A tearful tale, care of Kelsey Smoot, “a cultural and gender theorist, a writer, an advocate, and a poet”:
As a nonbinary trans person who uses they/them/theirs pronouns as my terms of address, I suppose I should be celebrating this influx of discourse on the proper usage of pronouns. Truthfully, I’m exhausted.
Exhausted. Because of course them is. And issuing all those terms of address can really take it out of a girl, even one with chin fluff.
Within several of my closest relationships, the fact that I require ungendered pronouns when referring to me in the third person has become the source of deep strain and disappointment.
I feel duped by some of the positive reactions from my friends and loved ones when I initially came out as transmasc/nonbinary. In retrospect, that was the easy part. I was the only one changing.
In the years since, I have come to find that I am in constant competition with my past. For a while, I flinched when I was misgendered but said nothing. Then, I began giving gentle reminders, followed by long-winded overtures of understanding. I felt guilty and embarrassed and made sure to emphasize that effort was all that mattered to me. Recently, though, I’ve begun pushing back: “You’ll have to do better” is my new refrain.
And who wouldn’t want a friendship based on an ultimatum? A demand that you will perceive what you are told to perceive. The issue, it seems, is that friends and relatives who have known Ms Smoot for some time, as a young woman and a girl, aren’t finding it easy to pretend or to forget what they know. And what they know necessarily casts some doubt on the whole themness business.
I am bitterly resentful of my resilient former self. Like a ghost, the memory of prior me looms overhead, my family and friends gazing upward longingly, seemingly desperate for a reprieve from my militant current iteration — the me who demands to be termed accurately.
The word accurately is doing quite a bit of work there.
“The world doesn’t revolve around you,” they assert. And yet, they insist: “I mean no disrespect. I love you. I accept you. I’m trying. I need more time.”
It’s a big ask, one we’ve touched on before.
And reminding someone that the world doesn’t revolve around them – for most of us, an unremarkable fact - doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t love the person, or respect them, or value them as a friend. And yet Ms Smoot thinks it does.
Sure, my friends and family might espouse progressive political ideologies; they might even intellectually support the idea of my authenticity. But in practice, they fail to see that these are the critical moments in which my identities are ultimately affirmed or nullified.
Identities, note. A term used repeatedly. Because the complications must multiply, and with them, the terms and conditions. You see, friendship with Ms Smoot – “a deep investment in my happiness,” as she puts it – requires compliance and continual affirmation. No room for error. No relaxing on the job.
I’ve been told that spending time with me feels more cumbersome now. I sense the unease that some of my most cherished counterparts feel regarding the necessary intentionality that goes into rewiring their perceptions of me.
Well, not everyone is enthused by the prospect of rewiring their perceptions – which is to say, pretending – such that the woman they knew, and can see, is suddenly not. A woman who apparently keeps count of even accidental “misgenderings” by any new acquaintance before excommunicating them after “two or three.”
It wasn’t until recently that I even allowed the idea of severance to pervade my mind. I am a person who needs people. This current emotional arrangement, however — the perpetual promise of future change — no longer feels tenable.
Perhaps what Ms Smoot needs isn’t so much people as their continual affirmation and deference. A compliant audience of sorts. Friends who are otherwise obliging and congenial but who struggle with modish pronouns and claims of not being a woman, despite seeing a woman, are, after all, disposable. Even those who promise to “do better” - and, given time, learn to hallucinate - are dismissed as “grammar evangelists, nascent physiologists, and free speech activists.”
Your requests for unmonitored, unfettered time and space to prepare for ambiguous future growth will be honoured. I, however, will be increasingly absent.
The word unmonitored catches the eye.
The idea of having to lose some of the people closest to me, the folks who have helped to shape me into the person I am, is devastating. However, I consider having access to me, my time, and my company to be a gift, not a given, for anyone in my sphere.
Should readers be tempted by said gift, do remember that Ms Smoot expects “concerted effort” from those who wish to partake of her personal magnificence. Up to and including how she is spoken of when not present. She is, she says, “worth the effort.”
Heavens, a button. I wonder what it does.