And I wasn’t taken aback but I was more over surprised that it happened to me so late in the game. Let me explain.
I identify with whatever people feel more comfortable using; some choose to use he, him, his and others feel comfortable referring to me as she, her, hers. There wasn’t ever a set way to describe me, I’m comfortable in both my masculine and feminine roles. So when I was asked recently in a more serious manner about my gender pronouns, I was a little taken aback.
For others however, it’s an incredibly sensitive subject that people with keen and trained eyes (and minds, really) can address. We’re seeing guides of how to properly label someone without misrepresenting their identity—it’s quite serious. Hell, even Merriam Webster added the word ‘genderqueer’ to the dictionary when the topic of pronouns became more pronounce. More and more, we’re seeing appropriate and inappropriate pronouns being added daily to the millennial lexicon.
I’ve never encountered this question—even when I was going through the forest of self-womanhood, it was a livelihood I embraced openly and confidently. I went the mile of wearing tights, heels, make-up, much longer hair, rompers, nails—all things that I still enjoy from a personal style and personal self-identity standpoint.
Going through college, I was avid about taking about self portraits of my outfits—I thought I was all that and a bag of chips. Now looking back on these portraits, I could see the transformation of how my feminine and masculine melted into my current day self. I would best describe it as feminine style with a masculine way of perfecting it. I, ironically, brought such a “macho energy” to my wants in being more of a feminine version of myself.
I tried it all—again, heels, tights, nails; I didn’t really see that it was a expression of gender. Simply, it made me happy. It was fun to dress up and be showered with compliments by friends, strangers, dear loved ones. I would dream up outfits with the existing clothing in my closet. I once bought a pair of heeled sneakers because I wanted the “girl-on-the-go” look. More over, I was later called by an instructor a “presidential hooker” with the pairing of dark denim in both blazer and shorts options. Luckily, no photos exist.
But even through all the outfit changes, shoe choices, and make-up applications—gender was not a subject anyone discussed, it fit the mold of “well, that’s him.” My style and choice to identify was all mine. My current style is now a well-marinated mixture of the two—a black denim jean and black sweater mixed in with a pair of mules. The go-to uniform of my day to day.
Fast forward to recent, the big question: “what pronoun should I use going forward?” This was asked by a studio manager on-set during a commercial shoot on day three of work. Without skipping a beat, I replied, “anything you want to use.” And to be honest, I felt respected. The power of assumption plagues our society in all aspects—it takes someone who is mindful to ask those questions, openly, honestly, and truthfully.
But why do we have a such a hard time asking these questions when they should be integrated into the common day? Dannielle Owen-Reid, the co-founder of Everyone is Gay was posed with the same very question. Her response to the question is incredibly apropos of todays time, ““WHY?! WHY WOULD YOU ASK THAT?!!? ISN’T IT OBVIOUS?!?!” she writes, “you can simply say, “I always default to asking over assuming, I like to know for sure, rather than try to guess.” You can even take it one step further and talk about the number of people who are mis-gendered on a daily basis.”
She also adds to the dynamic of LGBTQ suicides in the US, “you can throw out some statistics about suicide within the LGBTQ community, you can point them to specific stories of transgender youth who have taken their lives because of shit like this. You can also take a step back and say, “hey, I’m just doing my part to be as inclusive as possible, I want to be a part of making our work environment a safe space and it’s one of the quickest and easiest ways to make everyone feel comfortable.” And, I know you’re not exactly in a power-position here, so say something like, “Hey Alex, can you let me know people’s pronouns as you point them out to me? I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.”
In my decade of living in San Francisco, I was just now asked about my preferred gender pronouns—it makes me feel seen, observed, and thought-forward. But how can we insure that this kind of respect and “being seen” is encouraged? Dannielle continues on in her pronoun write up, “Remember that you are doing this for YOU…(sic). You want to feel good about telling someone you have different pronouns than they are using. These aren’t your preferred pronouns. These are your pronouns. This is you.”
// Photography courtesy of Anthony Rogers.