It’s Not About the Pronouns, It’s about Me and You
My pronoun is the site of a negotiation between who I am and how other people see me. I use he/they. He, because I am a man, I see myself as a man, I know myself as a man. They, because sometimes people who don't know me look at me, don't know how to parse me, and choose to say they to be safe. Even though it's not quite right, I appreciate the courtesy.
I am not she, or her, because I am not a woman. I only am called a she because they look at me and don’t see me. I think it’s pretty obvious that I’m a man. I have a beard now and everything. But people call me she because of what they think they see. Most of the time they’re just fucking it up on accident. Even people I know, maybe because I told them I’m trans, probably because I look it, will call me she. I know they don’t mean it. If they’re a friend or loved one, they know me, they see me, and they’re only in my life because they are capable of respecting me. And it’s hard, to look at someone they’ve been told their whole life is a woman, and in the passing moment of conversation they forget who I am and slip up.
This is fine. I get it. It doesn't bother me anymore, not really. I'm comfortable advocating for myself and having those conversations, the educating ones where I can help them understand. I can tell the difference between a mistake and an attempt to hurt me.
There are so many people weaponizing this conversation about pronouns and gender. In their hate, they're really making it about themselves. It's not about the pronouns. It's about not seeing us as human. They use the rhetoric of science and biology, like they always have, to justify violence. It's eugenics. We know that. We know its name.
It turns out, the pronoun is just a part of speech. It's a shorthand. Its function in language is to take place of a noun. It's clumsy to refer to a person by name or by noun. It's much more efficient to use a pronoun in a sentence.
It’s important to recognize that this conversation is entirely in English. Different languages have different relationships to the pronoun. In the language of my people, there are no gendered pronouns. The pronouns in Tagalog are about relationships. There are pronouns for I, you, and groups of people. You, alone. You, and who you’re with. Me, alone. Me, and the people we’re with. I think it’s telling. It’s hard to ignore the influence of colonization in this. I am speaking a language my people were forced to speak, whether it was through violence or promises of access to power. There is no gender in the language indigenous to my ancestry, to my body, to my soul. Before the Spanish ruined the Philippines, there was room for different expressions of gender. We were and always have been here, sacred and whole. People used to recognize that. And here we are now, daring to name the injustice that was and continues to be perpetuated on a societal level.
And we have done the work. By we, I mean our community. Our elders who faced violence, imprisonment, and death while they fought for the right to exist. We are still fighting, because we still face violence. Last night, there was a shooting at a gay night club in Colorado springs. Five people died. And the people who stopped the shooter weren’t the cops, who rarely if ever have our backs, but two people from the community. We protect ourselves and we protect each other. It’s beautiful! The crime that we are being condemned for is recognizing that beauty in all its forms, and having the courage to dare name it.
I’ve been spat at in the street, by Lake Merritt in Oakland, a stunningly progressive city. This isn’t supposed to happen here, but it still happened. I had no idea why, but clearly there was something about me that the person who spat at me thought was disgusting. Spit is a form of excrement. It’s how we get rid of mucus. It carries germs. It can make people sick. This was pre-COVID, thank god. But still, to spit at someone is an act of dehumanization. Here, here’s my spit, because you are also disgusting. And how else to interpret that, than being about my queerness?
What a shame. This was years ago but I remember it to this day, the way I remember getting yelled at — this one time, someone rolled down their window and looked at me. I thought I was going to get cat-called. Instead they said "what IS that?" It was mean. It was worse than getting cat-called, if I'm being honest.
How am I one of the lucky ones? How am I still privileged, living as I do in California, in the Bay Area, where there are laws protecting me instead of oppressing me. I was forced to go through the wrong puberty, and it SUCKED. I almost didn’t make it out alive. I tried to kill myself seven times over the course of my adolescence. I don’t want that to happen to anyone. It’s disgusting that there is a political movement obsessed with us, obsessed with hurting us, finding any way they can to institutionalize their gender binary. Chromosomes. Genital checks. They’re making shit up as they go! Working in direct opposition to the American Pediatric Association! To hurt us. To disappear us. They remember a time when it was easier to disappear us. They remember a time when laws protected them from us, from having to look at us, protected them from us asking to be respected.
This is the difference, between trying to hurt and fucking it up but doing the work to not only learn about us, but also to look at yourself. Doing the work to look at your assumptions about me. Doing the work to see me. That’s all I’m asking. That’s all any of us is asking. See me. See us. Aren’t we beautiful? We’re seeing what you don’t see. Yet.