Contemplations on queerness, transness, and other Otherness.

Monday, December 12, 2011


       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.