Happy #InternationalPronounDay!

it’s #InternationalPronounsDay! And in honor, I’ll just gently remind you that my pronouns are they, them, theirs, themself. I prefer the honorific Mx., but Mr. works too, and calling me “sir” is also great (though preferably not in a D/s way, unless we have that kind of thing).

As in:

  • Have you seen their latest post?
  • Did you go to the workshop with them?
  • I like their work!
  • They really look like themself away.

Honestly, it doesn’t bother me all that much when people call me by another pronoun … I mean, not much, though it does still bother me. But I am always thrilled when people get it right. Like, always. It continues to make me feel so seen, even vulnerable, in a way that surprises me. I mostly don’t expect people to get it right, I suppose, because I’ve had so many experiences with people getting it wrong, that I don’t want to get my hopes up.

So, thanks, to all of you who get it right.

Thanks to all of you who are working to get it right, and don’t always, but who try, and who correct themselves and others.

And to all the nonbinary babes out there: I see you. Your pronouns are real and valid and I promise to always do my best to honor them. I screw them up, sometimes, but I want to get it right, and thank you for correcting me.

To all the cis folks with your pronouns in your email signature and Instagram bio and business cards: thanks. Thanks for showing that you understand that if you “look like a girl” you still might use pronouns other than she/her. Thanks for showing that you understand that gender identity doesn’t necessarily match your presentation. Thanks for making it easier for me to share mine.

I don’t think anyone should be forced to share their pronouns, because sometimes it isn’t safe for someone to be out as trans or nonbinary. But for folks who are comfortable and able to share theirs, it helps folks like me who don’t always know how it’s going to be received if we share our pronouns. It helps me be more open, be more vocal about being nonbinary, about being outside of the norm. And it helps me to trust other people more, because I see that they’re trying, and that they know something about gender.

Image: glitter knuckle face paint by a lovely queer clown at Lesbians Who Tech conference in 2019.

The Singular “They” Is Grammatically Correct, Dammit

Hello!

I just read your identity pronoun piece on Medium and I would like to converse with you about a few questions I have.

My child is currently identifying as non-binary. My only issue is from a grammar stand point. I struggle with referring to an individual in a plural way due to years of grammar education. I truly feel that I (and possibly others) may catch on quicker if it didn’t seem like we were being incorrect with the grammar by being correct in addressing the person.

I truly ask this with an open heart and mind. Do you think due to the creation of the subset — or acknowledgement as it were- that it may be easier for those outside the set to be mindful and those in the set to become recognized?

I look forward to your commentary.

Regards,
Renee’


This is a real email that I received, though I did edit it to be shorter. 

Here is my reply.


Hi Renee’,

I hear ya with the kind intention of this question. You’re not alone in asking it — many, many people do not like the use of the “singular they” as a nonbinary pronoun.

Here are a few resources for you.

Other options for third person pronouns:

Many transgender, gender non-confirming (GNC), and nonbinary folks in the US have been using pronouns aside from he or she for decades. Ze, hir, zir, xie, ey, and per are just a few that some of my community has used over the years. Here is a table of many of the different third-person gender pronouns used in English.

In GNC communities, people choose which pronoun they feel best fits them and resonates for them. The use of the singular they was always one of many, but it is only recently that it has become widely accepted in the mainstream English speaking / US environment.

Why singular they is okay:

Singular they was declared the word of the year by the American Dialect Society in 2015.

It has been in consistent use as a third person singular pronoun since the 1300s. Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Emily Dickinson all use it in their work. The wikipedia entry on it breaks it down quite well. Here is another longer history of the usage of the singular they.

Whether or not you realize it, most people already use the singular they. It is just used more generically, rather than individually. Teen Vogue has a good write-up of the common questions asked about nonbinary pronouns.

Because singular they has been used for so long, it is generally the easiest third person nonbinary pronoun for people to grasp.

Which do you think is easier to say?

  • they went to the store
  • ze went to the store
  • pe went to the store

On changing language:

I get that it’s hard to change the use of something that has always been one way. But language changes all the time. Here’s a list of TED talks that discuss how language is fluid and changes.

Language is solidified by those in power. Those who have been in power have been (are) cisgender people. But language is more of a living thing that both reflects and shapes cultural norms. Changing the language changes the oppression of marginalized people.

Using singular ‘they’ also helps with another major feminist linguistic issue: the way we default to using he/him pronouns as general examples in English. Using they/them solves that problem, and is much less awkward than using “s/he” or “she or he,” and challenges the use of maleness as the norm.

Here are two books for you:

A Quick & Easy Guide to
They/Them Pronouns
The Gender Book


Perhaps this part is the most important:

It takes uncomfortable change to be inclusive and supportive of marginalized people.

Yes, it can be uncomfortable to use the singular they. Yes, it means you will probably mess up as you are getting used to it, and perhaps hurt some people’s feelings, and perhaps have to apologize and learn and do better, and that is uncomfortable. But it is essential to try in order to make a world that can be more welcoming, inclusive, and celebratory of marginalized and oppressed folks.

This is a very clear, very concrete way that nonbinary people are asking to be supportive. Please do it.

Last, but not least:

Please consider doing your own Google research before asking nonbinary people, such as myself, to do research and explain things to you. This has taken an hour of my time that I could be otherwise working for money, being with my friends, or creating my own art.

I decided to do this for you because I am going to use this as my next article and make it public. But next time, please use Google — or a librarian, whose job it is to help you find information! — and educate yourself. There are thousands and thousands of articles, videos, and offerings online that already explain the things you’re asking me.

Things you could Google for additional research:

  • how to use the singular they
  • why use singular they
  • history of singular they
  • is singular they grammatically correct
  • how to be supportive of nonbinary people
  • alternative third person pronouns
  • use of singular they in literature
  • changing language over time

Asking nonbinary people to do work to educate cis people is a form of emotional labor that costs us time, effort, and energy. It is incredibly common for nonbinary people to be asked to educate cis people, and it is exhausting.

Next time you ask for labor like this, at least offer to compensate. I do coach people on gender, sexuality, and relationship issues, and I would be happy to consider coach you further. Contact me if you wish to pursue that.

In conclusion: 

If you agree with me, great. Please share this.

Perhaps you do not agree with me, and you’re one of those people who only uses “cool” to describe temperature. But if you insist on prioritizing grammar rules above honoring nonbinary people, I insist on thinking you’re a jerk.

Sincerely,
Sinclair

Pronouns: they/them

PS: If you appreciate the time I put into this article, please consider supporting me on Patreon or making a PayPal donation to my email address, [email protected]

Dear (Cis) People Who Put Your Pronouns On Your “Hello My Name Is” Name Tag

Dear cis people who put your pronouns on your “hello my name is” name tags:

Thank you.

When you do that, I feel more comfortable putting my pronouns — they/them. I feel more comfortable being visibly out as nonbinary. I feel more comfortable asking people to use the pronouns that feel most like me, that make me feel most seen and whole, instead of just resolving to be mis-gendered and mis-represented and whatever who cares anyway.

(Maybe I do, somewhere, a little.)

When we’re doing the socializing part of whatever event we’re at, and we are introduced, I automatically feel warmer toward you — regardless of your gender or presentation. I feel much more comfortable talking to you, because you already tell me you know a little about gender.

Thank you.

It is an ongoing cultural struggle right now to break our eyes open to more than the two binary gender roles. We are all still learning. Nonbinary and trans folks are still evolving the language and culture, and educators are still figuring out the best ways to communicate the theory and compassion. It’s a challenge to undo the cultural systems that have been normalized all our lives.

And yet, we must. If we want to support everyone to live their best lives, we must. If we want to be honoring of everyone, we must.

Other great places to include your pronouns:

  • Your email signature. Example: “Sinclair Sexsmith¶ Pronouns: they, them, theirs, themself¶ [email protected] | @mrsexsmith | Facebook | Patreon”
  • Social media bio, on Twitter or Facebook or etc. Example: “Writer. White non-binary butch feminist dominant. They/them.” You could also periodically put a post up on your social media, “Just for the record, I use they/them pronouns. Also, I grew up in Alaska, my favorite flower is red gerbera daisies and my favorite number is 12.”
  • Regular bio, if you’re a performer, writer, teacher of some sort and you have a bio you send around, include them there! Example: “Sinclair Sexsmith (they/them) is a writer and queer nonbinary butch dominant.”
  • Introductions at a meeting or workshop, if they say “Go around & say your names.” They don’t have to invite you to include your pronoun in your intro in order to include it! Example: “I’m Sinclair, I use they/them pronouns.”
  • Any time you’re speaking in front of a group! Example: “Hi! I’m excited to have you at this poetry reading today, thanks for coming to the Bluestockings Bookstore. I’m Sinclair, I use they/them pronouns — but you probably already know that, since you’re here!”
  • Can you think of other places I haven’t listed here? I’m sure there are others. Leave ’em in the comments!

If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, ask!

This is an important skill to cultivate. We have probably all heard this, but there are plenty of times we — all of us, myself included — feel awkward asking, and so we don’t. But it’s never too late — ask at any point during the conversation.

It’s not a faux pas if you have to stop in the middle of a sentence, just ask.

“Sorry, what are your pronouns?”

“Oh I didn’t get your pronouns, what are they?”

“Will you remind me your pronouns please?”

If you mess up, no big deal. We all do.

You’re not a bad person if you mess it up. You’re not a bad ally, or a bad person. You’re practicing. Maybe you got the wrong info, or maybe that person just changed their pronouns.

Just start again.

The #1 thing to remember: don’t make it about you. Apologize, move on, try again.

“The other day, she — “
“They use they pronouns.”
“Oh, they. Okay. The other day, they …”

That thing where people say, “Omigod, I’m SO sorry! I really care about pronouns! I’m trying so hard! I’m not used to it! Forgive me!!!!” — that makes it such a bigger deal than it is. Treat it like mispronouncing someone’s name — it’s a little disrespectful, so be sure to be sensitive, but it’s ultimately no big deal.

Just acknowledge, apologize, have a redo, and do better in the future.

It gets easier with practice & time.

You’ll get it. Keep at it. Practice saying and expressing your pronouns whenever you can. Practice asking. The more cis people can ask and practice with each other, the more of the burden it takes off of trans and nonbinary folks to do the education work themselves.

There’s one more thing I want you to know:

It feels so good when people get it right.

It can make my whole day brighter when I hear someone use they/them pronouns.

Honestly, I rarely hear it myself, because if I’m standing there, it’s the least likely place for someone to refer to me in the third person. But sometimes it happens in an introduction, or a story. And it still surprises me sometimes.

I feel vulnerable, and cared for, and seen.

Stone Grief (Kai & DJ #3)

By the time I ease two fingers into DJ’s ass, they already have tears streaming down their cheeks, crying in that silent release way that I’ve only seen a handful of times in the years we’ve been together, but that always means something big is going on. I breathe in, slow my fingers down, and wait. Present. Attuning to each of the smallest movements DJ’s body communicates.

“Don’t stop,” they whisper. “Just keep going.”

They make small sips of eye contact, but are mostly having their own experience. Their body shivers, sometimes from their head to their toes, sometimes left to right, rippling like a chill is going through them. I recognize that release, too. They have been so tight, so tense, their body all locked up for months now. I’m so grateful for the request to fuck them tonight. I’d do anything to help them through this.

Their back hole is tight but pliable, and they relax deeper into my hand as I slowly, slowly use my fingers to massage their insides. It feels like I’m unlocking something, that something has been clenched and is now letting go.

I’m completely unaware of the play party going on around us. There are people up on St. Andrew’s crosses, bent over spanking benches, on massage tables, tied to the wall with the eyebolts that are scattered all around this space. We are in the back corner. I snagged the sling as soon as we got here, after we checked in and made it through the socializing space where the cold pizza, nuts, and mixed veggie trays were laid out already for anyone needing a snack after or during their play. DJ is lying back in it comfortably, body completely supported, swaying slightly with the pressure of my hand against their hole. Their legs are up in the sling’s stirrups, permanently hung there for better access.

We could have done this scene at home, but DJ wanted to come here. Not necessarily to be witnessed, though the exhibitionism is something some folks at play parties seek. It is more that they wanted a place to have a big experience, a big release, that was safe and known and comfortable. Plus, they wanted to be in a sling. It’s the best place for them to receive.

DJ isn’t stone, exactly, but kind of stone-ish. I don’t fuck them very often, and almost never strapped on, though they do suck me off sometimes. They don’t have trauma about getting fucked exactly, they just don’t like it very much. It’s not the best way to get them off, I know—it doesn’t turn them on nearly as much as topping, or fucking with their own cock. But I do get to use my hands on them sometimes, especially after we’ve been going for a while and they have fucked everything out of me that they possibly can but are still hungry—that’s when I know it’s time for me to beg to suck them off, and to offer to use my hands if they want me to, which they almost always do. I think it took them a long time to receive while still being in charge.

Like tonight. They’ve been planning this all week—decided what toys we’d bring, packed the bag, made the arrangements, drove us here. They even told me what to wear (jeans and a crisp white tee shirt, often my uniform when we’re out in public anyway, but it was nice to know that they like it). DJ specifically requested a night for release and catharsis, but I probably won’t do any impact play or anything. I suppose we’ll see if they need that or not.

“Keep going,” they whisper again. I move my fingers a little faster and their asshole relaxes around them. They nod, eyes squeezed shut, tears still coming. Their hands grip the chain of the sling and they rock their pelvis a little, swaying the swing. I focus. I keep breathing. I nearly start crying myself with the emotion pouring off of them like heatwaves, I can practically see it. It’s been bottled tight inside of them ever since we got the call that DJ’s aunt, the one who had practically raised them, died suddenly of a stroke.

They are usually pretty good at handling their own emotions. I wouldn’t be with them for this long if they weren’t. But this kind of grief … only people who have gone through it really know what it’s like. My best friend was diagnosed with cancer and died when I was 20 and I lost my shit for a few years after that. It took me a while to even realize what was going on, it just felt like my life was suddenly falling down around me. DJ hasn’t lost anyone this close before, just relatives and occasional community acquaintances. I know it’s their own process and there’s only so much I can do, but I want to support and be helpful when I can. Especially when helping involves adoring their body, which I love to do anyway.

They arch their back in the sling, press their hips further into me. Their body is shuddering, shoulders shaking—maybe they are starting to really cry, those heaving sobs that are rarer still.

I don’t say anything. I don’t know what to say. It isn’t about words now, this is just about their body, the emotions stored in their thick muscles, the tenderness of their brown skin. I use my fingertips to caress them, then rest my palm on their chest, their heart. I can feel them crying through my hand. They press against me harder, and I move my two fingers a little more furiously. Their mouth opens, they cry out a little, sadness and grief and release and pleasure all mixing, still squeezing their eyes shut, face scrunching up in frustration and fury.

They find my hand with theirs and squeeze, press against me. I stand a little closer, off to the side, to get a better angle. DJ brings their other hand down to their clit-dick and starts jerking it, not quite sobbing but body heaving, beginning to moan. I can’t tell if it’s pleasure or grief or both. The music pounds and I’m starting to sweat, I can feel it dripping on my neck. It’s good that it’s warm in here, easier to be naked that way, and those of us working hard really get a workout. DJ is still pawing hard at their clit, and their hole grips my fingers and I can barely move, so tight, every muscle in them gets so tight, their hips lifting even further, pressing against me, body twisted and contorted, face all torqued like something is in their mouth that they have to swallow. They fist my hand so hard it hurts.

Until … slowly, slowly, the sobs start to come. Then a wail, long and low. Body heaving. I keel forward to offer my body next to theirs and they gladly accept, wrapping their arms around me, pulling me closer to them, crying into my shirt for a good long while.

I still don’t say anything. I can’t find my words. But really, what is there to say? It’s not about me. It’s what they need. It’s the only thing they need right now, to be able to cry for as long as they need to without someone fussing about them. I don’t need them to feel better, or to stop, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable. I just feel honored that they want me here, that they let me do this for them. I know sometimes they prefer to release their feelings by themself.

DJ slowly pulls their arms through our tight embrace and wipes their eyes and face and nose on my tee shirt. I laugh a little. “Is that why you wanted me to wear white?”

They smile. “No,” they say, eyes downcast. “I just like it.” They sound small, but when they open their eyes and look at me, finally, softly, they are shining and bright, alive.


Featured image from Crash Pad Series Episode #98, Micah Riot and Papi Coxxx.

Coming Out Genderqueer: An Open Letter to My Family & Friends

As published on Facebook, where I could tag at least 20 of ’em.

Dear family & friends,

Especially friends from my childhood and high school years who have found me for whatever reasons on Facebook, and family with whom I’m not particularly close, and coworkers from previous jobs who I have perhaps never had this chat with:

THE “GENDERQUEER COMING OUT” PART

I have something to tell you: I’m genderqueer. That means I live my day-to-day life somewhere between “man” and “woman,” often facing all sorts of daily interactions where the general public doesn’t “get” my gender, from kids in the grocery store asking, “are you a boy or a girl?” and their mom hushing them and turning away, to little old ladies in the women’s room staring wide-eyed and backing out of the restroom slowly, only to then return with a confused and self-protective look on their face, to service industry folks saying, “Can I help you, sir? Uh, ma’am? Uh … ?”

That confusion, that in-between state, is precisely it. That’s who I am. I’m neither, and both. I’m in-between.

You may already know this about me, just from following me on Facebook and doing whatever sleuthing you’ve done about my projects. You probably know I’m queer. But, if you want to know, I’m going to explain a few more things about my gender for a minute.

ON GENDER

If you want to delve a little deeper into my particular gender, I consider myself butch, I identify as masculine, and I consider genderqueer part of the “trans*” communities, using trans-asterisk as the umbrella term to encompass, well, anybody who feels in-between. I’ve been identifying as “butch” for a long time—perhaps you’ve heard me use this word, an identity I consider to mean a masculine-identified person who was assigned female at birth. I consider myself masculine, but as I delve further into gender politics and theory and communities, the boxes of “woman” and “man” feel too constricting and limiting for me to occupy them comfortably.

I have for years thought that it was extremely important for people like me—masculine people with a fluid sense of gender and personality traits, who don’t feel limited by gender roles or restricted by gender policing—should continue to identify as women as a political act, as a way to increase the possibilities of what “woman” can be. That’s really important. And I still believe that is true, and heavily support that category.

Problem is, “woman” has never fit me. I had bottomless depression as a teenager (perhaps some of you remember I was sent to the principal’s office once for “wearing too much black”), plagued often by the idea of “woman” and adult womanhood. I could not understand who I would be in that context. And honestly, I still can’t.

But—even though it is in some ways harder, living outside of the gender norms—this in-between makes so much sense to me.

ON PRONOUNS (This part is important.)

For a few years now, I’ve been stating, when asked, that I prefer the third-person pronouns they and them when referring to me. That means, if you’re speaking of me in a sentence, you’d say, “They are about to walk the entire Pacific Crest Trail, it’s true,” or “Did you hear they just published another book?” or, “I really like spending time with them.”

See? Easy.

Lately, when people ask what my preferred pronoun is, I have been saying, “I prefer they and them, but all of them are fine and I don’t correct anybody.” I don’t mind the other pronouns. They don’t irk me. But when someone “gets” it, and honors the they/them request, it makes me feel seen and understood.

There are other options for third-person pronouns which are gender neutral—or rather, not he or she. “They” is the one that I think, as a writer, is the easiest for me to integrate into sentences. I completely believe in calling people what they want to be called (that has always been one of my mom’s great mom-isms), so I always do my best to respect pronouns, but I still struggle with the conjugations and the way those words fit in a sentence.

Some people—particularly those (ahem like me) who were English majors and for whom grammar rules are exciting—think the “singular they,” as it’s called, is grammatically incorrect. But it’s not. It’s actually been used in literature for hundreds of years. Here’s one particular article on the Singular They and the Many Reasons Why It Is Correct. Read up, if that intrigues you.

WHY THE BIG DEAL?

I haven’t sat any of my family—immediate or extended—down and said, Hi, I’d like you to use they/them pronouns for me. I don’t generally tell people that unless they ask. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I haven’t told you, what I’m afraid of, and what is keeping me from this conversation.

I’m not particularly afraid that you won’t “get it” or that you won’t honor it. If you don’t, that’s actually okay. I am part of some amazing trans* and genderqueer and gender-forward communities full of activism, respect, advocacy, and understanding, and I’m very lucky to feel whole and respected in that work.

And really, I believe that the very vast majority of you actually really wants to know, wants to honor my choices. I think you are probably curious about this. But for whatever reason, my (and probably your) west coast sensibilities are keeping us from having a direct conversation.

So, here ya go. It’s not particularly personal, but it’s the beginnings of something, and it’s my offering to you to talk about this, if you want to.

See the thing is, by not having this conversation with you, by not giving you the opportunity to respect my gender and pronouns (even if you think it’s weird-ass and strange and don’t get it), I’m limiting our intimacy. I’m not giving you all the chance to really know me. And maybe … you want to. Maybe this will open up something new between us.

Or maybe you’ll just go, “Huh. Okay. Whatever.” That’s fine too.

If you have questions, or want to talk about all this gender stuff, I am open to that. Ask away. (You don’t always get a free pass to ask weird questions, so you might want to utilize this opportunity.) But before you do, you might want to check out The Gender Book for some basic terminology, concepts, and ideas.

Sorry I haven’t told you yet. I’ve been telling myself that it “isn’t that important,” but actually it’s been a barrier between us, in some minor big ways.

Sincerely,

That kid who was in English class with you in high school,
Your former coworker,
Your cousin,
Your nibling (did you know that’s the gender neutral term for neice or nephew??),
Your grandkid,
The older sibling of your childhood friend,
Your best friend from 6th grade,
That queer who was crushed on you before they knew they were queer,

Sinclair

PS: Feel free to steal this idea for your own Facebook pages.