(CN: discussion of afab body dysphoria, body parts, suicide mention with linked resources)
I realise that the english language is sadly devoid of names for people like me and I try to cut the world some slack for this, every day, all day, and the day after that too.
But the truth is that every time I am misgendered like that I am reminded that I do not fit, I am not this, I am not that, I am not seen, I can’t be recognised. I have no name. I am invisible.
And a tiny little sliver of me disappears. Just a sliver. Razored most days from the surface of my very thick skin, but some days, I don’t know why, it comes straight off my soul. Sometimes it’s felt so deep but most days simply just shrugged off, but still, it’s a sliver, and all those slivers add up to something harder to pretend around.
– Ivan Coyote in Gender Failure (link to spoken performance)
Sometimes things hurt more than they should. I am told by people who love me that I shouldn’t let things get to me. I am told by other people that trans people are shrill and unreasonable.
I know it’s not “reasonable” to expect everyone to immediately get used to my pronouns, and I know that it doesn’t help anybody to be angry about it. I know that the world is still only beginning to wrap its head around the existence of NB people, and I should “understand where people are coming from”, and that it’s not “healthy” to cry every time a form doesn’t include my gender identity.
But sometimes I can’t help it. I resent the fact that something not bothering one trans person at one particular time is sometimes used against other trans people. Obviously I would be more functional if I could, but sometimes I cannot, because dysphoria is a thing that sucks, and you can’t really logic your way out of pain. Here I attempt to describe the 3-4 mental states that I personally move between from day to day, in answer to the question “how do trans people feel about (thing)”. I love being reasonable. But sometimes I cannot.
Level 1A: No dysphoria, or slightly more binary female/male-identified.
Body: I have one, and as a healthy functional person, I don’t have to think about it much. I wear comfortable clothes that fit me.
Pronouns: Call me whatever, it is A-OK, don’t worry about it. Please, go back to telling me about your cabbage plantation! Damn, why did I trouble people with my pronouns, I don’t actually mind, and I feel bad when people go out of their way to correct themselves.
Gendered situations: Yes, I would like to pee; I feel okay about using the female/male bathroom, and might be annoyed if people stare at me, but am likely to take that positively as affirmation of my NBness∧. Oh, this form only has two options for gender? I know people who will be annoyed by that, but it’s fine, I can humour you.
∧: toilet anxiety for me comes from two separate things- having to pick one, and potential confrontation. Here the former is low, and the latter I have emotional capacity to deal with.
AKA: “Wait, am I really trans??” (The answer is yes. Yes, even if you only ever experience this stage, which I did for a long time. If you identify as trans you are trans.)
1B: NB gender euphoria.
Body: I wear a binder occasionally and it makes me feel good about myself, but it hurts my back so I don’t usually. I try to reclaim my body, with mixed successes. I am okay with having boobs because they are NB boobs, not female boobs. I am happy with and actually quite like my body!
Correct pronouns: Oh you got it right! Good job, thank you, awesome person.
Trying: Thanks for trying, I know it’s hard and I appreciate trying
Incorrect pronouns: It annoys me that this person isn’t trying, but it doesn’t affect me much
Gendered situations: *cringe, pick one, try to forget about it asap*. OMG a gender-neutral toilet/form with an ‘other’ option, God bless this great nation.
AKA: “Yes!! they/them is me! It me!! I love being trans, #livingmytruth”
2: Gender dysphoria.
Body: What is pain? Life is pain. Being trans is pain. Suck it up and wear a fucking binder, it doesn’t really help, but the back pain gives me something else to focus on. It’s hard to get dressed, and some days I don’t.
Correct pronouns: Why, thank you for not stabbing me in the gut, excuse me if I don’t enthusiastically celebrate your having Common Fucking Decency
Trying: It hurts. I know you are trying and I appreciate that but it’s a reminder that my existence is inconvenient for everyone involved and it hurts and I can’t help it.
Incorrect pronouns: Oh, are we going to step painfully on my foot every few sentences? That’s the activity of the day? Okay. Fuck you, person whom I have notified of my pronouns 278 times so far. This might be unfair to you but also fuck you, person whom I have not notified of my pronouns, but who did not ask because of cisheteronormativity. Some days I don’t interact with anybody because the potential misgendering isn’t worth it.
Gendered situations: *angry sobbing*, and peeing stops being worth the anxiety∧. Thank you world, I really needed that reminder that I don’t fucking exist and there is no space for me here.
∧: Anxiety about picking one is high and ability to deal with confrontation is none, so anxiety about confrontation is also high. If there were absolutely nobody around, my ability to pee goes back up to “cringe, pick one, forget about it asap”.
AKA: “Fuck being trans this is the worst shit”
Body: My skin is literally melting, like it hurts to HAVE skin, and my bone structure is WRONG, and, like, I just noticed that I have HIPS, WTF. Being IN this body is pain. The whole world is pain.
Pronouns: What are pronouns; you think WORDS are going to help?! Call me whatever, what does it matter, there are no “correct” pronouns, everything is WRONG. What did I tell people my pronouns were, and what was I even thinking? Nothing is correct. I have made a horrible mistake. There are no pronouns I prefer. Everything BURNS.
Gendered situations: rarely encountered because I am in fetal position in my room.
Real talk tho: I have been suicidally dysphoric and it sucks, and dear trans friends, please read There are some things I need to tell you. (while we are reading, please also read 25 Things I Do To Make My Body Dysphoria Feel Smaller and Quieter and Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation)
Conveniently, this also helps explain how I feel about pronouns. This article could be alternatively titled “Thanks for asking about my pronouns, it’s actually kind of a long story…”, but I went and got all up on my soapbox, so we have this postscript instead.
As you can see, there is some fluidity in my gender feelings. My gender is clear to me: I am genderqueer and NB. But what pronouns I prefer seems to vary a bit from day to day, between “anything is fine” and “nothing is fine”. That’s pretty inconvenient, and I’ve just been telling people to use they/them. That makes me feel like a fraud when people go out of their way to use they/them on days when I prefer she/her, but it works on other days.
What pronouns would I use if people would actually infallibly use them? Maybe one of those rotating pronouns where you use ze/she/they/he in rotation, a different one every time it comes up. Or primarily ‘they’ in writing etc, but different ones in person depending on day, so ask me. These are too much trouble for most people, and also too much trouble to explain, so expedience usually outweighs discomfort.
So the short answer is “they/them”, but you could also do either of the above two things.