Not quite 3 months ago, I started Testosterone, and my reasons, while took forever to congeal, were clear:
I’d much rather be perceived as not-female than as female. Which leads me to the only other option: being perceived as male.
The key word is perceived, and that takes two. Taking hormones is a physical means of making my body more androgynous. But physical cues are only one way in which other people perceive gender.
I’ve often distinguished between the needs of physical and social transition, as well as differences between physical and social dysphoria, all experienced in endless combinations by each individual person and their particular place on the gender rainbow. Therefore, it is only fitting that, exactly one year after writing a post grappling with pronouns, I revisit the matter and (gasp!) come to a conclusion. This does not make anything definitive, but it does make it decisive, an act with which I seem to struggle most.
The Preferred Pronoun
The pronoun that fits me best is they, or simply no pronouns.
People still call me she, and thus far I’ve been reluctant to correct them, mainly to avoid a long winded conversation about my gender and what that exactly means, because “they” is an unusual pronoun at best, and at worst informing someone of your preferred pronoun is unusual already.
Moreover, in previous experiments with real live situations, people have been unable to use “they” correctly in a spontaneous way. They trip up, mess up, forget it, and call me whatever they want (he and she in the same sentence even). Mostly people stumble with the supposed grammar complications – which, in my opinion, is no more complicated than how we really do speak anyway. But I can’t force my brilliant and intelligent understanding of grammar on people all the time, or pull up Wikipedia or other very informative articles with examples of its use. And let’s not forget we are trying to avoid a long-winded and unnecessary explanation about gender and/or grammar in the first place, at the very least for practical reasons.
So what to do if “they” is such an inconvenient pronoun? You make up a Plan B. Well, I’ve finally (finally!) decided to go with he.
(Oh what agony two/three letters cause, yet how important you are.)
Just like I am currently in the process of physically inching my way towards a more masculine-like appearance, the plan is to very slowly shift pronouns publicly. This should, in effect, jumpstart my public social transition.
In fact, this process has already begun, albeit amongst a closer cirlce of friends. Mostly there have been implied hints and often-too-subtle sneers on my part, but the smart ones have already caught on that a) I’m really not a “she” and b) pronouns are an issue for me.
What do they do instead? They employ one of many strategies for speaking in gender-neutral terms:
- Use singular they: “They like to eat chocolate.”
- Use the person’s name: “He/She/Name likes to eat chocolate.”
- Substitute descriptivie phrases in place of a pronouns or a name: “What does the little one think?” or “Yes, spunky does indeed like to eat chocolate.”
But gender neutralizing language is not so straightforward, and despite careful calculations, people slip. Even my partner has tripped up with pronouns and gendered titles. We usually discuss each situation afterwards, and decide how to handle it in the future. However, this analysis tends to happen when the event in question has already passed, which means that during the moment of confusion, it was just plain difficult to find the right words. Moreover, it’s impossible to deconstruct and predict every single word or phrase one might need in a sentence, and have the foresight to think of a gender-neutral alternative beforehand, especially without much practice – as is the case for most people around me who are not me.
The [Fallback] Plan
In order to avoid this, it’s therefore best to agree upon a fallback plan. And “he” is an acceptable fallback plan for me. My girlfriend can say she has a “significant other” or a “shorter half” but when pressed for time – or neurons – she can say “boyfriend,” and that’ll be fine too. And my well-meaning (and smart) friends can say “he” should they run out of unique monikers to describe me. Now, should my friends ever slip, I’d prefer they slip with a “he” instead of a “she.”
Lastly, I’ve briefly mentioned how Spanish is my first language, and you don’t get much of a choice in Spanish. My girlfriend and I have already switched to using the masculine to refer to me, and a few people have fortunately caught on and taken it in stride. My girlfriend’s aunt now calls me “sobrino,” yet I bet she still wonders whether “niece” or “nephew” would be more appropriate.
So I guess the next step is letting these well-intentioned friends know about all this. I can sit around and make excuses for why it’s so hard to tell them, and agonize over every pronoun they mis-use, or I can sit down, have one nice little conversation, and be done with it. After all, they already know right?
As for the other circles – extended friends, acquaintances, work – well, I’m just not going to bother for now. You tell one person, and sooner or later the rest will catch on. And when they do, I don’t have to dread a long-winded explanation about the complexities of my gender, all I have to say is “yeah, I go by he.” And that’s that.