I have only just recently started using male pronouns when I refer to Alvar. As he is not ‘out’ as a man to the majority of the people that we know, I only speak of him as ‘he’ when I am talking to a few of our closest friends. I admit that I feel ambiguous about this. Things that used to make me smile, like when someone affectionately calls us ‘you girls’, or hearing Alvar being referred to as my ‘girlfriend’ (a term I used to use with pride), now make me feel uneasy.
Yesterday I told Alvar that I wasn’t sure about what to do once he starts using male pronouns only; the simple act of saying ‘she’ about my partner has become a way for me to navigate through the world. People treat you very differently, depending on if they consider you straight or gay (unfortunately, most of the time, these seem to be the only two options that people are aware of when it comes to sexual orientation). When I used to date men, I found that straight women often bonded through talking about their boyfriends, or by remarking the differences in behaviour between men and women. I never felt comfortable in that kind of environment; firstly, because at that time, I identified as bisexual, and so this kind of ‘between us ladies, you know what men are like’-jargon didn’t feel applicable to me. Secondly, I wanted to connect with people through other things that we had in common, regardless of which gender that person might be.
Being out as a lesbian, my experience is that people talk to me in a another way. If they ask about my girlfriends, it is more with curiousity, rather than making assumptions about my relationships. There also seems to be some kind of unspoken understanding that I might be living my life differently than straight people, just because my partner has the same gender as I do.
Bearing the politics of pronouns in mind, Alvar suggested that I use the gender neutral ‘they’ when I talk to new people about him. That way, we can still make visible the fact that our relationship is not a standard heterosexual one. We joked about calling him my ‘transband’ rather than ‘husband’ once we get married, but I suspect that people might misunderstand me completely, thinking that I am referring to a Transatlantic music band rather than the person that I am married to.
Maintaining a queer identity is something that I am a lot more concerned about than Alvar is. His androgynous appearance and way of being has enabled him to be part of communities of both women and men, while my sense of belonging has been strongly within the lesbian feminist realm. While this is something that has offered me a lot of comfort, I am also aware that it limits me. The term ‘sisterhood’ has a sharp tang of exclusion in it, and I don’t want to be building walls – society is harsh enough towards people whom it considers to be outside its norms, for us to start creating even more division amongst ourselves.
While I battle with my own linguistic definitions, I worry about how people in general will react to Alvar when he starts telling people to use his true pronouns. Before he begins with HRT, there is a risk that people will question his gender identity. We have been very lucky so far – the people that Alvar as come out to, have all been supportive and encouraging.
I think that the ‘Ask me about my pronouns’ jewellery is brilliant. Any person, with any gender identity, can wear them to highlight the fact that if you want to speak about someone, about who they really are, you have to ask them about their true identity first. I would definitely wear a necklace like that. I’m sure it would lead to some interesting conversations.
© ‘He&She’ by Alvar