APW 2013: Degendering

(This is second in a series of posts about Atlanta Poly Weekend 2013.)

Puck: Hi, I’m Puck.
Me: I’m Melissa.
Puck: What’s your preferred pronoun?
Me: Um? “She.”
Puck: Mine’s “they.”

I’ve never been asked my preferred pronoun before.

I attended an “Ask the Genderqueers” panel that featured someone who identified a pansexual, someone who identified as gender dysphoric (“drag queen in a woman’s body”), someone who identified as genderless, and someone who identified as trans. Those are just one label for each of them; they each used multiple.

They weren’t kidding around, they weren’t mocking themselves, and they were quite open in answering the group’s questions.

As I listened, I was reminded of when my world was less gendered than it is now. When individuals were “they”s by default instead of whatever of three fuzzy gender identities I place upon them. I’ve continued to rail actively against gender stereotypes and generalizations, but I don’t remember why I stopped using genderless pronouns and–more importantly–why I started assuming gender identity is visible.

“Degendering” is one of the most immediate take-always of the conference for me.

“Ze” and “ve” pronouns don’t roll off my tongue yet, and are particularly obvious in daily conversation. Of course, if those are someone’s preferred pronouns, then those I shall use.

I’m retraining myself to use “they” as my default pronoun, and am considering when the appropriate time and place is to ask people their preferred pronouns. Doing so at work seems like a whole bunch of awkward. I’m not courageous enough for that yet.

Doing so among my friends would be less complicated, and as I think about using my most conservative friend as a litmus test, I both look forward to and dread having a discussion of the broad nature of “gender” that goes beyond (and may not even include) what’s in one’s pants. Oh, and to work through “I know this one trans guy who does ‘x'” kinds of stories.

APW was a safe enough environment that it was comfortable to ask about preferred pronouns, aside from the newness of the idea.

My own gender identity is slowly shifting and morphing, but that’s not a journey ready for the public eye yet.

One of many things I realized as I watched the panel and interacted with the panelists outside of that panel is that the label of “genderqueer” seems like a big deal to take on. Being some thing that falls within genderqueer? Sure, that’s not so daunting to me. Labeling myself as such seems like a much bigger deal.

For all that it expresses one’s flexibility, it’s one of the more boxed-in labels I’ve encountered recently.

If you say you’re bisexual, you get asked how you could ever be monogamous (because we all know being attracted to people other than your partner means you’re going to cheat on them!). If you’re poly, people ask “how that works”. (“Quite lovely, when everyone’s where they want to be.”)

If you’re genderqueer, people want to know all about what feels “wrong” with your gender/sex/body/mind. (Which may, or may not, be the case; for the former, go play dys4ia by Anna Anthropy.) People want to know if there was some birth defect or if you have “malformed” sexual organs. For some eyebrow-lifting reading, check out Wikipedia’s coverage of the controversies surrounding “gender identity disorder”.

But while I ruminate on genderqueerism, one thing I know for sure is that none of your face, your body, your voice, your clothes, or your mannerisms tell me your gender. I’ve known that for years, but haven’t been living as if I did. Now I’m working on it.

Someday I’ll even get up the courage to ask relative strangers I meet what their preferred pronoun is.

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