For about a year and a half, I’ve gone with the flow, letting people call me whatever they wanted. I’ve answered to many strange mispronunciations of my name (I’m pretty sure someone called me Sharon one time) and accepted every pronoun with a nod and a smile. Since nothing felt right, it didn’t matter what people used. There’s no way to correct them because nothing is truly correct.
Recently, though, I’ve been called my partner’s girlfriend a few times, and the discomfort was too strong to ignore. I also started to notice that every time someone calls me “he”, I feel a flush of delight, even pride. I don’t think it’s just the novelty of it; there’s novelty in being called Sharon, but I wouldn’t say it delights me, you know?
I think that I am so pleased when people call me “he” because it’s a recognition of all the hard work I’ve been putting into my appearance: buying clothes that fit, finding a hairstyle that works, doing pullups and pushups and running; standing up straight, letting my shoulders fall back, walking with confidence, being brave enough to look people in the eye. I strolled into a barbershop, signed my name as Jay, and got the best haircut I’ve had yet. I use the men’s room whenever the women’s room is occupied. I’m not a man — don’t get me wrong — but I’m coming close to looking the way I’ve always wanted to look, and that’s pretty masculine. Masculine people get called “he” by those who don’t know any better. Every “he” is a little validation.
Up until now, however, it hasn’t felt right to inconvenience everyone just to get a bit of validation, when “he” isn’t really my pronoun and I’m not planning on transitioning to male. I tried to use “they” for a while, which sounds the most correct to me, but it didn’t stick and eventually I gave up because I didn’t want to trouble people.
My attitude has changed since reading Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin. Seeing a nonbinary person on the cover of a book in Barnes and Noble was a wonderful moment for me, and even though the book wasn’t perfect, it was inspiring, especially because it wasn’t entirely about MtFs and FtMs. These people were taking their gender into their own hands and putting it out there for everyone to see, regardless of what might come their way. Somehow, this made nonbinary gender real for me, not just something that I was inventing in my own head, or some internet fad that I was riding, or some indulgent fantasy that I should keep to myself to avoid burdening others. These were real people, in a real book, in a real bookstore, demanding that everyone — family, friends, coworkers, teachers, the general public — call them “they”.
I could do that, I suddenly realized. I could ask everyone to call me “they”. I could even have people at work call me “they”. I’d be committing myself to teaching a Gender 101 class every time I meet someone, but that’s a legitimate choice that I could make. My lack of gender is real and valid and I can ask people to recognize it.
Right now I don’t want to teach a Gender 101 class. I just want people to stop seeing me as a girlfriend. Since asking people to call me “they” results in a lot of explanations and a lot of awkwardness and people default to “she” anyway, I don’t want to do that again, but I still want to make some kind of change.
So, friends, would you do me a favor? Would you test out the pronoun “he” and try referring to me with gendered terms usually used for men? Just for the month of June, for now. I’d like to see how it feels. I’ve already been introduced to my housemate’s dad as J, which is a tidy neutral nickname that some people have been calling me, and that felt pretty cool. Since I’m not consistently read as a man it’ll cause some confusion for some people, but I’m used to that and I don’t mind. I just want to see what happens when I get called “he” by people who know me, and find out if I can get used to it or if it will end up feeling just as unnatural as “she”.
Could be fun, right? I’ll let you know how it goes.