Please, call me ‘they’

The first time someone called me ‘they’ I didn’t feel erased or dehumanized but rather elated — finally aligned with who I always was all along.

I found Jo Schneiderman's piece about her issues with the use of “they/them” as an alternative to gendered pronouns to be written respectfully and, in telling her story, she provided a valuable context for her issues with “they/them” as a pronoun.

However, I hope to provide a further context for its use by telling my own story.

When I was a child, roughly 5, my mom came home one day with a dress that fit me perfectly. I was exuberant. In wearing the dress, I felt a kind of freedom and excitement that I'd never felt before. I never wanted to take the dress off, and I insisted on wearing it to day care the next day. My mother, to her credit, didn't try to dissuade me.

When I arrived at day care, I was met immediately with ridicule and scorn - not only from the other children, but also from the adults to whom my care was entrusted and with whom I had previously felt very safe. They expressed disdain at the very idea that a boy would even play with the idea of displaying any amount of femininity.

This trend continued for most of my life; I grew up steeped in hostile masculinity and heteronormativity, and anytime I took a step toward becoming who I really was, I was met with ridicule and anger.

Some of this ridicule I took and turned inward; I felt muddled by not being able to actually define who I was. As my peers began to come out as gay or as trans, I was so proud of them. At the same time, I was envious that they had found a way to define and empower themselves.

I didn't feel “trapped in the wrong body,” as the outdated parlance goes; rather, I felt simply trapped in a body, like I was wearing a suit that was too tight, a suit that I tried to destroy through neglect and shoddy maintenance.

Any definition seemed too confining and rigid. I wasn't he, and I wasn't she.

* * *

Not until I was older did I discover there was not only a term for who I am but a whole community of people - genderfluid and non-binary people - whose genders are more complex than male or female.

I came out as genderfluid at 30, and the first time someone called me “they” I didn't feel erased or dehumanized but rather elated, finally aligned with who I always was all along.

I hear Jo Schneiderman's story and the pain behind it, and I'm writing this not to erase or belittle her pain and experiences but because I respect them.

Just as I hope she can respect the pain I experienced having “he” wrongfully enforced upon me through disdain and violence well into my adulthood.

Just as I hope she can respect the way I mourn the years I lost not being able to be my actual self.

I'm writing this in the hope that she'll see that “they/them” is more than a trend or an easy grammatical workaround, but rather a term that uplifts and empowers me and people like me, a term that makes us feel real and respected and whole.

Please, call me “they.”

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