Pronouns and Paper Cuts

Part 1

It’s not about the pronouns. The pronouns themselves aren’t that important, which is why the pronouns are so very important.

When you use masculine pronouns for me, you’re saying, “I see you as a man. It doesn’t matter how much you object, it doesn’t matter how much you don’t want to play the Bucketing Game, I see you as a man.”

I don’t want to be seen as a man. I don’t want to see myself as a man, but the Bucketing Game is so pervasive, so insidious, that I continue to see myself that way, at least on that immediate implicitly biased level where spoken language usually lives.

It’s not that I see myself as some third gender. It’s not that I’m in denial about my genitals or my chin that needs daily shaving or my deep voice or my comparatively flat chest. I’m not deluded. I’m aware of what my body looks like.

It’s also not that I personally want to get rid of most of those things. I like my voice. I’m mostly indifferent to my chest and genitals, although some days I’d like to look curvy in a dress without … well, that’s for part 2.

Shaving my chin every day is tiresome, but the alternative sounds painful, expensive, and time consuming. So I shave my chin every day.

When I see myself as a man, I have a payload of emotions, a collage of behaviors, that I wish to reject. Also, I don’t wish to participate in the entire compartmentalization of perceptions that goes with the Bucketing Game.

And I play it myself. I play it constantly. I fight against it, but even in a room where the majority of people are nonbinary, my brain is still putting people into two buckets.

Including myself.

When I say it’s not about the pronouns, I mean that the pronouns are a proxy. Changing the pronouns but keeping everything else the same won’t dismantle the game. It won’t remove me from it. If that’s all you do, the bucketing will still happen; if that’s all you do, you’ll still see me as a man.


There are two major cultural wars going on right now, and while they superficially look the same, on one level they’re the opposite. The anti-CRT/BLM agenda is allegedly about erasing the relevance of race (it isn’t really: It’s really about white supremacy and denial of racial privilege, but those are the attempted optics).

The anti-trans agenda is openly about essentializing the relevance of gender-as-sex. While the anti-“woke” rallying cry is that One Sentence from King about judging people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin, the anti-trans agenda is entirely about judging people by the content of their genitals.

This opposition of theme in the conflation of anti-“wokeness”, belies the claim that the first war is about “content of character”.

I digress.

I don’t have pronouns. I reject the game, and I struggle to stop playing it.

I don’t have pronouns because I don’t know what my gender is, which means you should use the pronouns that we have decided to use in situations where someone’s identity is unknown: They/them.

“Hey, someone left their wallet on the counter!”

“There’s someone at the door, I heard them knocking.”

Not everyone who uses they/them pronouns feels the way I do. But this is the way I feel.

Part 2

This has all been said. By me, by so many others, I don’t know what the point of saying it again is.

I’m saying it again anyway. Maybe this time, it’ll sink in for some new people.

Here are my options: When you speak incorrectly of me, I could say something. Or I could say nothing.

If I say nothing, if I ascribe your error to benevolent error, I receive a tiny little paper cut on my soul. I know you, I know that if I say something, you’ll feel remorse. You’ll apologize. You didn’t mean it. It’s all just instinct. I know all this.

Your intent isn’t malice, you’ve just got more important things to worry about than who I am.

My essence, at most moments in time, isn’t that important to you. Most people have more important things to worry about than to carry around “who you are”s for everyone they interact with.

So: Say nothing, little nick on my heart, it’ll heal. Usually.

If I say something and it goes poorly, it’s a gouge on my soul. I can silently ascribe the error to benevolent indifference; if I say something, I risk a lot more. I am no longer solely in charge of the emotional narrative.

Maybe it’ll go smoothly, but even then, I worry: I am now the person who Says Something. I am now the person that needs to be Worried About. I fear that my exertion of my own identity has made me a liability.

And the next time you cut me, the paper cut will be deeper because we’ve had this conversation.

So: Say something, gouge from my heart, and those take longer to heal.

I don’t write this to make anyone reading this feel guilty, but rather in the hope that some of you will reflect on this: It’s not about the pronouns, it’s about what the pronouns represent.

And if I don’t say anything, it’s not because I’m fine even if I say “I’m fine”. It means that, today, right now, I’ve chosen the paper cut over the deep laceration.

To finish my thought from above:

Some days I’d like to look curvy in a dress without feeling like a freak, but those cuts run really deep. Far deeper than the pronouns. I put on a skirt and the intrusive voice is constant: You’re in women’s clothes. Everyone sees that. You’re playing a pointless game in order to get attention. Take that thing off, you freak. Everyone’s laughing at you right now. Just get over yourself and be a man.

That, except with cuss words.

No matter how much jewelry I put on, no matter what clothing I wear, I fear I will always be seen as “a man in a dress”, and I grew up seeing what my society thinks of men in dresses: They’re the butt of jokes. A punchline. I wasn’t weaned on Norman Bates and Buffalo Bill (although they were there), I was weaned on Kip and Henry, on Mrs. Doubtfire and Tootsie.

Ultimately, it’s not that I have a deep need to wear skirts. It’s that I’m tired of wearing pants. I want to have more choices, but that voice keeps muttering inside my head.

But all I’m asking for you to do is to be more mindful of my pronouns.

And that seems so hard for so many of you that I just give up and try to ignore the deep, infected abscesses of shame that you graze with each paper cut.

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