Dear Liberal Women,

Thank you for trying to be an ally when I tell you that my pronouns are they/them. I believe you when you say this is new for you and that you are trying. I believe you that you mean no disrespect. I am not angry that you misgendered me.

But I am frustrated.

Please do not tell me (or any other non-binary or trans person you meet) that:

  1. It’s as hard for me to remember your pronouns as it was for you to discover your identity.” With all due respect, you’re assuming a lot about my identity and my journey. Please do not compare your difficulty to respect me, with your presumption of difficulty for me to accept myself.
  2. “I’m just going to call you by your name. That’s way easier for me to remember.” Yes, you are more than welcome to refer to me by name, but this isn’t about your comfort or your memory. I’m not asking you to only refer to me by name, only to be more conscious of how you use gendered language to describe me.
  3. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! I’m trying, and then I realize I called you a her and then I get flustered and forget what I was saying entirely. I’m sorry!” I believe you. But this isn’t about your comfort or how flustered you may get by saying the wrong thing. I’m not angry at you. But rather than apologizing profusely, please try a simple correction: “I was just telling her–I mean them, that…” A simple correction is far more respectful and causes less of a scene.
  4. “I’m older. This is just really new for me/this is the first time I’ve encountered this [or someone like you] before.” I know you’re trying to learn and I appreciate your effort. But I don’t need an explanation on why you’re having a hard time. I don’t need to know I’m the exception or anomaly in your life. To be honest, that makes me feel like my existence is an imposition.

Again, thank you trying to be an ally. Thank you for taking me seriously when I tell you I’m not a woman and for asking how I identify. I’m sure you are a liberal person who believes in human rights and who would never purposefully make me feel unwelcome. But please know you are still making me feel unwelcome because you are putting your comfort first.

Thank you for your time,

An Agender Person


I Came Out to My Students…

and nothing happened. I teach college composition and the 22 eighteen-year-olds didn’t challenge me when I asked everyone to go around the room and say their name, their proposed major and their pronouns. “I’ll model,” I said. “Hello! My name is ____. I studied ____ in undergrad. I use they/them pronouns. If I were a woman I might use she/her and if I were a man I might use he/him.”

A number of my students were confused on providing their pronouns, but that’s to be expected. It’s still a relatively new concept and even when I used to identify as a woman, I would still get students who were confused. But even a few weeks into the semester, no one has challenged me, or laughed, or asked invasive questions. Sure, I have to remind people not to call me a Miss or a Ma’am, but I know they mean it out of respect.

I almost didn’t come out. I almost convinced myself that being an authority figure at the front of the room would be difficult enough when I look younger than I am (and I’m pretty young) and when I outwardly present as female. Why add another layer of stress when it was already a struggle to be taken seriously?

But I’m a graduate student in addition to being an instructor and I thought back to a class I took last semester where a brilliant professor would reference her female partner and how safe and comforting that knowledge was to me as a queer student. She made queerness accepted and normalized with such a simple turn of her speech.

And so, when I want to back away and hide myself behind my female presentation, I remember how I felt in my professor’s class and I choose vulnerability instead. I owe my students that same level of safety.

The Curse of Southern Politeness

In the northeast, and specifically quaint New England, Ma’am and Sir, are foreign words. They’re ancient relics of language better preserved in nineteenth century books or said upon the stage in period dress than words you would ever hear trailing at the end of someone’s sentence. “Have a good day, Ma’am”, or “How are you today, Sir?” is simply not in our vernacular.

My best guess is because we don’t have the time to waste the words or the energy. Especially as–if you’ve ever walked into a retail store in suburban Connecticut or suburban New York–no one asks you how you are because, frankly they don’t care. I’m generalizing and playing into stereotypes that Northerners are rude and too rushed to care about the people around them. But, to a certain extent, this is true.

I was raised in New England, completed my undergrad in Georgia and continue to drive up and down the east coast periodically to visit family. In the north, the friendliest cashier at Dunkin Donuts or the most cheerful barista at Starbucks, might wish you a great day. But they will never call you “sir” or “ma’am”. Too many words.

Again, I’m joking. Mostly. But on my most recent road trip up north, I noticed such a difference in how I interacted with retail workers, or servers at a restaurant, or cashiers based on likely I was to be called “ma’am”. Often, when my mother and I traveled together, we would be told, “I hope you ladies have a nice day” and I wanted to politely inform them, “I’m not a lady, but thank you.” I never corrected them. It didn’t seem worth the effort to justify my existence to someone I would never see again.

Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, it was almost inevitable to be gendered. Somewhere in Maryland, it stopped and I felt more like a person again.

My mother is from New York and all my life I knew “ma’am” to be an insult. Not because it was gendered, but because to be a “ma’am” is to be an old lady. “Ma’am” holds gender and age observations of a person all rolled into one. And so while I still get mistaken for a first-year in college, I also get called “ma’am” rather than “miss”. Apparently I not only appear to be a woman, but a married woman? A woman who is no longer a maiden (read virgin)? There are sexual connotations to the word as well, especially as ma’am is also derived from madame which could just as easily mean owner of a brothel as it could mean respected woman.

I understand that “ma’am” and “sir” are the rules of propriety in the south, but “ma’am” is an under-examined piece of language that perpetuates much more than the gender binary. Yes, it might be polite in some circles (and some states), but we can be more considerate with our words and work toward a politeness that is more inclusive.

As much as the north might still need to learn how to slow down and be less rude, here are a few things you can learn from how we do it in the north. Instead of “Ma’am” (or “sir”) try these:

  • “Have a great day!”
  • “Thank you for your time/service/business etc!”
  • “Please.”
  • “Thank you.”

The trend? It’s the same words you would ordinarily say, but without the gendered language. Suddenly, you’re not assuming anyone’s gender based on cis normative perceptions of appearance, which makes the world a little safer for trans and non-binary people.

Running from Femininity?

I didn’t start to question my gender until I was writing a creative nonfiction essay on Dragon Ball Z. I’m a writer before anything else and I knew that Dragon Ball Z shaped my perceptions of heroism, as well as what it meant to be a woman. I spoke to my older brother over the phone when I was initially conceptualizing this idea and though we rarely talk now (and never about queerness), he agreed that DBZ shaped his understanding of what it means to be a man.

Notice any women in the main cast?

This creative nonfiction essay seemed initially simple: DBZ taught me internalized misogyny. I learned womanhood from its absence and learned to abhor femininity because I understood it to be the antithesis of heroism. The women of DBZ are not the heroes. They were the shrill screaming mothers (Chi Chi), the hysterical girls (Videl), the sexy ladies who are also shrill and hysterical (Bulma, especially in Dragon Ball, the prequel series). Why would I ever want to grow up into one of them?

This was especially true because my older brother was my greatest influence as a child. I would do anything to be his friend and playmate and strive to be his equal. We would play Dragon Ball Z in our backyard and spend hours training where we ran around the yard (or the basement when the weather turned cold) punching and kicking each other. I was his sparring partner and he was as close to the heroism of DBZ as I could imagine. And best of all, I wasn’t a girl when we sparred; I was a warrior. I was his partner and I understood that I was the exception to the rule. Our games of training did double duty: he trained me to not be feminine. If I were to be too feminine, too girly, I would be out. As a child, long before DBZ wormed into my brother’s muscles, my only bargaining power when we argued was that if he didn’t treat me right, I would show him. I would become girly and then who would he play with?

And so it’s difficult now, in questioning my gender as an adult, to know whether all I’m really questioning is ingrained misogyny.

Is the issue that I don’t want to be a woman, or that I’m not a woman and never was?

This blog is a place to find out. I want to get used to they/their pronouns in a place where I can explore and determine what I’m feeling.

Do you experience (or have you experienced) anything similar? Are you also questioning your gender? Let me know in the comments so we can talk further.