There’s been a little thought experiment I’ve been asking (cis) people over the last year or so, just because it’s interesting to hear the responses:

If you woke up tomorrow with a body clearly of the opposite sex—different voice, different chest, different height and body shape, whatever—and you were going to have to go about your day like that…what pronouns would you want people to use?

This isn’t a great question because bodies and gender aren’t perfectly correlated, but it generally gets the point across for cis people. And it’s been interesting to hear the responses because they really are different from person to person, and sometimes people ask clarifying follow-up questions and that’s interesting too, to see what their decision depends on.

(I don’t ask trans/genderqueer people because for them the question isn’t hypothetical, at least in some form. They’re already living it.)

A few months ago I retweeted this:

and followed it with

That’s a little bit overstated, but it’s true. I have enough trans friends, coworkers, whatever, to at least ask the question of myself. (That’s doubly so because there’s a trope in the trans community that “not trans, just has a lot of trans friends” is a good signifier of being trans but not having figured it out yet.)

My form of “testing out pronouns” was just in my head, imagining people saying things like “she’s the one to talk to about this component” and thinking about third-person descriptions like “Jordan is in her sixth year at Apple”. And…no, it is indeed less right than “he/him”.1 One refers to me; the other does not.

(This isn’t even entirely hypothetical; someone saw the name “Jordan” in a bug report and referred to me as “she”. But that was a different experience, since it’s all textual and they had no way of knowing with a unisex name.)

Similarly, my answer to the question above, after some deliberation, was that I’d still want people to use “he/him”. After all, I haven’t changed, only my body. But I’d also be pretty understanding if people used “she/her”, since we gender other people based on heuristics.

(This is something that bothered me a lot in the webcomic El Goonish Shive, which has quite a few “transgender” transformations: in most cases, the author switches pronouns when this happens. It took me a while to realize that my preference in this scenario might not be universal; still, you may have noticed this come up in practice in my recent Kimi no Na wa fanfiction.)

It was fun to hear that some people would prefer to switch pronouns in this scenario, and, well, I’m not going to go into detail on the idea of “cis by default” here, but it does seem plausible (although not the only explanation).

If I had to describe my gender in more detail, though, I’d say I’m perhaps less male than most men. I can’t really explain clearly what I mean by that, since I’m not sure it’s distinguishable from just buying into society’s notions of what it means to be a man less than what other people seem to. But it still feels right in some way…and it was also a bit startling when I hit on it, which I’m taking as a sign that there’s something meaningful there.

That idea came to me after seeing Vi Hart’s thoughts on gender. I already knew that sexuality wasn’t binary and that gender wasn’t binary, and I think I even knew that there were people who were agender or genderfluid, but somehow the idea that it didn’t have to add up to 100% (when not 0) felt new and also right. I don’t feel the need to pick a label other than “male”, but it’s the same sort of “that seems right” as “‘neurotypical’ feels weird even if it’s more correct than the alternative”.

This probably sounds like nonsense to a lot of people who do fit in the traditional gender binary. It might even sound like nonsense to people who don’t fit in the gender binary, because gender is an internal experience/identity/whatever and trying to communicate how that feels is something that’s really hard to do. It’s been well-established that even trans people who still fit in the gender binary have drastically different experiences.

That’s also what makes this stuff fascinating to me, in the same way as colorblindness or synesthesia or aphantasia. It’s a mental experience that cannot be shared, although we can try to explain and imagine and compare to our own experiences. But gender also has such power in our society, and is mixed up with individual and cultural sexism, and health issues, and sexuality, and so many other things…and so for those who actually do have atypical experiences with gender (read: non-cis people), I don’t bring it up. Like the question at the start of this post, they’re already living it, and they have to deal with it enough.

That said, I do find this fascinating, so if you ever want to talk to me about gender (or any other unique mental experiences), I’d be super interested in discussing it. That’s true whether you’re cis or not. (But I’m still cis, so don’t take me for an expert.)

To conclude, it’s important to reaffirm that

  • Trans men are men.
  • Trans women are women.
  • You don’t have to be either.

And, once again, “it’s okay to test out pronouns if you think you’re trans, and it’s okay if you turn out to be cis. You are not fake if you test the waters on your gender identity and find out you’re cis after all.”

I’m counting this as today’s NaCreSoMo post, because I need to do my taxes today. But I’ve been meaning to write this out for a while, and so I’m glad to have had that forcing function.

Part of NaCreSoMo 2018.

  1. Although I’ve decided deliberately to accept “they/them”, not because I don’t feel male (keep reading), but because I’m in favor of this last bit of grammatical gender in English going away. ↩︎