the president of pronouns gives you permission to just kind of try stuff out

comic of kirby behind a lecturne gesturing to a big box labeled “free pronouns to a good home”

In answer to "I'm worried if I insist on / ask for different pronouns, I'm appropriating from the trans community"

No You're Not. We're not going to run out of theys at the pronoun store. You're not stealing a they from some poor nonbinary every time someone uses it for you. You're not faking being trans, or pretending to be something you're not. If someone does ask you directly about your identity, realize that 1.) that's a personal question, and you have a right not to answer, and 2.) if you do share the answer, it is a chance for closeness and learning.

In answer to "I did ask, and nobody used them."

This is not a you thing, not completely, but you can work towards fixing it. If you are a cis person who goes into a room full of cis people and says "I use they/them pronouns" and they all proceed to ignore your wishes and call you the pronoun they think is most aligned with your assigned sex at birth, that tells you two things:

In answer to (relatedly) “I want to, but I’m not ready for the type of reactions I’m afraid I’ll get”

Maybe you’ve thought about that stuff above, or maybe you took a couple baby steps and found that you got some of that stuff above. Maybe you’re not in a safe enough place in your life where you can really withstand the grief of learning who does and doesn’t respect your personhood. I promise I get it! That doesn’t mean you have to squash yourself into a box that doesn’t fit, or just feels dusty and meaningless. You can move towards the joy of pronouns in safe ways, before or instead of taking big public risks. Here are some ideas:

  1. Write a story about yourself using your desired pronouns. Maybe draw a funny little comic where animal characters all become your friends and use those pronouns for you. Your character can try out a lot of different stuff, and it can be totally between you and yourself. You never have to share it if you don’t want to.
  2. Evaluate what relationships you have that do seem really safe and secure -- notice who in your life is really good at respecting your boundaries and autonomy. Ask them to try using those pronouns for you.
  3. Make a pseudononymous account online somewhere that’s just for fun. Maybe join a MMORPG or make a tumblr or join the knitting forums or reddit or something, where your screenname can be like SPICY____MANGO10585432 and you can use your desired pronouns there. You can try out really wild ones and see if you like it. Make friends based on shared interests, and let yourself feel how it feels for these real people (strangers, but real people!) to use your pronouns.

If you’ve read down this far, here’s the important takeaways I want you to get:

  • You’re not bad or oppressing anyone for wanting to try different pronouns. You’re not stealing trans valor. We’re not going to run out of pronouns. It’s really REALLY okay.
  • If you do try different pronouns, you may learn some stuff about your social relationships that might be affirming or it might be upsetting. You’re not wrong for being upset. You get to decide how to respond to what you learn about people.
  • There are ways you can try different pronouns out without threatening your safety. You don’t have to quash your fear, or berate yourself for being afraid. You can find safe ways to approach it in a way that feels good.
  • The goal of any of this is to chase good feelings, and notice bad feelings with a curious mindset. Trying stuff out to see how it feels means you should pay attention to how it feels, and ask what that feeling tells you.

Finally, as the president of pronouns, let me officially give you permission:

  • You may try out they/them
  • You may try out he or she
  • You may try out fae/faer or ey/em or zie/hir
  • Or any others. You will notice the linguistic constraints yourself, you don’t need me to tell you that trisyllabic pronouns might be difficult.
  • You can try them and decide you don’t like it, and go back to what you were doing before
  • You can try them and then try different ones. You can try as many sets as you like (within the cognitive abilities of your compatriots, if they’re participating - it’s hard but possible to switch within a single conversation, for example
  • You can try something for a long long time before deciding. You can try something for two seconds before deciding. It’s allowed
  • You can talk about your feelings with others. You don’t have to process this in secret.
  • You don’t have to be cis if you don’t want to.
  • You don’t have to be trans if you don’t want to.
  • You don’t have to know for sure.
  • The answer is allowed to change.

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Kirby Conrod

Kirby Conrod

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Dr. Conrod is a linguist and scholar sort of at large. They write about transgender stuff, the linguistics of pronouns, and ways to work with your brain.