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.