The first notable landmark in my experience with gender was an Instagram post by a close friend of mine. Their Instagram story shared their pronouns and identity; “My name is Sylvia Fisher. I identify as non-binary and use they/them pronouns.” I remember feeling a pang in my chest upon reading those words. A voice inside of me seemed to be shouting, “Sylvia is free, and I am trapped. I am still in this cage.”
They start young, our associations with gender. I grew up loving pink, fairies, books, dirt, bugs, playdough, and painting. The gifts I received and the items that capitalism said were for me were all branded with a certain color (pink) and a certain intention to keep people with vaginas in submissive societal roles. Growing up I assumed that outer space was an interest for boys and so was Minecraft and so were Legos. I took pride in the fact that I was great at lightsaber battles with my cousins, but I never had any Star Wars toys of my own. Nerf guns were only something that crossed my path when I was with the boys. The gendering of traits from such a young age has had a profound impact on my being. I am just now in my life, at 21 years old, realizing that I, in fact, DO love Legos and dinosaurs and space! Every day I have to be intentional about noting and breaking down the role of gender in the choices I make.
Gender is weird. The concepts of “womanhood” and “manhood” are weird. What does it even mean to be a woman? You don’t need to have a vagina to be a woman. There are plenty of trans women with penises. So then what is it?? Honestly, if you break it down, being a woman could mean absolutely anything. I like to think about what would happen if I changed nothing and just declared myself a man and watched as people around me writhed in confusion. I could do it! Because at the end of the day, being a man could mean whatever I want it to mean.
Bringing it back to the original point—I started experimenting with she/they pronouns after Sylvia came out. For a long time using she/they, I lived in this strange gray space. “She” pronouns didn’t really feel right. But “they” pronouns felt…alien? Far away? Scary???? Thus began the process of what I like to call “inhabiting my them.” For me, the transition to using only they/them pronouns marked a shift in the way I decided to be in the world. My pronouns are a declaration that I am the writer and owner of my own universe. I am the inventor, the curator, the artist. I will no longer accept the associations between myself and certain traits, activities, habits, likes, dislikes, ideas, etc. simply because of my “gender.” I will make my own gender. They/them has no instructions, no owner’s manual, and certainly no boxes.
I feel more free-living this way. Some people don’t know what the hell to do with me because I’ve changed my pronouns and quite frankly, it has helped me to learn who belongs in my life and who doesn’t. Coming out as non-binary has made me feel like I can step into every space and relationship authentically in all my fullness.
This brief account by no means encapsulates the pain and struggle that has been present in my queer experience, nor can my words substitute for the experience of any other queer, non-binary or trans individual. I acknowledge that my whiteness, thinness, and able-body play a large role in my ability to be safely and comfortably trans. I owe my liberation to fearless Black queer people past and present. I thank them for their light and love and encourage you to donate to @blackwomenexhale on Venmo if you enjoyed reading my story.