I’m starting to dislike using preferred pronouns for nonbinary and genderqueer people. This is a really controversial thing to say my social circles, where many nonbinary and genderqueer people are my friends.
To be clear, I still use preferred pronouns. I like doing things that make other people happy, especially if they care about it more than I do. Please don’t interpret my feelings as an excuse to refuse preferred pronouns just to make a point – you don’t have to agree with someone to be kind to them. The feelings of nonbinary and genderqueer people are valid, and my discomfort does not mean we should take them less seriously.
But whenever I use a preferred pronoun, it feels a bit like I’m playing a game of pretend. If an AFAB (assigned female at birth) person asks me to use ‘they,’ I do my best to treat them like they don’t belong to either gender… but my brain does not play along. It sits on my shoulder like a child. “She’s a woman,” it says. “She’s a woman and you’re pretending she’s not.” I tell my shoulder brain to shut up, but it does not shut up. And so despite what I want to feel, my actual experience around nonbinary people is that I am actually talking to a woman, but I (and everyone around me) are pretending that we’re not.
I don’t mind collective pretending. We do it a lot – pretend to care about the cashier’s day, or that the homeless guy doesn’t exist – but I can’t think of any collective pretend that also includes this amount of fear of acknowledging the fact that we’re playing pretend. I am actively afraid to say this is how I feel – not just due to potential social rejection from the group, but from making the nonbinary person in question feel bad. I don’t want either of those things.
I notice that I’m starting to resent this. I would like to be able to talk about the sense of pretending. There’s a way in which very raw and deep intimacy with someone can only happen without any pretend, and because of this I feel greater difficulty in achieving intimacy with nonbinary and genderqueer people, because I feel actively afraid of revealing that they are registering as a regular ol’ woman (or man) to me.
The sense of pretend seems to come with the presentation of the person. My brain doesn’t feel like we’re pretending when talking to a passing trans person. It gets confused when talking to a nearly-passing trans person before settling on some sense close to ‘no specified gender’ or ‘alternates genders.’
I feel less bad using preferred pronouns with trans people specifically, even if they’re non-passing, because they seem to recognize my shoulder brain is real and they’re actively trying to trick it. I like that. It makes me feel like I could bring this up with them and it would be okay.
But nonbinary people tend to ignore the shoulder brain. AFAB people mostly tend to shave a side of their head and wear baggy pants, and AMAB people will do something like dye their hair blue and wear one earring, and these things do not help my shoulder brain stop screaming ‘THAT’S A WOMAN’ or ‘THAT’S A MAN’ into my ear.
I realize this might sound like I’m expecting other people to change for my benefit, but this is not at all what I mean. Nobody is obligated to make me feel any particular way. They can do and feel and present however they want, and it’s none of my business – you do you, man.
But it sort of becomes my business when they’re asking me to change my behavior and thoughts. They would like me to view them as nonbinary, to use their preferred pronoun. And I’m happy to try! But no matter how hard I try, the sense of pretend remains consistent. And them asking me to change something I cannot change is frustrating.
This leads to fear of being honest with most people who ask me to use preferred pronouns, and I feel sad about that.