Part of the reason I recently changed my legal name is because when you’re a nonbinary, bisexual, or pansexual person – anyone whose preferences aren’t necessarily immediately visible – “coming out” isn’t quite as distinct and irrevocable as it is for most people. The popular perception is that bi- and pansexuality are midway between gay and straight, as if human attraction could be plotted on a line graph, and that “nonbinary” people are simply transfolk who haven’t finished transitioning. In other words, the state of gender and sexuality in which I’ve spent my life is considered an immature, temporary state, a bit of cowardly dithering before you put on your Big Gay Panties and come out already.
For nonbinary folks, “coming out” can leave the person you’re talking to sitting there at a bit of a loss, wondering, “Oooo….kay, so… will anything actually be changing? What difference will this make?” When you tell someone you’re bisexual, most people still immediately conclude that, secretly, of course you have a preference – look at that person you’re currently dating!
Either way, this is someone saying, “I know you just told me, ‘being put in gendered boxes makes me suicidal,’ but… I really, really would be more comfortable if I could put you in a gendered box, so… if you could just imagine the corpse you’ll leave when you kill yourself, and tell me what its genitals look like? That would be great.”
And I was taught to please, to appease, to be seen and not heard. So if someone tells me that my gender is an inconvenience to them, my impulse is to obediently resume pretending to be whatever makes them comfortable. But… see above re: suicidal. So part of the reason I changed my name to a distinctly, obviously male name is because it forces both me and the person I’m meeting to have that conversation immediately. I can quietly let you misgender me all day long, and then go home and dissociate in the shower… but if you want to talk to me, you have to use the correct name, that’s just how that works. I can’t get around telling it to you, and you can’t get around using it, even if you have a personal problem with the fact that (you suppose) my genitals are unlike those of people who have used this name in the past.
So changing my name was partly a way of coming out firmly and permanently, of drawing a line in the sand about how I expect to be treated. I’m doing this crazy thing lately where I’m only going to have people around me who treat me decently. So far it’s been great for my mental health.
It takes a lifetime to explain to you
what happens on your face when I say,
“Pardon – the pronoun I prefer is ‘they.'”
First you panic – what are you supposed to do?
You want to ask, “Is this transition through?
Do you have plans to give your tits away?”
or maybe, “So, I guess this means you’re gay?”
And I sigh, because this is nothing new.
Millennials did not invent the gay.
We’re not killing the gender industry.
I would simply like, when you look at me…
for a moment, put your boxes away.
Don’t try to categorize what you see.
I need you instead to hear what I say.