A few days ago, I started telling people that I am using male pronouns. Being a very logical person, I made the decision swiftly and abruptly. Basically, I admitted to myself that, yes, I was incontrovertibly trans, I reasoned that switching to male pronouns now would be a good strategic decision, and the very next day, I started asking folks to call me “he”. I was not prepared for the awkward mechanics of a pronoun change and for the contradictory feelings it is giving me.
First of all, I feel kind of embarrassed and insecure. I’ve been telling friends individually, and each time, I worry that they are surprised and that they didn’t see it coming. If I suspect that a friend is surprised, I feel like that invalidates my maleness; it doesn’t “read” because even my good friends can’t “see” it. With every disclosure, I worry that the friend is secretly thinking that I can’t really be trans and that don’t really seem male to them.
There’s also the awkwardness of not knowing how much to disclose. “So what are your plans for the summer?” “Well, I’ve started using male pronouns…” so far I’ve been letting people draw their own conclusions about what that means about my identity and my future plans, but sometimes I wonder if I should follow up with, “Yep, I’m a guy,” or “Yep, I’m trans,” or just “Yep, I’m a gay guy”?
A part of me feels like I’m disclosing something very private: my feelings of gender dysphoria and my desire to be male. Saying that I use male pronouns feels kind of like saying, in a casual social “How’s it going?” conversation, “Well, I’m kind of nuts. You see, you’ve thought I was a girl all this time, but actually, I want to be a guy. I spend painful hours worrying about not being and looking sufficiently male. And even though it goes against your every instinct, I want you to play into my insanity by calling me ‘he'”. I suppose it’s my own internalized transphobia, or my fear of the transphobia of others, or simply a certain sense of inauthenticity, but I sometimes find it deeply embarrassing to disclose my pronoun change, because of all of the unsaid things it implies. Some folks are really trans-positive and want to share with me in a mood of excitement and celebration upon my disclosure. And there certainly is something exciting, empowering, and courageous about making a move to claim my sense of myself in social space, to ensure that people respect it, and to refuse to be accept treatment based on incorrect assumptions about me. I suppose that this empowering dimension is what I need to focus in on, but there’s also something really delicate and vulnerable about taking a certain private identity, intuited by a few but known and respected only by my lovers, bringing it suddenly out into the broad daylight and asking others to see and respect it.
There’s also the deep awkwardness of living, right now, in a kind of pronoun soup. I’ve been trying to tell people individually or in small groups, and I’ve made the decision to only tell people who I consider friends. This means that, in any social setting, there will be some people that know and others who don’t, some who I intend to tell at the right moment and others who I don’t care to tell. So I constantly have to worry about what to do if someone refers to me in the wrong way, especially in a large group setting where correcting them might seem somewhat awkward and make my pronoun change the object of collective scrutiny.
Then, there’s the disappointment of the moments when friends who I’ve told refer to me as “she”, not because they forgot, but just because it slipped out of their mouths so naturally that they didn’t even realize they said it. It doesn’t seem worth it to correct them every time they slip up. They know, they just don’t always think when they speak. The worst is that I take this to mean that I can’t really be trans enough, that I don’t seem like a “he” to them, and that I’m asking them to do something really unnatural and counterintuitive.
There’s the strangeness of the fact that I haven’t fully begun to think of myself as “he” yet. When I imagine what others think about me in the third person, for instance, “she” is still what I automatically think. It’s like a mind exercise, to think of myself as “he”. In social settings, I don’t really know how to feel when people call me “she” or “he”. While I do feel like a guy and want that recognized, I’m still not used to thinking of myself as a “he”. So it isn’t as if I’m asking folks to call me what I already call myself in my head. It’s more like we’re awkwardly transitioning together, with plenty of slip-ups on all sides. My goal is to see if hearing myself called “he” feels validating, and if it makes me feel that I really am a “he”.
Finally, there’s the fact that I now feel like I have to hold myself to more rigid standards of masculinity. Since I tell more people every day, every day, before I leave the house, I scrutinize myself in the mirror and ask myself if I look like a “he”. After all, it has to be believable when people are first introduced to the idea. It is now the beginning of a sweltering summertime, a very difficult time to pass, so I have to police my wardrobe and not wear the clothes that a slutty faggot would wear in the summertime, sometimes changing two or three times before I feel presentable. For the moment, I feel more critical and unhappy with my appearance than before, since I’m trying so hard to help people see me as male.
Though all this awkwardness, I try to remind myself of some key points to help hold me steady.
First, I really am trans, and I have every right to ask people to respect that. I have every right to ask people to use male pronouns for me.
Secondly, by asking people to call me “he”, I am asking them to change the way they think about me, and this is an uncomfortable process, so I should not expect it to be smooth sailing. But the harder it is for people, the more wrong their idea of me was before, and the more necessary it is for them to do the work to change it. The payoff is that, in the process of learning to call me “he” their idea of me will change; they will learn not to engage in verbal or nonverbal forms of feminine gendering; they will learn not to think of me as a women or a lesbian, and they will be more disposed to see me as a fag.
Thirdly, this is a kind of dry run whose aim is to prepare me to move into a new community of city queers. It is difficult here because I am dealing with friends who have, in some cases, years of accumulated misconceptions of me (some of them which were at one point accurate, based on an earlier idea of myself) and the ingrained habit of calling me “she”. At the same time, since they are my friends, I can’t help feeling like they ought to know me well enough to have already sensed that I was trans and should slip happily into using male pronouns. So them messing up feels more invalidating than if a stranger got my pronoun wrong, even though it would probably be much easier for a stranger with no experience with my girl past and no accumulated uncorrected misconceptions to call me “he”. Part of this dry run is about socially transitioning with my community, seeing how that feels, and being able to be absolutely sure of my identity as a “he” within the new community. In other words, this is my chance, within a supportive environment, to work through all of the anxieties I described and to develop a practiced comfort with correcting people, introducing my pronoun, deciding when and how much to disclose, and so on.
When I get to the new city, introducing myself with male pronouns will have a certain instrumental value. It will tell people what my gender is, how to treat me, and with whom I want to be affiliated. It will also make my sexuality legible to guys I might want to date, especially those who might think twice before dating a “she”, or those who might be inclined to treat a “she” like a woman.
Any encouragement or suggestions are welcome.