynical, withdrawn. i don't want my transness, rather people's reactions to my transness, to teach me to be a spiteful person.

       i want to interact compassionately and fruitfully and i can't do this if i'm closed off or shut down or protective. i want to believe there's a balance here, but i'm not sure there is. There's an unfortunate trade off. Thicker skin means less pain, but it also means callousness, feeling less. Sadly, people's transphobic responses aren't going to stop anytime soon, so i'm left with a dilemma. i've fought too hard to live in a comfortable gender to hide or become cold, so i will endure and keep shining, because that's my only choice.

Friday, December 16, 2011

gratefully enduring

       i am grateful for my oppression. Let me be clear here, i am not grateful to or for my oppressors. Nor am i wallowing in misery and pretending that this is beautiful in and of itself, although there was a time when i was wont to do that sort of thing. i am also not speaking of the sheer, unbridled pleasure of a resistant gender. i am grateful for the experience of the oppression itself.

       Most definably, i'm grateful for my perspective, for my outlook. i have seen several sides of privilege and am all the more learned for it. i have lived as a man — a white, literate, passable as middle class, possibly, even ostensibly, straight man. i have existed as a willfully poor punk-rock faggot activist. i tried, however briefly, to ascribe to a normative femininity. Now i bask in a gender all my own. It should go without saying that i have been treated very differently at these various points of gender.

       i have known privilege, massive privilege. It feels like a past life, but there was a time when i could walk down any street, beard as shield, unfettered by worry of violence. i have gone to clubs sure that my limp-wristed masculinity would be well received by the punky boys i was interested in. Now, i get patronized and harassed frequently, and even when people are mostly cool about my gender, they typically don't truly get my queerness. Now i get to worry about the very real potential of violence from bigoted strangers and the certainty of systemic violence. Again, this is not a plea for pity. It is merely a remark upon the reality of privilege and social class; and i am grateful to understand this experientially as well as academically.

       The deeper part though, the less linguistically discernible part of my gratefulness is far more important to me. i know that i can endure. This is not to say i'm tough or strong or anything like that. These are only sometimes true of me. But my love, and my kindness, and my honesty, and my beauty, and my insight can and do endure.

       My love has been rendered immutable and is absolutely not a fickle love, because to allow myself to love at all from a position of such vulnerability requires a truly open and unencumbered love. My oppression has taught me to love purely. To be kind in the face of such stark cruelty requires a kindness that springs from an infinite well of compassion. Choosing to be honest, even after making the tough choices queer folk are forced to make daily, requires an insatiable thirst for openness. Being sweet and beautiful and leaving a positive imprint requires a willingness to risk being hurt day-in and day-out.

       In my most self aware moments, i find myself in shock that i am able to feel the things that i do, despite all the motivation toward cynicism. It often feels uncanny. But, at the same time, it feels necessary and natural to respond to oppression in this way. My oppression has forced my hand, forced me to adapt and become. It has taught me and shaped me into the loving, compassionate creature that i am. For this, i am deeply grateful.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

gender is an ocean

       i'd playfully posited this metaphor last night. But, after i said it, i began to think about it more and more.  Queer and trans folk, in my experience at least, seem to often wonder why their genders so often surprise or alarm cis folk. i wonder this too, especially after some of the more vitriolic comments i hear.

       But when i really think about it, the answer is a simple one. Cis folks have genders that are never questioned or challenged. They are not obligated to introspection and live in a privileged state of unquestioning certainty of their own normalcy. They are not encouraged or provoked to assess their own gender or it's role in their life. This doesn't mean they don't have a gender identity, just that they aren't conscious of it (to me this fact seems sad).

       Gender is often referred to as a spectrum. i take issue with this. i think that theorists using a linear alternative to a binary reifies the normalcy of polarizing gender. In this model there is masculine across from feminine and there is room between. This hardly seems like a liberated sense of gender.

       i prefer to think of gender as an ocean. It is vast, infinite really. It is flowing and dynamically changing. It evolves. Gender forces the evolution of new genders continuously and dialectically. It is simultaneously ever-present and defined by impermanence. This ocean flows and storms. Theoretically each molecule of this gender ocean will eventually touch every other molecule, leaving an infinite array of potential gender options. This literally fluid model of gender seems far more congruent with how i see gender as operating both now and historically.

       The aforementioned problem of normalcy seems easier to digest here too. A vast majority of people live at the center of the gender ocean. At any given moment in time, there is a dominant set of species. This would be the normative genders of a specific time period.

       These creatures would of course be shocked by creatures from a different time, a different ocean. They would be taken back by a fantastic gendered creature that's traveled from another sea. They would be scared of wonderfully bio-luminescent genders of the deep that glow and flash to attract mates, or prey, or scare predators. These centric creatures would not be able to comprehend the function of a specifically gendered creature that grew up in a tiny, niche environment, developing skills and features so perfectly adapted to a specific environment. Understanding of variance is belied by a sheltered environment from which most don't stray.

       Anything that falls outside of the feeding frenzy of normative gender could be seen as shocking. Unfortunately, people in our society seem to have a sad tendency to hate and fear things that they don't understand, things that stray into what they consider their waters. But the water of gender has always had and will always have currents. There is no ownership of water and everything underwater flows.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

what's in a name?

       Name's are tough. Well, i think they can be anyway — maybe they're not for other people, i don't really know. But a name is a stand-in for a person. A name is a group of letters or syllables that is used to represent a necessarily complex and dynamic being with hir very own nuance and drive and passion, etc.

       How can a name possibly do a good job at that? And that's just the, ostensibly universal, philosophical bit. God forbid we add gender to the mix. Most of us, by which i mean people, are given names at birth based largely on genital shape.

       i don't want to do the boring, standard trans discourse about how sad it is that our society teaches us to assume gender based on our perception of someone's name. It's important. But it's been done to death. And frankly, there are painfully obvious conclusions to be drawn from the above use of the word "assume." Please draw them and read on.

       So, obviously, some of us are left with names that don't work for us. Surprise, some of us even change them.

       i've been thinking about this a lot lately because i have found myself wishing i could somehow exist in society without a name. i want people to just know me for me. No assumptions. No baggage. Just me. All other barriers to someone truly knowing me aside, there would be some hefty logistical issues to not having a name. How would i cash checks? How would i call service providers on the telephone? How would i fill my prescriptions?

       So, since i've chosen not to completely abstain from society, i've got a name. i tried to craft one that fits, and that may be the best i can do.

       My given name was technically gender neutral. The first time i heard it used for a cis-woman was about five years ago. i was only out to a few people at the time, but i knew then (and beforehand) that someday i would transition. i didn't know when or how or what that would look like. But to learn that my name was neutral-ish was jarring and odd. It was also kind of revelatory. It helped me internalize the idea that my assigned gender was not essential. It made me feel less isolated.

       That said, i still chose to leave that name behind. i liked it, and felt close to it, but for me the process of self-actualization begged for a new name. i see it as an emblem for myself. Something to remind me that i can self-determine. i also wanted to remind other people to see me differently too.

       i chose the name ellie. Yes, i use lower case. i did that with my other name too. This actually started as a rejection of privilege, masculine and otherwise. i don't want to lend myself authority or propriety within a power structure. i want to disarm any power or privilege i have. Lower casing my name places me on the same plane as all other words and leaves significance to the action i take (you may have noticed that i do this with "i" as well).

       Even though i needed a break from my given name, i still chose to modify my given middle name into a first name. It was elliot — also technically neutral. i liked it better than my old first name and often wished people would call me that instead. Even though it was neutral, i wanted to feminize it. People so often ignore my transness as is, so i don't want a namethat lends credence to people's avoidant tendencies.

       The real boon of cropping elliot into ellie though, is what it represents. For me, it emphasizes that, even though i can change/become/self-determine, i am still very much working with what i have. i can shape my present and future in a lot of ways, but i do have a past and i don't want to pretend otherwise. i'd lose a lot of growth if i did. i am proud of my history, it brought me here. And i'm proud to be trans, so i bear it in my name.

       My middle name is june. It sounds nice preceded by ellie and i like that. i only use it sometimes. i only sometimes feel it. But, i'm from the Midwest, which is in a lot of ways culturally like the south. Sometimes people use two names here. i like having the capacity to do that when it suits me. i like being able to claim a home, a history, a bit of culture in an introduction. And i like that June is in the middle of summer, because i'm often made of pure sunshine and that should be reflected in my name.

       i also adopted a new last name, navidson. i borrowed it from a character in a novel i like a lot. It's a book most people haven't read. i'll maybe tell you which book, but only if i know you and trust you. The importance for me here is twofold.

       First, when i came out to my parents things got weird. i didn't know if i was welcome. It's not about rejecting patriarchy (although that's definitely a valid thing to reject) so much as asserting my independence. My gender and my identity are my own and do not originate from a biological clan, so neither does my name.

       But, it's mostly about the idea of fiction becoming real. I've always known about my queerness, but it often seemed fantastic or impossible or out of reach; fictional in some way. I mean, it wasn't fake, it merely felt that way because it wasn't outwardly apparent. Now it is. The name is fiction realized.

       It's also important to me that it's an obscure reference. And this is not because i'm some sort of pompous hipster. Transness is not a thing that most people experience. It's not a thing most people get or can associate with, at least immediately. It would feel disingenuous to have a readily accessible reference for that reason. That said, there's not an intrinsic link between the book and my gender or identity; i just liked it a lot, and that's enough.

       i recently made this my legal name. i hate the idea of reifying "realness" in legal terms; i don't feel a need for juridical validation for any aspect of my identity. But, like the question of marriage or gender markers, there are pragmatic complications that arise. For example: jobs. i love my job and am glad to work where i do, especially since i'm fortunate enough to have a job where i can be out as ellie, a queer trans person. But i probably won't be a barista for the rest of my days and will need to apply for other positions. Frankly, it will just be easier if my legal name is also the name i use. Although, that assumes i will still be using this name when that happens — who knows what turns a life will take? But, until otherwise noted, i'll be ellie june navidson; but mostly, i'll be me.

Monday, December 12, 2011

truth in verbs

       i'd had an incredibly vivid dream in which everything in my life was exactly as it is now, save one thing. Rather than being the queer, trans-feminine person i am, i was a trans-man. Upon hearing about this, someone i know giggled and remarked, "It's almost like your transness is more central to your identity than your femininity."

       All humor aside — and this is rife with humor — this struck me as true. This is not to say that my femininity is not important to me or central to my identity; it absolutely is. My femininity is a shining gem that i hold outstretched in cupped hands for all the world to see.

      But to me, the noun is less important here than the verb. It is in the act of crossing, of transgressing our violently normative binary, that is most precious to me. It is in the active moments of this process that i have gained insight and compassion, that i have learned to be and to love. The becoming itself gained a meaning that i never could have anticipated.

       My transition — and i have to apologize here, because i hate that destination-based word, but don't have another — has given me a unique opportunity to learn about myself and the about the world. This ongoing process of growth and determination feels so much closer to my heart than my gender ever could be.

       My transness has also allowed me to come into a gender that is completely my own. i used to try to fit into the binary gender system. i very consciously hid my queerness behind a perfectly practiced masculine mask, and i used to conceive of a future that entailed a complete and archetypal femininity.

       The latter never really came to pass. At this point, i can't imagine fitting into the gender binary or being normative in that way. i revel in the fact that i get up every day and am consciously true to myself. On many days that absolutely means being really femme, but on as many others it means something else, something less immediately discernible.

       Again, here the significance lies in the verb. This searching, this becoming, this being is about being able to walk unencumbered in the world. Gender can be so heavy. Gender can define actions and responses faster than neurons can fire. But in being true to myself, instead of trying to achieve some sense of normative gender, i have shed a lot of predispositions that i may have not otherwise even been aware of. In breaking it down, in crossing, i've found a capacity to shed so much of that baggage and feel that, in this way at least, i'm not as weighed down as i once was.

       This verb, this trans-as-action is far more important to my sense of self than any sort of gendered directionality. The fact that i feel invisible when someone calls me "sir," instead of being rendered invisible by a "ma'am," seems so much less significant than the fact that i am rendered invisible at all, frequently even. i'm not trying to equate all trans and genderqueer experience here, it's as variant as anything. i'm merely saying that being different runs deeper than the details of that difference. And it's a difference i've learned from and grown with; a difference to which i've grown incredibly fond.


       i've had some time to reflect on my recent positive experience with the word "it" used as a pronoun for me. i've done a lot of thinking and talking about this, trying to make sense of it.

       First off, the context was really important; hopefully this fact is obvious. i was in a conversation with some (self-identified) middle-aged cisgender lesbians. they'd approached me and asked me about the possibility of non-binary genders. They asked me, a decisively visibly queer person, in an incredibly respectful and interested way. One of them said, " When we first saw you, we weren't sure if you were a boy or a girl... and I liked that; I didn't care. I told my partner, 'He's attractive. She's attractive. It's attractive."

       As i was correcting her out of habit, i realized that in that moment "it" felt right. "It" felt right in a way i'd never felt before. i know that the queer people closest to me get my unique and personal conception of my gender but, beyond that tiny circle of folks, i feel that some part of myself is rendered invisible. i'm either a man to people, which is way the fuck off, or "just a woman," or even "just a trans-woman."

       So, in that moment, "it" felt right. Again, it was the respectfulness that made this work for me; and i've totally gone off at people for using it disrespectfully. i was initially uncomfortable with this realization because of past experiences and other queer folks' stories of "it" being used violently or to dehumanize. But this was not that type of malicious usage at all. Her use of both "he" and "she" before her use of "it" implies that she respected my humanity before engaging my Otherness.

       Obviously "it" is non-gendered. i like that. i like that "it" doesn't impose a gendered reading on me. Unlike "ze/hir" or "they," which imply gender neutrality, the word "it" leaves room for my gender. "It" doesn't force me to be "between" or "outside;" it is merely non-gendered.

       Also, excitingly, "it" isn't even a pronoun at all. i've been trying to re-define my understanding of gender; trying to step outside the binary. A i feel like i don't fall "between genders on a spectrum," although this is absolutely spectacular for folks who do. i am something different altogether. This is not to say that i don't have or do gender. i do. Frankly, i'm heavily gendered. It's just a unique understanding of gender.

       Because of this, using a pre-existing framework for discussing or describing my gender doesn't work; especially in this linguistic context. "It" isn't a pronoun, so unlike gender neutral pronouns, "it" doesn't try to squeeze me into a social construct that i simply don't fit in. Let's face it, these gender neutral pronouns, because of the way they are used, call on us to utilize an established understanding of gender to then understand an individual's relationship to the larger gendered structure. Again, this is fine and dandy for a lot of folks, and that's great, i just can't be and don't want to be understood in that way.

       "It" is also commonly used to describe non-human creatures. People often refer to pets as "it," for example - and this never seems to bother anyone at all. Somehow non-humans are largely exempt from our culture's impositional gender construction. i want this exemption to extend to my queer-creature self.

       My partner shared a thought with me along these lines that i like a lot. They said they liked that "it" didn't place people above other animals. i like that sentiment very much. This is a holistic and cleansing outlook. This is an outlook that allows me to perceive my gender not only as reshaping myself, but as reshaping my relationship to the world, and hopefully, in reshaping that world in the process.

       "It" also doesn't have to refer to a living entity at all. "It" can be an event or an object or anything else. "It" is non-judgmental. "It" is fluid. "It" is universal. i particularly like the idea of being an event - or a series of events. i like that i can just be what i am, for a moment in time, without lugging around a cumbersome identity. i can move with a freedom as an "it" that i can't as a "she," a "he," or even a "ze." i can move with a freedom beyond pronouns and beyond gender.

       i also think that it's so perfectly appropriate that "it" can feel, for me, both like the most respectful and understanding reference to myself and also one of the most hurtful and ignorant. Gender is a locus of both beauty and pain, so why not a pronoun to match?

       i do, for now, want to continue to honor my femininity and the aspects of myself that do happen to align with the social construction of gender. Also, as separate as i often feel from the society in which i live, i am and want to be a member (in some ways at least). i want to retain that membership by using a recognized pronoun as well. So i don't think that i will be "it" all the time. i think i'll be a "she/it" (yes, in that order). And i'll only be an "she/it" with people who get what that means, which, frankly means that i'll still mostly be a "she," and i am great with that. And even to queer people that get it, i'll be a "she in public for both safety and reasons of precedent; god forbid folks who don't understandstart to think that's ok.

       i'm sure i will keep thinking about and writing about this one for quite some time. i've also been reminding myself not to get too caught up in pronouns - they are, at the end of the day pronouns and not identity as a whole. one could very easily neglect key aspects of self by focusing only on pronouns. i do think, though, that pronouns can provide a lens through which to view (aspects) of identity. My shifting comfort levels with different pronouns strongly implies a shifting sense of self. A sense of self that is ever more comfortable and continuously my very own.