Pronouns: It’s Personal

Leaving the protected bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area and traveling to England has been eye opening. DK is one of my closest friends, but our friendship transpires 95% of the time over the internet. Skype. Email. IM. We get to see each other face to face once a year if we’re lucky (though that will change if DK moves to San Francisco as planned.)

DK is the one who gave me the nudge I needed to start down the genderqueer path. And yes, I’m using that term now with a great deal more comfort than I did before. Trans and butch, too, are words DK helped me claim. More than that, DK has recognized, supported, and encouraged the transmasculine person I have always been inside.

If you’ve noticed how I’m not using pronouns for DK, well, that’s the thing here. DK and I are, I’d say, fairly similar in our degree of transness. And when we met each other, we were both, especially me, representing ourselves as female. From the beginnings of our friendship we’ve used female pronouns for one another. But DK’s recently decided he prefers male pronouns, and I’m finding it hard to make that transition.

I have no trouble saying to myself, “DK? She’s a boy.” That feels right. How’s that for genderqueer? The inverse, “DK? He’s a girl,” is profoundly wrong — DK’s not a girl to my mind at all. So why the trouble? It’s not that I think of DK as female, exactly, but there’s something, maybe just habit, that stops me making the mental change.

I’ve noticed that DK similarly has trouble making the leap with me, though I really haven’t declared a pronoun preference. At the moment I’m dissatisfied with she and her, but uncomfortable with he and him, and I still can’t cope with ze and hir outside of a written context, and even then it feels artificial and forced. But there are other things: we call each other dude and sir and man and bro, but both of us, every so often, slip up and say woman or ma’am, and then stammer and backtrack and correct. It’s funny, and in a way a little affirming, and for me at least, kind of comforting to see DK going through the same mental gymnastics on my behalf that I’m going through on DK’s.

DK has had a lot more incidents of being gendered by strangers as male than I have; some of that is due, I think, to DK’s height (5-10″). But I’m not exactly short at 5’7″. We both have very short hair, and wear binders and men’s clothes. We both have broad shoulders and, especially me, narrow hips. DK has a lovely low voice, too. But I think there’s more to DK’s being gendered by strangers as male so often: context.

Here in England, in DK’s town, I have seen only one other genderqueer person besides myself and DK — a young man with gorgeously long curly red hair, and it’s not clear he was really genderqueer. His clothing was entirely masculine, and clearly I saw him as male from the outset. The women here are quite gender-conforming, and so are the men. So there’s a contrast. DK really stands out, with close-cropped hair and men’s clothing. There’s not even a mental space in most people’s minds here for the concept of a butch woman, so they look at DK and decide he’s male.

In and around San Francisco, by contrast, there are scores of butch women. Dozens and hundreds, probably. People in San Francisco have a mental model of “woman” that includes, “woman who dresses and acts masculine.” I think that’s why I’m not perceived as male all that often, compared to DK. And I wonder if that’s why it’s easier for DK to choose male pronouns for himself, where I’m still struggling with the issue of both what to call him, and what to call myself.

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~ by Nezu on 29 January 2011.

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