I am a They

I am a They

I us They/Them pronouns. 

I am male bodied, male socialized, carry male privilege, and am heterosexual. I tend to present as male, and I assume that people mostly experience me as male. But I don’t experience myself as male, and I don’t want to identify or be identified as male, though I understand I will be to some extent. I want to feel more comfortable in my self-expression and in how people relate to me. Changing my pronouns feels like a minor signifier. I don’t love any pronouns, gendered or not, but they feels the best to me. And even if it’s not a big deal in itself for me, it points to something deeper. It’s a place to start. 

It’s been a struggle to feel like taking a non-male identity was appropriate given my socialization and my privilege, and that people’s experience of me as male is part of what confers privilege. I also default to a male presentation because it’s what’s safe and easy. But it’s not who I am. I don’t want to be lumped in as “one of the guys.” I don’t want to be “bro” or “brother” anymore, even though most people who call me that mean it with the sweetest of intentions. There are plenty of good bros out there. That’s just not who I am. 

I also get that sometimes I act like one of the guys, and sometimes this is problematic. Just because I don’t identify as male doesn’t mean my male privilege goes away. I will make mistakes, but I am committed to the ongoing work of recognizing and addressing the impacts of my behavior. I want to be held accountable if I’m being an asshole.

I’m not sure how to label my gender identity. Gender queer doesn’t feel specific enough.  Agender or gender neutral resonates, but sounds more consistent than how I feel. Gender fluid is closer. It seems to imply more variation in how I present than has been true (though maybe that will change), but it is more how I experience myself.

For me, gender is a performance, it’s not who I am. I am just me and I experience and express myself differently at different times. The idea that there are certain qualities that are “masculine” and others that are “feminine”, and this is how male bodied or female bodied are, just doesn’t make sense to me. But I get that others do experience it this way. They identify with their gender, whether it’s cis, queer, or trans. The pronouns they use and how they present themselves very much reflect how they experience themselves and they feel comfortable and familiar in their self-expression. I don’t get that. This is a huge place of discomfort for me. 

My experience is that I have a lot of different qualities that feel more or less predominant at different times or in different situations, and they’re all me and not me, and how I want to express myself is just how I feel in that moment. Sometimes I enjoy being big and tough and burley. Sometimes I feel soft and small. I loved being a nurturing caregiver to my child while also prodding her to be more driven and take risks. I’m ambitious and want to change the world, and I’d also make a great housewife. None of this occurs to me as masculine or feminine, just different facets of who I am.    

I’ve never felt like one of the guys, even the conscientious, non-misogynistic ones. There’s a comfort they seem to feel in how they act with each other that feels alien to me, and when I try to play along I just end up feeling out of place and inauthentic. I’ve felt more comfortable with the more emotionally open and communicative socialization of women, but I often still have the same experience. I usually enjoy being in queer spaces, though I sometimes bristle at what feels like an emphasis on being trendy/hip/cool instead of people just getting to be okay for who they are, including straight people. I’ve also felt like a fake in queer spaces for being heterosexual, but that’s something I think I should try to get over. I think putting myself in queer spaces more would be good for me. 

I’ve felt a lot of confusion and isolation in my life from not feeling like I fit in with typical gender performances, but not wanting to conform, and feeling unsure about how to express myself. I was teased and ostracized as a kid and desperately wanted to fit in, but then said fuck it when I became a teenager, and gradually did present much more fluid and hippie. But there have been a couple points in my life where I made a choice to make my appearance less distracting in order to make the work I was doing easier. I thought conforming would make me more effective, which may have been true. I recognize the confusion and isolation as part of the cost I’ve paid for conforming. I think the alienation I feel with people may alleviate if I stop trying to seem normal.

Conforming has also meant that I don’t have to put the time and money into assembling a wardrobe I feel more aligned with. It’s really hard to find interesting, gender-bending clothes, let alone interesting women’s clothes, for someone of my size, and being much chubbier than when I was 20. Even a lot of progressive or counter culture circles that claim to be queer friendly still trend towards they’re own cultural version of binary gender stereotypes. Mostly when I try I just feel discouraged and have negative body image stuff come up. I want to be seen and known for who I am regardless of how I present, especially when how I feel and how I want to present is so fluid. 

Sticking with a more familiar and habitual gender presentation that matches my body type is also safer. When I think about presenting in a less masculine way I feel fear of physical violence. As a large, male presenting person, physical and sexual violence is not really something I have to worry about, which is a hard privilege to give up. 

Most of my life I’ve had the good fortune of being part of groups of people and having lots of people in my life who I feel seen and known and loved by for who I am, which has been a blessing, and has made it easier to stick with what feels safe. But maybe it’s time for me to make a conscious choice to express myself in a way that feels more authentic and face the discomfort and fear.

When it comes to gender performance I’m not sure I know what authentic means. It all feels authentic and none of it feels authentic because of how fluid it feels. I don’t have the same consistent associations between internal experience and external presentation that most people seem to have. But I love performing. I loved getting to play the MC in Cabaret, and being the lead singer for Thriftshop and Sexy And I Know It in the Twin Oaks dance band. I love DJing as a performer creating an experience. And some of the work I’ve done facilitating events and workshops satisfies something similar. I’ve always loved being on stage, though I’ve always felt uncomfortable with improv. I’m uncomfortable being the center of attention unless I feel sure about what I’m doing and that it feels like a meaningful gift to the audience. I like to have a role, a character that I can embody that helps the audience explore another facet of themselves and life. I like the playfulness and creativity of performing, of getting to express different facets of myself. I like, for a little while, to feel sure about who I am and how to express myself.  

Maybe facing all this stuff and being more fluidly myself is a gift I can give both to myself and to the world. I don’t know what that will look like, but I’m going to start with the pronouns and see where the exploration leads me.


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