The phrase “preferred pronouns” comes with a lot of baggage that people don’t often take the time to unpack. Most people see two camps with this phrase – those who use it without thinking and those who think and then don’t use it – but I belong to a third camp. I think, and then I sometimes use it.
Talking with my metamour recently made me think of and reread my Gendered History series. I feel like it implies that now, I’m completely happy in my body, that I don’t ever question my gender or my pronouns or my presentation, that I never wish I were something different, that I don’t ever have any negative thoughts related to my gender.
Spoiler alert: that’s not true.
I expect most people will see that title and scroll on past, possibly unfollowing me in the process. That’s okay. For those of you that do read this, I hope you consider my thought processes and point of view and then engage in some respectful discussion if you disagree. (I would love to understand your point of view, if you can explain it with respect. Love.) Content note for this post: discussion of hate crimes, so expect violence (including lethal and sexual) and discussion of various identities.
For the first time, I’m tackling a question someone asked elsewhere and posting it here. It’s not an uncommon question, it’s not an easy question, and it’s not even a completely clear question, terminology-wise. How can someone tell if they are transgender or genderqueer?
The first thing I want to address is what may be implied by the “or”. A person can be both transgender and genderqueer. I am one such person! I sometimes shorthand it to “transqueer”, but I also sometimes shorthand “speed limit” to “splimit”. I am genderqueer because that is my gender. I am transgender because my gender does not match my assigned at birth sex, and because I say so. It’s important to note that not all genderqueer people are trans; you only are if you say you are. This is a word you can choose for yourself, not a word you can choose for someone else (excepting cases of choosing for a fictional person, though I know writers who would argue that even the fictional person is choosing for themself and that you’re just writing down their choice).
Second: how can you tell if you’re transgender? Like I said, this is a personal choice. Most people look at the definition of “gender different from the sex assigned at birth” and then, if the definition fits, choose if they wish to use this word. Some people use it for a while and then stop using it for various reasons, none of any more or less value than others. This word is a choice. This word is for YOU to choose for YOU. Not for someone else to choose for you. Not for you to choose for someone else. For you to choose for yourself, and for you to respect another person’s choice regarding whether or not it is used for them.
Third: how can you tell if you’re genderqueer? This is even more personal, I think. This is your personal journey with your gender identity and gender expression and even in what words you like best and least. If you’re not sure, I would start by reading other people’s accounts of their own journeys, or of their feelings and perceptions and experiences of being genderqueer. Here’s mine. Google (or another search engine of your choice) will help you find more, I’m sure.
An extra note: how can you tell if someone else is transgender or genderqueer?
By listening to what they say. By reading what they write in their online profile, on their Facebook page, in a letter or email, on their forehead in Sharpie if that’s how they choose to tell others. If you suspect but aren’t sure, don’t tell others that they are. I would even caution against a straight question, unless you’ve already expressed multiple times (sincerely, honestly, understandably) that you are supportive of this person regardless of their gender. If you haven’t expressed that but want to ask, start expressing it. Make your friendperson feel safe with you, and they’re more likely tell you whether you ask or not. Make them feel unsafe, insecure, or unsure, and they’re not likely to tell you at all.
There’s been some discussion lately in a group I’m a part of about the term “cishet” – short for “cisgender and heterosexual” – and whether it’s an insult or just a word to describe a group of people. I’ve actually seen three sides emerge in this debate:
1. It’s an insult. Queer people (and, as it’s often grouped together as “white cishet men”, female people and people of color) use it to attack an entire group of people, disregarding the fact Not All White Cishet Men are against the values of the queer, female people of color. It alienates the allies among cisgender heterosexual people by reducing them to the same level as the attackers, and it should not be used.
2. It’s used as an insult to give the insulting group some sort of power over the majority, seeing as how A Lot Of White Cishet Men participate (knowingly or not) in the oppression of a variety of minorities. Depending on context, it might not be an insult, but it needs to be available to give back some of the power when necessary. Allies should recognize their privilege and be willing to admit to it, part of which is owning their part in the cishet-centric society, but they shouldn’t be attacked with it the way non-allies can be.
3. It’s just a word that describes a person or group of people. If you automatically take it as an insult, that says much more about you than it does about the person who used it. Even it were part of a phrase “white male cishet assholes”, it’s still not an insult – assholes is the insult, and the rest is just to be a bit more specific about exactly which kind of assholes we’re dealing with. Allies can be cishet, but so can assholes; cishet is not the most important word in that phrase.
Has anyone else encountered this debate? What’s your take on it?