Among the questions I get asked most often: what are your pronouns?
I’m usually asked by people who want to quote me in something they’re writing or want to know how to introduce me for a webinar or presentation I’m part of.
I have layers of pronouns, including a set of “professional pronouns” I use when doing public work Iike writing or presenting. At the core, my pronouns are mirror pronouns.
What are mirror pronouns and why do I use them?
I came up with the term “mirror pronouns” in 2018, when I was rehearsing for roles in the upcoming production of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues at Naropa University. I had been on testosterone for a year and a half by that point and had reached a stage in my body’s changes where strangers routinely called me “he” and “sir” about 90% of the time.
Three of us had met at someone’s house to rehearse the choreography for a sketch we were doing together (the cute little one about what your vagina would wear and say). My fellow actors were referring to me as “she” and “her” during our rehearsal and I couldn’t help noticing the warm feelings I had around that. I found those feelings confusing, because I really don’t like it when cis men call me “she” but I felt so included, so seen, so loved when this cis woman and this non-binary person who used “she/they” were both calling me “she.”
After much soul searching and journaling, I realized my gender is relational. I had been shying away from the term “genderfluid” without understanding why. It’s because I *am* genderfluid, but that word alone didn’t feel like my word. When my companions used their gendered pronoun to refer to me I felt seen and had a sense of belonging.
I don’t have a gender. I also don’t identify as “agender” because, like “genderfluid” it doesn’t feel like a word that really communicates who I am. When I am alone, I don’t experience myself as having a gender. I’m not even sure what gender is…until I discovered that my gender is relational, I wasn’t sure anyone had a gender. It was just something I had to trust because other people communicated gendered experiences.
Gender is constructed and mine gets constructed in relationship. My core gender drive is belonging and when I am with someone and feel accepted by them, I experience my gender as being the same as their gender. If they use a different pronoun to refer to me, they construct another layer of my gender. For example, I have a dear friend who is a butch woman. When I am with her, I experience myself as having the same blend of masculine and feminine energy that she puts out. She enjoys my masculine presentation and refers to me as “he”. That adds an overlay, kind of like a theatrical gel sheet that changes the color of a spotlight or footlight. I am still that light that is her gender and I am also shifted to a masculine hue by her loving use of “he” pronouns. When I am not interacting with her, that light turns off and the gel filters nothing because I don’t have my own gender.
I also have professional pronouns, which are “plural they”. I am not a multiple system, yet my professional “they/them” is plural because, as a writer and speaker, I am reflecting the genders of my audience. My audience is “plural they” and so am I when I am entertaining, educating, validating, etc. a group of other people.
Crowds are overwhelming for me when I am not separated by the role of serving them or by an actual physical divider like a stage or podium. When I am serving a group — as a speaker, as a facilitator, etc. — the distance makes a sort of bubble that keeps me calm and grounded. But when I am in the middle of a crowd, like when I’m shopping, for example, it is overwhelming to my senses and psyche.
Some of my overwhelm in crowds is caused by having some of my senses intensified by my autistic neurology: so many smells, so much motion, people moving around unpredictably. I have Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD) so all the words being spoken are just a blur to me. I don’t have “cocktail party ear” so in crowds I am simultaneously overwhelmed by too much sound and Hard of Hearing because I can only understand written or signed language with a few snatches of words anytime I’m able to lipread (which is spotty and inconsistent for me but I have learned that I do rely heavily on lip reading to understand people in noisy environments.)
I am also overwhelmed by crowds because I have prosopagnosia (face blindness). I become anxious because I feel like I don’t know anyone, I don’t know if there is someone there I *do* know but do not recognize. What if someone I don’t want to talk to is there and sees me and I end up in a conversation with them before I realize who they are? (This happens to me a lot) What if someone who has stalked or threatened me is there and I can’t see them? (This has happened to me before.) Will someone become angry with me if I don’t greet them properly? And if I’m there with someone, I cling to them ridiculously, for fear that they will slip from my line of sight for half a second and I won’t be able to find them again.
But once I realized how relational my gender is, I started paying attention to my gender feelings in crowds and realized how much “noise” there is for me there, too. Sometimes I joke that I have to use the family/accessible toilet because I am disabled by having “too much gender”. But that joke is based on my reality of actually experiencing too much gender when I’m embedded in a crowd. As a metagender Autist, I’ve found my dysphoria can often be drowned out by everything from autistic super-senses to trauma responses, all of which shout more loudly than dysphoria, confusing me. But crowds are dysphoric for me because the relational gender pull is coming from so many people in so many directions at once it throws me into shutdown.
So there’s a little bit of my history with relational gender and mirror pronouns. Life has been a long journey of discovery for me, with new insights unfolding all the time. I’ve noticed that Autistic people tend to keep developing for the entire trajectory of our lifespan, compared to neurotypical people who tend to be pretty settled in to their identity by age 25 and generally don’t shift very much after that age (although, of course, there are striking exceptions. Speaking of groups in the aggregate will always leave out the outliers. I try to avoid speaking about groups of people for that reason: I root for the underdog and back the outlier every time.)
I cherish that lifelong capacity for growth in myself and those around me. All of which is to say that it was a long path to get here and I can’t predict where I will be in another 10 or 20 years, if I’m still alive. All of this hard-won self-knowledge could shift again. I may be destined to spend my whole life in “figuring it out mode.”
And that’s a great thing.
What I tell people when I introduce my pronouns while facilitating peer support groups for Autistic Trans/Non-binary/GNC folks: I accept all pronouns offered in love, or at least without malice. I don’t have any pronouns, so feel free to use whichever feel right to you. I feel especially seen if you use mirror pronouns, which is using your pronouns to refer to me, but I know pronouns can be hard for some people, so don’t worry. Use the pronouns that come first to your mind when you type or speak about me and they will be the right ones. Unless you’re coming at me with hate, you literally can’t get it wrong.