Freeze Frame


November 16, 2009 by Alex Patchin McNeill

Every time I am in a space with enough politically correct consciousness to ask participants in the conversation, group, meeting,what have you, to state their name and pronoun preference, I freeze up, get flustered, and usually mumble something unintelligible. Asking our pronoun preference is an attempt to honor the fact that for those gathered, our gender/pronoun preference may not be the same as our sex suggests. A noble premise, indeed. And yet. I never know how to answer the question. In fact, I realize I’ve never even mentioned it here since pronoun usage is something I tend to avoid at all costs.

For me, it is difficult to answer the question since the way I respond, “says something” about who I am. By answering the question one way I would be identifying myself as transgender, which on the plus side, aligns me firmly with those who are struggling with their bodies, or their identities, or presentation in the world. However, answering that way seems a little inauthentic because I have made no steps to permanently change my body towards that gender direction. But, answering the question the other way seems to simplify my experience. Saying “I prefer she” seems to imply that despite my visibly gender-transgressive outward appearance, on the inside things are much simpler. It implies that I’m not looking to alter anything about myself….that I haven’t been on a journey. Maybe that’s it, saying “I prefer she” simplifies my journey with the sex and gender I have, that somehow I am at peace with the sex I’ve been given and the gender I was raised to have.

My buddy Miriam recently noted that many of us, for whom our gender identity is an ongoing struggle rather than a settled matter, tend to reply in that moment “she is fine.” This response, one I’ve used before, is actually kind of ironic because “she” is so not fine. Using “she” is my compromise with myself. I’m still “she” because I’m not sure where else to go. In a binary system, if I’m not-male, that automatically means I’m female. For me, being female isn’t the end of my story; too bad I can’t skip to the ending to see how I’ll turn out. I was born with this sex, yes, but I’m on a journey to explore new territory. Perhaps when the question arises, I should say that I prefer to be known as a wayfarer, that “she” is my starting point, but I have a lot of miles to go.


3 thoughts on “Freeze Frame

  1. Jen Willsea says:

    Alex, thanks for writing so honestly about this difficult topic here. I always appreciate the spaces I am in where everyone is asked to state their Preferred Gender Pronoun (PGP). It’s cool to watch people who have never been asked this before or questioned their assigned gender look surprised and realize that this is something to be sensitive to. It’s also interesting to see how people who have clearly thought a lot about the complexities of their gender identity respond. One person I know responds by saying “my pronoun is your choice.” Another person I know once said “I like to be referred to as uncle.”

    • presbyqueerian says:

      Thanks for the comment, Jen! I agree that the ‘pronoun preference’ question is ultimately a good one and does help to destabilize the notion that one’s gender preference is OBVIOUS. I think that from here on out, I’m going to opt to answer a little tongue-in-cheeky. call me “uncle.” hilarious.

  2. Ab-Fab says:

    “She is my compromise with myself.” I thought that was so well put. Thanks for sharing, Alex. Your post makes me think about how crafting “safe space” is a subtle and complex thing–and we should never be seduced into thinking we’ve done all the work. There are always more ways to invite people in and help them feel seen and included. If I were ever to organize such a discussion, I’m now thinking I would want to frame the invitation to state pronoun preference by mentioning that for many, the question is difficult and the options inadequate.


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