With a new year comes long sought after reinvention, beginning with my true pronouns - and here’s a little piece on why I’m asking people to use they/them:
Me, Myself, and Them
Who am I?
It's a question most of us have asked ourselves. Probably ever since our earliest ancestors looked down at their hairy toes or into their similarly hairy reflection in a pond and pondered whose toes or face they belonged to.
And it's something I've struggled with my entire life.
If, like me, you're a member of a certain generation (ahem, boomers) or older, you were probably taught there's an unshakable taxonomy framing everything from your role in society to whether you're a woman or a man.
And also, like myself, some felt isolated, condemned to relentlessly search for ourselves and where we belong.
For a while, I thought I'd managed to narrow myself down to where at least some aspect of my personality could fit in.
But even the most persistent of these self-definitions—that I am a writer--no longer feels adequate.
Admittedly, storytelling is so ingrained in my consciousness I see conversations as lines of dialogue, and I subconsciously live-edit my dreams to make them more story-like.
Still, a writer is what and not who I am.
And though I also used to comfortably tick the boxes labeling myself as straight and CIS-gendered, more and more often, they feel like a lie I kept telling myself.
I explored this confusion in my "Keeping Score" Queer Majority article, where I wrote of rejecting masculinity at a very young age and how it made me feel like Schrödinger's feline suspended in a quantum limbo neither masculine nor feminine.
My sexuality used to be in a similar state of flux. My opposite gender attractions providing a shallow illusion of commonality while I felt lost and alone for secretly desiring female-identified zaftig people..
Time, thankfully, changes things, and as grey hairs have replaced black, I've grown more open-minded about who I'm emotionally and physically attracted to.
Accepting my demisexuality played a significant role in this, giving me the confidence to express my love and desire for people I care about and who care about me–whatever their gender expression.
In another essay, I discussed my affinity for the queer community ("Queer Like Me") for how it strives to embrace the entirety of the sex/gender spectrum and how the new, open-ended definition of queer seeks to further expand on this wonderfully welcoming spirit.
However, even if my respectful request to identify myself as queer were enthusiastically received and because I'm too terrified of losing the only community I care about to push the issue, I actually don't believe my answer to "who I am?" lies there–at least not all of it.
I'm not sure how or where I first heard of it, but at some point or other, I came across the idea that none of us is a single, solitary personality.
In my case, there's the self you're reading right now while lurking in the wings, ready to take center stage when needed is the me you hear in my fiction, the one who teaches classes, croons to my cat, emerges when talking with friends, giggles with playmates, is the neglected child desperately searching for a loving family, the person I want to be, or…
No wonder it's been impossible to say who I am.
Realizing this, coupled with intense reflection and bucket loads of self-kindness, it's finally possible to emerge from those decades of doubt and loneliness as they/them.
I'm… well, we're hardly unique in this. As the growing use of individually chosen pronouns has demonstrated, people have begun examining themselves and from there deciding for themselves who they truly are.
Some may question this, and, no, we're not talking about your average, run-of-the-mill shallow-minded bigots clutching their pearls that this freedom to self-define is somehow a threat to … whatever.
We're frankly referring to those fretting that pronouns could be another way to follow the herd or as a status symbol: gender expression as a shallow flavor-of-the-moment rather than as the result of earnest soul-searching.
And, you know what, they're right. There are people out there desperately wanting to do what everyone else is doing--or show off how enlightened they are.
Just as [Insert name of any ancient philosopher or spiritual leader here] 's students followed them because someone said it was the cool thing to do.
In the present or the past, this doesn't mean everyone acted this way. As with any social change, there's going to be a degree of uncertainty—and right along with it, people who can't cope with what it represents or the opportunities it might provide.
For the first time, what isn't uncertain is that the western world is showing signs of moving towards a new level of social consciousness, where we have the option to reject arbitrary, outside-imposed identifications if we want to.
And we have gender and trans activists, the queer community, all their allies and supporters to thank for it.
Because it's their strength in standing up for the right to self-define that's challenging those thousands of years of oppression, changing a society that's trapped generations of people inside tiny boxes—while ostracizing those who didn't fit into them.
Bravery that now allows us to say who we are for the first time in our lives: a community of individual personalities.
We are they/them, and all of us–from the person writing this to the one crying with admiration and love–have the extraordinary, brave, and admirable queer community to thank for it.