Last summer I was home during Pride month or some such, Charlottesville is a bit weird because our Pride breaks canon for some reason and takes place in September or what, and I stopped by a little queer summer market for queer-owned businesses that popped up at one of the local breweries. There was a table there selling some candles and soap and I stopped by to pick something up. The person working the booth misgendered me, or at least made a mistake, using “he” for me before embarrassingly stopping to ask my pronouns. I just looked and responded, “genuinely I do not care.” This is where I’m at, ten years after I took my first steps towards transition.
They’re “she/her” by the way, but if you mess it up honestly, I forgive you. It’s fine. And if you purposefully use the wrong ones I’m going to think you’re an asshole, but I probably already arrived at that conclusion before you reached for a tired and cheap attack. If you deliberately misgender me, it’s not fine, and I hope you spill tomato sauce on your favorite wool sweater.
Sometimes at work, I get on a larger call with folks who haven’t met and in nearly every case I’m the only trans person there. We do the whole introduce yourself and your pronouns and it just feels gratuitous and awkward and performative. Somewhere in the last decade or so we’ve somehow decided that this is the grand token of activism that cisgender people can contribute to trans equality and that in doing so all the gender problems of the world will be solved. I don’t know if you noticed but it hasn’t worked.
I took my pronouns out of my profiles a few years ago now. As it turns out, having my pronouns there didn’t do a lot to make me feel included but it did do a lot to crank up harassment. I know it’s not the same for everyone, especially trans folks who are newly out, but a decade later I’m at the point where I don’t need gender validation, I need gender vengeance. I don’t care if you get my gender right or wrong, man, I’m just trying to buy a bagel. Just let me get on with my life. Go ahead and assume my gender. I don’t give a fuck. I’m sitting on a cache of a thousand problems and ten thousand opportunities and you don’t rank among either. Just get out of my way.
I do understand the normalizing effect asking for pronouns can have and how it can help people who use pronouns outside the standard binary. I used “they/them” for a long time until I had to explain that to the FBI and decided that was fucking weird and I never want to do that again. And I’m not saying that asking for pronouns is bad or that we should stop doing that. But I’m also over pretending that we must ritualize it or forever live in sin. I’m over pretending like it only makes my life better and not sometimes considerably, immeasurably worse. There’s a value calculus here and it’s different for everyone. If it makes it worth it for you, I’m happy to do it for you, no question. But in my day to day I’ve got other things to do, so if you don’t mind I’ll opt out when it’s only my benefit on the line.
Pronoun discourse bores me. I don’t actually think that normalizing asking for pronouns has done a whole lot for the trans rights movement, honestly. I think we’ve confused structural, material gains for interpersonal ones. It’s not that they don’t matter. It’s that we didn’t couple the cultural shift with a political one. Bad timing or bad strategy, I don’t know. But it’s tiresome and I’m tired and I would just like to have stable access to my prescriptions and if you think my voice sounds deep then yeah, that’s fine, that’s how it is when you transition as an adult and if the world were fair there’d be a lot of bigger problems solved, too. I’d trade correcting my pronouns every single day for the rest of my life for a single legally-protected right.
In this post:
Every winter when I am home I get in a big productive streak. Sometimes it’s working on my website. Other times it’s working on the house. This year, I’m organizing. We’ve gathered a lot of stuff over the years. Some of it needs to be donated or sold. Some of it needs to be thrown out. And some of it just needs to consistently be put in the same damn place. I can’t complain too much. I’m not home enough to keep on top of things. But a little purge now and again can be good for the soul.
What I’m reading
The above pronoun rant was largely motivated by the astonishing boredom that I felt while reading Dennis Barron’s What’s Your Pronoun. It’s not a bad book. It’s just that it’s mostly a history of gender neutral pronouns with a little bit of trans identity politics sprinkled in. Some 100 pages or so of the book are dedicated to 19th C. weirdos. It’s nice to know that the English language has long suffered the pronoun problem. And it’s also familiar to see that pronoun freakouts have always emerged on the heels of gender equality movements. But the book taught me very little I hadn’t already learned from five years of anti-TERF discourse and the book avoided any real interrogation of social justice, spending all its time on grammar, instead. It’s a nice reference to have on the shelf and an easy read. But for anyone interested in trans politics there are surely more interesting, enlightening books instead.
I also decided I was ready to read some Kafka in the original German. I picked up a Taschenbuch containing Das Urteil (The Judgement) and Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis) and read through it in a week. They’re not long stories. But they do contain volumes about German psychology. I can understand why it’s mandatory reading for German speakers.
What I’m listening to
I’ve been digging Noah Kahan’s _Stick Season (We’ll All Be Here Forever). I’m a sucker for a banjo and songs stuck in the tension between the impossibility of modern life and the relentless urge to be a part of it. “Dial Drunk” is a great illustration of exactly this. Kahan has an early Mumford & Sons or early Lumineers kind of vibe; it’s earned him a Grammy nod for Best New Artist. Best of luck to him!
What I’m watching
I finished up Loki. Meh. Tough to see how the series retains long-lived relevance after Jonathan Majors was found guilty, especially after how prominent a role he played in the show and the saga to date.
But I did take the chance to rewatch Taken this week. This movie holds up. It’s a pure action film and one which retains a particular attention to detail. The sequels were no good, ignore them. The original’s plot was perfectly woven with a plot that unfolded the right details at the right moments and gave Neeson an unquestionable moral license to simply beat the hell out of people. A good vengeance flick is harder to pull off than it seems. Taken inspired my Charlottesville activism, minus the physical retribution. But I did have a particular set of skills…
What I’m learning
This week I had two Azure certification tests scheduled during my annual Personal Development Budget days. I studied for and passed both the SC-900 Security & Compliance Fundamentals test and the AI-900 AI Fundamentals test. Both were easy tests, but I did learn something from both. I might mess around with Azure ML Studio during my break. It’s gotten really good in the last couple of years.
Art and culture
On Monday this week I had an appointment up in Northern Virginia, and I took the opportunity to meet up with my dear friend, Eve in DC. We met up at the National Gallery, where a Mark Rothko exhibit was running. A Rothko recently sold at auction for a cool $82.5M, which of course brought out all of the critique from the AI peanut gallery on Twitter. Why is this worth so much, they ask. It must be money laundering, says the same crowd of people that spent all 2022 trying to artificially inflate the price of a URL to a badly drawn JPEG of a monkey. Kate Wagner’s counter-critique put it perfectly:
Anyways, the exhibit was great and definitely worth it. I lament not picking up a book from the gift shop.
My dent in the universe
For reasons I can’t quite understand, I did a Google Books search for my name and discovered something surprising: there were at least a dozen books with my name in them published in the last few years that I was totally unaware of. And a few of them were right wing grievance pieces which took old tweets of mine and complaining about them without understanding them at all. It’s a very powerful position to hold knowing that someone can build a whole victim culture around what you tweet. Now that I’ve left Twitter, what are they going to do now, is my question. But besides that, some of the books look cool and relevant. I’ve ordered them and am excited to read through them. No one really tells you when they include you in a book for the most part. It’s a weird thing to discover after the fact.