I’m not a poet. But during my second Master’s program, I wrote a pretty neat poem. It’s biblical, but also pushes the implicit gender we find in scripture. The first mechanic was replacing verses of divine summoning with “come out.” The second mechanic was removing all hints of gender (pronouns, yes, but also reinventing character names like Jesux and Lazarux). It was, in my humble opinion, beautifully queer. I was satisfied with a mediocre grade on the project; however, most of my learning had little to do with a grade.
It was much more about identity.
I also took a class about childhood responses to trauma. One of the most impressive memories from that class was the psychological notion of “templates.” That is, most humans can function in our daily lives only because our minds are trained to recognize patterns. The example found in a textbook — the only reason we can comfortably and safely drive an automobile is that we have a driving template. When a car next to us changes lanes, we naturally adjust. When a car ahead of us brakes, we naturally adjust. In both cases, the template tells us what to expect.
This, too, felt much more about identity.
It probably sounds like I’m rambling, so let me state the not-so-obvious fact: I don’t like being referred to with masculine pronouns. There are a bunch of reasons which would take up their own blog post, and even after reading it, we would have to sit down over coffee to explore them. The easiest way to explain myself? I don’t fit into boxes.
Actually, I refuse to fit into boxes.
Pronouns are so strange, aren’t they? First- and second-person pronouns (I, you, we, y’all) aren’t problematic. But second-person pronouns are inherently problematic because we only use them when speaking about someone. And as soon as we use a pronoun, we unintentionally attribute an endless web of stereotypical values — or societal expectations — to the person about whom we speak.
Since I have a beard, it is expected that I present as male. Therefore, I live in the shadow of masculine expectations. Since I am married to someone who identifies as male, I am expected to identify as gay. Yet those assumptions about me are utterly false.
We claim to live in a world of self-identification. So, please allow me to self-identify. My gender is non-binary. My orientation is queer. My pronouns are they/them.
Regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation, the fact is none of us fit into the boxes society implicitly dictates for us. Once we’re male, we should like sports (I don’t). Once we’re female, we should like ironing (I don’t). Once we’re straight, we should want to have children (I’m not sure where I stand). Once we’re gay, we should love watching drag queens (I’m not sure where I stand).
And I promise, the world would be a better place if we learnt to meet people as they are, who they are, without filling in the gaps with our psychological equivalent of autopilot.
There’s two more points that I need to make. First — which I’ve picked up from others and am still learning to accept — “they/them” are not my preferred pronouns. They’re the pronouns which I claim and own. It’s not a preference for me, and it shouldn’t be an option for you. Second, I agree that it’s grammatically confusing. Is “they” singular or plural? Or, in other words, does it matter?
With the state of the world, the nation, the Church… we need to just love others for who they are.
And I am they.