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I have been saying I am queer since 1995. I was 25. I was on my way out of the Mormon church. I was on my way out of South Dakota. I was on my way to having the space to feel myself fully and not have to package it to the point of distortion. In 1998, I discovered the pronouns “sie” and “hir” through Leslie Feinberg’s Trans-liberation, and I felt that I finally could breathe as I self-referenced with them! And then I looked up from the book and I said out loud to myself, “Like that will ever happen in my lifetime.”

In fall 2019, I went to Icon Tattoo studio in Portland. I had hunted down a tattoo artist who had a style I sought. I wanted to restore, re-invent, re-story the five headed black dragon that had been inked on my low back in 2000. The front desk person flipped the Mac computer on the stand to face me and requested I fill out the paperwork. Mid-way through I was given three options to a question that was marked with a red asterisk, mandatory to answer:

What are your preferred pronouns? He/him; she/her; they/their? I had been here, in this awkward moment before, but differently, with only two options, the first two. And I had always capitulated to my assigned pronouns. This time, I couldn’t. I had finally been given a way out of the binary box and yet I still had no place there. I skipped the question. Finished the form. Flipped the Mac back and went and sat down. Quiet. A few minutes later, I was called back. “You didn’t answer a question.” “Oh, yeah? Which question?” “This one.” “Oh, yeah. Well, what if my preferred pronouns are not given as an option?”

The intake person lit up, became fully awake and bright, like I had just said the interpersonal equivalent of “Open sesame!”

“Oh, really?! Can you tell me what they are? Can you spell them? Can you write them down? Thank you so much for your feedback! We want to be inclusive!” I was elated, I felt like I was in flight! However, as soon as I returned to my seat, I started to panic. When called back, I finished my intake efficiently and made an appointment to return for the tattoo, and then I carried that panic home:

I had credited young people and social media to propel “they” and “them” forward, successfully breaking the binary barrier. I was seriously impressed, but I did not relate to they/them, so that success left my habits of capitulating into the binary system untouched. I did not (and still do not) personally know anyone who uses sie/hir pronouns. I know and have met several people who relate to and go by they/them pronouns. What if my pronoun preferences are unwanted? Seen as problematic? And myself marked as a trouble-making outlier taking away from the youth movement and the success of they/them?

Later that week as I was working, I flipped into a resource given by my college’s Center for Teaching and Learning. It was an article by Sassafras Lowrey, a young trans-activist author. The point of the article? Hir personal preference for hir/sie (except spelled ze) pronouns! Wow. I couldn’t believe it nor the timing. I can exist today. I CAN exist today in language. I began to digest that possibility and started to tell people close in my life that a change in my pronouns was coming. Then, within just a few weeks, my trail-running co-pilot, my partner in life for 14 years, and overall, best teacher for how to be a good human, my dog Mona died. I hit a dark depression; most of my energy went to maintaining obligations and surviving. Next, a few months later, in March 2020, I was hit with Covid19 and contracted severe post-acute sequelae (Long Covid).

My symptoms incapacitated me for over a year. Notable healing began in April 2021, and started to accelerate June 2021 once I was connected with a knowledgeable occupational therapist. Unluckily, I contracted Covid19 again in September and my progress was derailed. I am still overcoming that interruption to my healing rhythm today. I am fully alert and less plagued by painful and debilitating symptoms, but still unable to make my big art, an incredibly physical activity, and my goal of returning to the studio this November will most likely be postponed. BUT. I am able to make a change that has been brewing in me for over two years:

I have just changed the she/her pronouns in my “about” section on my artist’s website to sie/hir, (pronounced “sze” and “here”).

And felt I needed to acknowledge this change with some words here even though acknowledging my trans-identity seems like an impossible project. There is always more to say. I am queer; I am genderqueer, I have witnessed my gender fluidity for 45 years, and I exist outside the binary expectations of male or female and the binary categorizations of either masculine or feminine. I am trans-gender; I exceed.

After 17 months of illness and recovery, I was finally able to teach a class this term. I chose Introduction to Women’s Studies over my philosophy classes. I did not know why I made that choice, I have always favored teaching philosophy (at its best, a spiritual tool to feel love of life even within the pain of existence) over the emotional agony of opening the wounds of patriarchy for examination. But, I trusted it would reveal itself. Today, I believe it was so I could be given a gift by a student to share here. Without it and its call for trans acknowledgment, I might never have gotten this acknowledgement started, and thus might not have initiated that much needed change “about” me.

For an assignment which requested resources that would help us feel empowered in all our varied gender expressions, they posted this discussion with Alok on the podcast, Man Enough. I leave it here as a gift for you:

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