I've read lots of academic debate about pronoun "go-arounds" (where everyone says his or her preferred pronoun) in meetings, classrooms, etc. And I get the intellectual arguments on both sides--the most persuasive, to me, being the inclusion of trans people and the destigmatization of announcing one's pronoun. So my response to these is personal, not intellectual. And here it is.
I loathe in-person "pronoun go-arounds." Why? Because 99.5% of the time, I am the only person in the room that anyone is wondering about. There will be 5 or 8 or 10 of us, and I am the sole person whose preferred pronoun cannot be easily predicted from her hairstyle, makeup or lack thereof, or clothing choices. Yep, I know there are exceptions. But in the spaces I'm in, there never are. It's always me and a bunch of cisgendered, gender-conforming people, and as they go around saying their (obvious) pronouns aloud, I can feel my cheeks burning. We're doing this for that person, I can practically hear them thinking. What will that person say?
And when it gets to me and I say "she," which is the pronoun I use, I feel like my identity has been reduced. Boiled down to an essence that, at some fundamental level, does not contain the complications of my gender. Yeah, I'm a cisgendered woman. But I am gender nonconforming in my appearance, and my "gender identity," such as it is, is expansive--yes, a female version of expansive--but it is most certainly not contained by the simple word "she." And since I don't get to explain anything else about myself, I hate having to say "she." It is reductive. It feels vaguely insulting to be forced to say my pronoun with everyone staring at me, their eyes asking, what are you?
I know that the idea is to make everyone feel comfortable and to be trans-inclusive, and I get that intellectually, but the reality of my lived experience is different. It doesn't feel inclusive at all; it underscores the fact that I am the only gender nonconforming person in the room.
A better alternative, I think, would be to go around and have everyone say whatever they want to about themselves and their needs for the day, including preferred pronouns, accessibility needs, or anything else. Some people might say, "I'm sight-impaired, so if I don't look at you, know that I'm not being unfriendly." Others might say, "I'm a little tired today because I was up all night with my kid, but I'm going to try to stay focused." Some people might just say their names and nothing else. This approach would not only be trans-inclusive, but disability-inclusive, family-inclusive, and other kinds of inclusive as well.
Pronoun go-arounds in predominately queer spaces are different. I don't feel like I'm being singled out; they feel neutral. I also don't mind pronouns in signature lines in emails, because that's personal to the person sending it; it doesn't demand that anyone else out themselves. I guess that's the part that really bothers me: being forced to "out" some aspect of myself that I'd rather not be the first thing people know about me.
The most important thing to say about Hannah Gadsby's stand-up Netflix special, "Nanette," is: Go watch it. Maybe you'll love it, maybe you won't. You may not agree with all of it, but you will chuckle, and your eyes might even get a touch watery. The morning after I watched it, I made a list of reactions/realizations.
Like many people, I cried a little when I watched "Nanette." Not because I have experienced the things Gadsby has experienced--I haven't. And not because I felt sorry for her--I didn't. No, I cried because I recognized the important power of Gadsby's story, and because it made me realize the important power of my own. I cried because of all the times I've used myself as a punchline to make myself more accessible to people. I cried because I realized I chose my occupation partly because I thought it was one of the few places someone like me would not have to worry about poor treatment. I cried because this turns out not to be true. I cried because of the ways I have failed to listen to other people's stories. I cried because of the ways I have failed to tell my own.
I got a grant at work that enabled me to fly out someone I wanted to mentor me for a few days. I chose someone I like and admire--someone whose work I think is top-notch, and who I've long thought of as a half-friend, half-mentor, even though I only see her for a couple hours about once a year. For purposes of this entry, let's call her G (random, not her real initial).
I figured it would be fun. I figured I'd have a nice time and learn some things from her. What I did not expect was that spending a short but sustained amount of time with her would be so awesome for so many reasons.
For one, having another butch in my work department made me hold my head higher somehow. I am not the only queer person in my workplace, but by my (possibly inaccurate, who knows) observation, I am the only one whose female self-presentation deviates from what we might think of as a feminine gender norm. For three whole days, I got to not be the most masculine female-identified person in my department. (Maybe we're tied, but her voice is deeper and G can buy men's clothes off the rack, so I think she wins.) It is hard to pinpoint why this made me feel so great. There was one time when we were in the elevator and a feminine woman walked in, and I thought, "In this elevator, at this moment, we are the norm!" Something about this just felt super good. I don't know how to describe it except to say that I do not usually feel like a non-strong or a non-valid person, but in that moment, I felt extraordinarily strong and unquestionably valid. I felt like there was something that I am usually carrying, and for those three days, my arms could rest because I did not have to carry it alone.
In addition to being the only butch (again, to my knowledge) in my department, I am one of the only people (again, to my knowledge) from what I would consider a working-class background (I'm not first-gen). G shares a similar background, and there is something about hanging out with another working-class butch in an academic workplace that I absolutely love. Intersectionality matters, people! Also, neither of us married to someone whose gender presentation differs that much from our own, either, which is something which, as I've written about before, I feel like I share with almost zero other butches.
Perhaps these feelings of strength/camaraderie/validation would be tempered if I didn't like G so much. But I do. And so does my wife, which rocks because DW isn't enamored of most people (she'll deny this and I'll end up having to take this sentence out, but I swear it's true). Regardless, I feel like something clicked. Who knows if G's experience was the same, but by the end we felt like real friends, not just mentor/mentee or work friends. It made me really happy.
This feels like the most childish entry ever. Oh well. I don't care. I like my friend.
Below is a list of lies I've caught me telling myself over the past few months... and I know I can't be the only butch who occasionally deludes herself, can I?
Hi, friends. I recently relieved a spate of, "You don't blog very much anymore" emails. As I began to write my usual, "Oh, I've been SO busy with work and life, you know how it is, blah blah blah" emails," I thought: But that's not really true. I could be blogging a ton and I'm not. Why?
Well, there are a few real reasons. Maybe sharing them with you will get me back into writing BW some more. Or maybe not. I guess we'll see. Either way, your feedback would be awesome.
1. This is the main one, and the hardest to talk about. I worry that now, in my very late 30s, my thoughts about gender and sexual orientation are passé. I am a butch woman. I'm cool with being a woman. I'm also cool with AFAB (assigned-female-at-birth) folks who AREN'T cool with being women. But most of the serious conversation about masculine-of-center life these days seems to be about not being a woman: about agender or genderfluid or trans identities. That's great--but it's not me. I just don't feel like there are that many cisgendered masculine-of-center women out there anymore, especially under the age of 35. At least in my circles, there is strong social pressure to be something more gender-expansive than "woman." But why does "woman" have to be so damn narrow that it can't contain me? I don't know, folks. It's hard not to feel irrelevant these days when you're someone who (1) regularly gets called "sir" and (2) uses she/her pronouns.
2. There has been reduced engagement with the blog when I do post: fewer likes and fewer comments. Part of the reason I blog is to open conversations with people throughout the world. Sometimes, though, it feels like I'm typing into a void, which makes it less fun for me. It's possible that my writing is getting less engaging, or that I'm writing about less engaging topics (e.g., more depressing Supreme Court cases, fewer fashion tips). It's also possible that people don't read blogs as much as they used to. But regardless of the reason, the fact remains--and less interaction with readers makes me less eager to write.
3. Admittedly, life has interfered. Namely: I have a real, steady job that I love but which is also super demanding; I wrote a book (related to my work life); my wife and I bought a house; my two dogs are terribly behaved; I've taken up pottery and kayaking (possibly the two most lesbian hobbies in existence); I'm trying to pay off my student loans; we moved across the country a couple years ago and I'm trying to get used to snow and humidity. These things are non-trivial.
Anyhow, I didn't want you to think I wasn't thinking of you anymore. I am. I'm just kind of sitting with all of these thoughts and obstacles in the current political moment and it has added up to me not writing very much.