communication

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” A million thoughts about a (not-so-)simple question

One of my mom’s big questions to me after I came out to her as genderqueer was “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

It’s not really a question with an answer. Or at least, it’s not a question with any answers that are going to satisfy the feelings behind the question. Because let’s be honest: my mom’s feelings were hurt by the fact that a couple of years elapsed between me realizing I am genderqueer, and me telling her about it at all.

The only satisfying answer to those hurt feelings that I can see is to go back in time and tell her sooner. Which, even if I could, I don’t want to do.

Because, of course, there are reasons why I didn’t tell her sooner. It wasn’t an arbitrary choice or an oversight. It was something I deliberately and repeatedly put off doing.

I didn’t tell her sooner because I wasn’t ready to.

The thing is, having realized that I am genderqueer was a lot to deal with, in and of itself. It was something I needed time to deal with on my own before I told *anyone*. There was definitely a good six months between the idea passing through my brain, and me doing anything outwardly about it.

The thing is, I knew that coming out to my parents was something that was highly likely to involve a lot of emotional labour on my part, and it wasn’t something I magically felt up to handling immediately.

The thing is, I came out to a lot of much lower-stakes people before I came out to her. Friends that I wouldn’t be heart-broken to lose.

The thing is, I came out to the people I actually interact with on a regular basis before I came out to her. Not because they were more important (though some of them were and are in some ways), but because they were there. Because having them change the pronouns they use for me would have a more immediate and regular impact on my life. Because the benefit of doing the work of coming out to them was greater in that way.

The thing is, I was afraid of what her response might be. I didn’t want to deal with it. I wasn’t ready for it.

The thing is, I was afraid she would try to talk me out of it somehow? I don’t even know what that would look like, to be honest. But I wanted to feel like I had a lot of confidence in myself and my identity before I was ready to face whatever response she might have. I came out to people I was more confident would be in my corner first, so that I would have support to handle potential bad responses from her (or other people).

The thing is, as you see, there are a lot of things that held me back from coming out to her.

But the short answer is still just, “because I wasn’t ready sooner.”

Do you feel comfortable answering questions about your gender to friends? Acquaintances? Strangers? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge part 23

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: Do you feel comfortable answering questions about your gender to friends? Acquaintances? Strangers?

This is sort of a tough one because, like, the answer really depends on what the question is? in general, though, I am ok with answering questions about my gender as long as I have reason to believe the person asking them is coming from a place of actual curiosity, and isn’t somehow trying to ‘trick’ me into admitting that I’m lying about my gender or something? Which means that, in general, I am more comfortable engaging with people I know at least somewhat than with total strangers – I am more comfortable talking generally about trans/non-binary identities and issues with strangers than my own personal gender.

I do find it hard to deal with questions in person, in the moment, though. I often feel at a total loss for words when put on the spot with these things. It’s weird, because I have spent a lot of time, and expended a lot of words, here and elsewhere, delineating my experience of gender, my identity, and everything else around that. But in person, in the moment, I find it hard to pull together the right words, and I tend to flounder a bit.

Writing is, by far, my preferred mode of communication for most things, though, so that’s not surprising.

Um, yeah,  I guess the answer to the is question is a kinda flaky: “Yes?…. Maybe. It depends.”


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

An Impossible Balancing Act

One of the frustrating things about being genderqueer (for me, anyway) is the balancing act of knowing you need to constantly remind people of your identity lest they forget and misgender you, but not wanting to make your genderqueerness your most important or defining character trait.

I struggle with this on social media particularly. I want to share all kinds of non-binary memes. I want to boost the visibility of trans people generally, and non-binary people particularly. I want the people around me both online and in real life to see non-binary representation often enough that it actually gels in their brains, so that it becomes second nature to them to think about gender as a plurality much greater than a binary, so that phrases like “both genders” are immediately, obviously *wrong* to them in the way they are to me.

I’d settle, though, for them at least remembering *my* gender.

But.

Possibly especially as a person who is agender much of the time, my (often lack of a) gender also isn’t the only or the first thing I want people to think of as defining who I am. For one thing, that’s a weird and (ideally) boring defining trait – can you imagine if we did that to binary people? “Oh, you know Mary? She’s pretty great. Yeah, she’s a woman. That’s kind of her thing.”

Just no.

The problem, though, is  that I really don’t think there’s a magic formula for the right amount of reminders that non-binary people exist and that I am one of them, for the right proportion of gender-related posts versus everything-else-I-like-and-care-about posts. On the one hand, I know there are people who will take any such reminders as too much, as harping, as being overly preachy or political. On the other hand, I know that some people will take any excuse to backslide,  to conveniently ‘forget’ my pronouns, or simply pretend they thought I’d stopped being non-binary or whatever. Any excuse to blame me for their mistakes and for the harm they cause me when they make them, really.

Those are the extremes, of course, and the people at either end of that spectrum aren’t people I am actually close to or really care about – they’ll probably self-select themselves out of my feed anyway. But everyone exists somewhere between those two poles, and I can’t please them all. I will be harmed one way or he other no matter what I do, and I hate that it is all my job to deal with and manage so much of the time.

I need people to know this my gender is vitally important, but once they’ve properly internalized that, I also need them to understand that it also really isn’t.

This is still the best distillation of this whole mess I’ve ever managed and it still doesn’t quite get the whole picture.

I guess I’ll just keep fumbling along!

How do you, or would you, deal with being misgendered? 30-Week Genderqueer Challenge Part 17

This post is part of my participation in the 30-day genderqueer challenge, which I have modified to a weekly exercise.

Today’s prompt: How do you, or would you, deal with being misgendered?

My instinct when misgendered is still to ignore it or let it slide. When dealing with in-person instances of being misgendered by someone who I’m out to about being genderqueer, I always hesitate on correcting people, and having done so, I usually feel like I’ve missed my opportunity. Though, honestly, part of why I haven’t gotten better at this is probably because it doesn’t happen all that often (both because people don’t often refer to me in the third person in my presence, and also because most of the people I spend my time with – and that I’m out to – are on top of this stuff anyway.

It’s also hard to develop good habits around this sort of thing, though, because I am not out everywhere. I am misgendered at work as a matter of course, and I’m accustomed to ignoring it. I’m sure I would push back if people tried to use their perceptions of my gender to police my presentation or behaviour or anything else, but that really isn’t a thing that I have to deal with, so it’s not even a huge deal.

When I’m not just ignoring the fact that I was misgendered, though, I generally go for a simple, straight-forward correction. When someone on social media says something calling me “she” or “her”, and I know they know my pronouns, I just respond with “they” or “them”. Sometimes I add a “please”, though I intend it more as a “Come on” than an “if you would be so kind”. If they don’t know my pronouns, I am likely to respond with something more like “Not she. They”, to clarify what I’m objecting to.

But yeah. I try to keep it simple. I do my best not to male people think I’m inviting them to derail whatever was actually going on into a conversation about gender. I do my best not to indicate that I am hoping for a weepy, teeth-gnashing apology. It usually doesn’t quite work, but I’m working on refining my technique, so let me know if you have any tips!


Catch the rest of my 30-week genderqueer challenge here!

Questions from the search terms: “what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?”

Someone recently asked a search engine the following: what does it mean when someone uses they when they are referring to one person?

That’s a good question! When someone refers to as single person as “they”, it could be for one of five different reasons:

  1. That person’s pronoun might be the singular ‘they’.
    Lots of non-binary people (that’s people who aren’t men or women) prefer to be referred to as ‘they’ because it is a gender neutral pronoun, and options like ‘he’ or ‘she’ misgender them, by suggesting that they are a gender they aren’t.

    Some non-binary people also use other gender neutral singular pronouns, like ‘zie’ or ‘fae’, but you should always use whichever one they have chosen.

  2. The person speaking may not know the gender of the person they’re talking about.
    Sometimes people will say ‘they’ to avoid misgendering someone when they don’t know the person’s gender. This happens in conversations like this:

    Person 1: I went to see my doctor today
    Person 2: Oh yeah? What did they say?

    In this case, Person 2 may just not know the gender of Person 1’s doctor, and doesn’t want to assume the doctor is a he or a she, so they used ‘they’ as a placeholder. Because ‘they’ doesn’t indicate a gender at all, it is not misgendering to use it in this way.

  3. People often also use the singular ‘they’ when talking about hypothetical people.
    I did this a whole bunch of times in the point above. I referred to Person 1 and Person 2 as ‘they’, because they could be men or women or non-binary people. In fact, you did this in your own question (“someone” became “they”), so you are at least implicitly already aware of this usage. This comes up in sentences like:

    “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, they should ask for a hall pass.”

    Unless you area at an all boys school, it would be weird to say “If a student needs to go to the bathroom, he should ask for a hall pass”, because the hypothetical student isn’t necessarily a ‘he’. ‘They’ is also a better option than ‘he or she’ here, because ‘he or she’ still assumes that the hypothetical student is either a boy or a girl, and they may not be either. ‘They’ is just the most inclusive option.

  4. The singular ‘they’ can be used to help obscure the identity of the person they are talking about, in situations where anonymity is important.
    So if I were to say, “someone reported that they were harassed at our last meeting,” I may be deliberately avoiding identifying that person’s gender in order to make it harder for people to narrow it down and figure out who reported the harassment.

    This can be important, because there is often backlash against people who report bad behaviour in groups.

  5. Finally, the singular ‘they’ still occasionally gets used by closeted queers playing ‘the pronoun game’.
    Sometimes when someone in a same-gender relationship is afraid to ‘out’ themself as not straight. So, for instance, a lesbian who is about to refer to her partner but doesn’t want the person she’s talking to to know she’s a lesbian may use the pronoun ‘they’ instead of ‘she’. It is often possible to do this without the other person really noticing, thus avoiding potentially awkward conversations. Although she could also avoid this by simply saying ‘he’, this feels far more dishonest than the neutral ‘they’ (actually lying rather than simply avoiding the full truth), and it also misgenders the person’s partner to call her ‘he’, and many people do not find it acceptable to do that.

I think that about covers it! The singular ‘they’ has a bunch of different uses. (Readers: please also let me know if I missed any!)

Squishing and crushing

I really love the word ‘squish.’ Specifically, I love the word squish in its ace-communities-relevant sense of an intense liking or non-sexual attraction for someone, that includes a hard-to-articulate desire for them to return your hard-to-articulate feels for them.

I love the word ‘squish’ in part because it was specifically reading about squishes and their distinction from crushes that helped me come to the realization that demisexuality is a useful model for understanding myself. And I love the word squish aesthetically because it actually just feels right as a word to describe the feelings that I used to understand as crushes, even though they never really were the thing that most other people talk about when they talk about crushes.

It’s the right word to describe a thing I experience. It sounds right and feels right, and actually means the thing I want it to mean, and I can’t even explain how much I love finding those kinds of words.

But sometimes I still use the word ‘crush’ when I know I mean ‘squish.’ Partly it is out of habit – I spent well over a decade describing my squishy feelings as crushes before I even learned about squishes. But the other part of it is that if I use the word ‘crush’, most people will have a close enough idea of what I mean, whereas if I use the word ‘squish’ I might then find myself in a conversation I don’t necessarily want to be having about what that means, and get derailed into playing Ace 101 with someone (which is still new enough for me to be less boring than Gender 101 is to me now, but is definitely not always something I am in the mood for.) And particularly around things like celebrity squishes (i.e. people I do not and am not going to have any kind of relationship with), I don’t feel like the distinction is important enough to split hairs about.

I love words so much, and I want squish to become a more commonly known word, and so I use it sometimes, and I talk about it sometimes, but at others, not so much.

Communication is complicated, basically.

What happens when you tell people you’ve changed you name

With the exception of one person (who happened to be the CEO at my old job, unfortunately), the worst kind of response I’ve gotten from anyone about my name change has been a sort of general incomprehension of why anyone would do that. Some people think it’s a weird thing to do, which it kind of is; it’s certainly not the norm, anyway. So I get it when people respond this way, particularly since it hasn’t stopped them from switching over what they call me.

I did have some interesting responses when I officially changed my name at my retail job though.

I was totally floored by how many people’s initial response was along the lines of “Ok… but can I still call you [birthname] though?” This is actually a question that my partner got a lot when they first changed their name, but it didn’t happen to me in my earlier name change efforts, and I wasn’t expecting it to crop up now either – I had chalked up my partner’s experience to the fact that their chosen name is particularly out-of-the-ordinary, and somewhat whimsical in way that made people feel silly or self-conscious using it. I was surprised when I saw that same self-consciousness repeating itself with many of my current coworkers.

I also realized that in many cases, what people meant with the question isn’t so much “ok, but I don’t actually want to do the work required to call you a different name” so much as it is “ok, but I’m afraid this will be hard and I don’t know if I can do it, but also I want us to be cool.” Most people were satisfied and looked relieved when I made it clear that I didn’t expect them to be 100% perfect right away, and I knew that it would take some time for everyone to adjust to the new name, in a way that made it clear that they really had only meant the latter.

I actually had one coworker who went very brazenly with “So, [someone else] just told me you changed your name. I’m going to keep calling you [birthname] though”. My response was a bemused but equally direct “No, you’re not.” And she immediately switched to standard “ok, but I’m probably going to mess up a lot at first; I hope that’s ok” script and we were fine.

I still found these interactions exhausting, though. The extent to which I am expected to soothe people’s anxieties over my name can be overwhelming at times, and I did lose my ability to compassionately respond to these requests one time, and snapped at the dozenth or so person whose immediate response to my name change was a straight-up “But can I still call you [birthname]?” Though, to be clear, what I mean when I say I snapped is that I said “No. I would prefer if you called me Kasey. I know that it will take a while to get used to that, but I do expect you to try.” I was clearly annoyed, and six or seven other people saw the exchange. I felt a little bad about it; it definitely wasn’t that person’s fault and she didn’t deserve the anger she got. But it did have the impact of making everyone else nearby suddenly start taking their efforts to call me Kasey more seriously, so I can’t say I totally regret it, either.

The other interesting question I had to deal with was the matter of my old nickname, which is derivative of my old given name (and thus, of my current last name) – the people who called my the nickname also wanted to know whether that would still be ok. In general, I had always been fond of the nickname, and it was in keeping with other people’s last-name-based nicknames, so I decided I was actually ok with it.

What I’ve found very interesting as an upshot of this, though, is that those people don’t consistently call me by the old nickname. They sometimes slip up and just call me by my old name, but they’ve also worked on calling me Kasey and – here’s the interesting part – without fail, those same people who nicknamed me in the first place have slowly but surely been very naturally transitioning to just calling me Kase. Which, I love! It makes me happy that my new name is starting to feel natural enough that similarly natural shortening is happening. And I love how clear it is that the anxieties of dealing with my name change haven’t hurt the level of camaraderie or the intimacies that I share with these coworkers.

Now I am just in the weird period of people variously improving and backsliding, but otherwise just generally sincerely working and trying to get my name right, until one day not too long from now I’m sure they’ll all have it down. The best thing of all is this should be just about the last time I will ever have to do this with my name, at least on this scale. I am now Kasey everywhere important, and everything else will just be minor housekeeping :)