Penny's Story

A cute little drummer living her dream.

I don’t want to “choose” a pronoun

Everywhere I go I am seen to be the woman that I am. People “ma’am” me, and “she” me, and “her” me, and “lady” me. I am always assumed to deserve the pronoun that was denied me for so long.

I am really comfortable with the gender binary. Do I favor equality between the sexes? Of course. Do I think that there is lots of bullshit stereotyping that goes on? Definitely, in both directions. But I never really had a problem with acknowledging the differences between the sexes, my issue was being on the wrong side of the fence.

I’ve been engaging in some very light actvism and outreach for the Transgender cause lately. I feel more like an ally than a member of the team, as I do feel like one of “those women” who passed through the Transgender community on her way to just being a post-corrected woman. But I’m a pretty staunch ally, staunch enough that I don’t get my panties in a wad if people lump me into the “Transgender Umbrella.” I don’t think it’s accurate, but I also don’t freak out about it either. Hell, I’m bringing a group from my church to march in the New England Trans United Pride Parade in Northampton this Saturday.

Whatever. I’m just me. The world pretty universally sees me as I see me (I can’t remember the last time it didn’t).

Except when I enter transgender/genderqueer spaces. ~Then~ I need to explain my gender. I go to the Post Office and it’s “Can I help you ma’am?” I go to the diner with my mom and it’s “Have a seat ladies.” I perform and I’m told that I drum pretty well “For a girl.” Even in straight spaces where my history is known, everyone accepts that I’m just a woman who was born with the wrong body. But in queer (specifically transgender/genderqueer spaces) I must verbally claim my pronoun of choice. I don’t like it; it’s what I fought so hard to ~not~ have to do.

Here’s an oh-so politically incorrect thing to say: “Look at me! Isn’t it obvious I’m a she? Just go by how I look for God’s sake.”

[Yes, the hypocrisy of this statement is not lost on me, because for so long how I looked was exactly the problem. People are complicated, what can I tell you? I’ve been ~through~ transition, that’s sort of the point. How I looked used to get me bludgeoned with the wrong pronoun, I don’t think it’s all that horrible to ask that how I look finally get me the accurate pronoun.]


Here’s where I get called a name, or accused of being insensitive, or of being an essentialist, or of creating a hierarchy, but I’m doing none of those things. I understand how for some people being assumed to prefer a certain pronoun is problematic at best and deeply painful at worst, yet I find it just as disempowering to have to claim a pronoun that I feel should be obviously bestowed upon me (and it ~is~ everywhere ~else~). For me it’s validating for the world to look at me, speak with me, interact with me, and call me “she.” ~Asking~ for the pronoun defeats so much of the work and effort and struggle that my journey has been about.

I have absolutely no idea what a good compromise would look like, at this point I’m just mentioning that having to ~ask~ to be recognized as the woman I am feels annoying. (I was recently in a room where we introduced ourselves and stated our “preferred pronoun.” I felt uncomfortable about it, but I got a good chuckle when a woman who had clearly lived her entire life being perceived as female said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been asked what pronoun I prefer before.” I loved that, because even though I had to fight for the pronoun that now is “me,” I don’t have to fight for it anymore, it just is, just like it’s always been for that other woman.)

I’d still be fine with a gender-neutral pronoun, but it seems like the vast majority of English-speakers have answered that request with a big fat “no thanks.” Maybe someone will come up with a gender-neutral pronoun that doesn’t suck. Maybe. Someday. Until then I’m fine with “she” and “her.”


  Véronique wrote @

I suppose in trans/queer space, they ask *everyone* so they can’t be accused of “profiling.” So even those whose choice would seem obvious get asked, so that those whose choice might be less obvious aren’t singled out.

I’d rather not be asked either, but I think I get it.

  pickypenelope wrote @

Oh, I get it, I just don’t really like it. I’m even willing to admit that it might be the best out of the worst solutions to the problem. But I still don’t like it.

Maybe next time I’ll say, “I prefer that you use the pronoun that makes the most sense given societal stereotypes based on my purposeful gender-normative appearance.”


  Véronique wrote @

I like your witty comeback. 😉

  Gigi wrote @

Well said, girl, and I’m right there with ya 🙂


  Corrvin wrote @

It would really help here if there was a word for “clearly gendered people” and “not so clearly gendered people” but I’ll just do the best I can; assume that “cis” below mostly means “people who have a history of almost always passing as their self-perceived gender” and “trans” means the opposite. 🙂

Here’s the problem:

Betty: Oh Cindy! Have you met my friend Alex? He’s an engineer who goes to my church.
Cindy: Hello Alex, nice to meet you!
Alex: Actually it’s “she”.. my name’s Alexandria.

Cisgendered Alex explanation: Betty and Cindy are kind of embarrassed, Alex is wondering if maybe she should put her full name on her business cards and let her hair grow out, and maybe even a little resentful of her own figure or looks.

Transgendered Alex explanation: Betty and Cindy may be embarrassed or they may be cranky because they think it’s some kind of special treat to refer to someone by their “chosen” terms. Alex is going to go home and cry and worry about being “spotted” and not passing.

The problem here is twofold: Betty and Cindy may not react well to being told that someone they initially took for male is actually female. And it hurts Alex’s feelings to refer to her the wrong way, especially if that’s based on more than a split-second glance.

However, it doesn’t make Betty and Cindy ANY more accepting or understanding for Alex to state her chosen pronoun up front. Alex making a statement like that doesn’t change how they feel; if they’re okay with the statement, they were probably accepting to START with. I don’t think it’s reasonable to give Alex that much responsibility over how Betty and Cindy feel! That’s not fair or right.

And part of being comfortable in your gender is knowing that people perceive your gender correctly; if you’re always blurting out “I’m a woman!” then doesn’t that build up a big pile of insecurity that you HAVE to identify yourself?

I think it would be easier if we just practiced gently correcting others.

  pickypenelope wrote @

Corrvin, you ~so~ consistently completely grok this stuff. Brilliant, as always.

  Véronique wrote @

Hmmm. Alex must not be all that close a friend of Betty’s or Betty would have known her preferred pronoun. 🙂

  Zoë Suzanna wrote @

Well written, thank you!

I can relate to what you have said. being early in my transition, I’ve only been called “ma’am” once but the rest of the time it’s “sir” or “mister.” Each time I hear male pronouns with reference to myself, it’s like a cheese grater against my skin…

  Rebecca wrote @

Well said, and thank you for being brave enough to say it. I’m always happy to see others willing to say the things I’m thinking. I tend to do quite a lot of that myself, despite the risk of public flogging that comes along with it. I haven’t heard a male pronoun hurled my way in quite some time, and know that having to state my pronoun of choice would quite ruffle my feathers. Why really does it have to be so difficult?

  Eileen wrote @

Thank you so much for this post! You totally nailed how I feel about this; in fact I was just complaining about this very thing to my therapist last week. Unfortunately she didn’t really get it…
I always enjoy your posts.
Thanks 🙂

  Lori D wrote @

I really like this post. I have to admit that I agree with you about the frustration involved in dealing with my trans status in the community. I’m getting to the point where, “Frankly, Scarlet,” I don’t give a damn. Isn’t it amazing that in a community that seeks to break being labeled by others, we have to force a label on everyone else? Just look at this Piss, I mean, CIS debate. Give me a break. Let’s get over this shit, let’s move forward, and let’s finally get along. Stop whining and focus on what really matters.

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