Today, I celebrate being gender-neutral and trans-masculine. Yes, you can be both. And if your identity doesn’t fit into a preconceived linguistic construct, why shouldn’t you explore alternatives?
Pronouns are not just he/him, she/her, they/them. These are more traditional pronouns.
But even half a century ago, people were thinking about gender-neutral pronouns and coming up with the system that I stumbled upon, decades later, which seemed to fit me better than any other.
In 1975, Christine M. Elverson of Skokie, Illinois, won a contest put on by the Chicago Association of Business Communicators, the results of which were published in an article by the Chicago Tribune
Christine proposed replacing he and she with “ey,” him and her with “em” and possessive his and her with “eir.” Basically, she took the “th” off of each of the plural pronouns. Genius! Ey, em and eir are all pronounced as one syllable just like he and she. To those of us who are geeks of the English language, “they” and “them” just don’t feel right as singular forms, even for me. Yet “ey” fulfilled that spot in my heart that “they” could not.
This story is a part of Selves, a newsletter about gender and identity by PublicSource.
Sign up today.
(Yes, I was that kid in school who enjoyed diagramming sentences and editing and typing up other people’s reports in college.)
Ey isn’t too familiar to most folks. Even Zoom still has traditional pronouns, so I must call myself a they instead of an ey.
From elementary until high school, I was bullied because I looked androgynous. Many times I was pointed at by kids, or their parents, who asked, “What is it?” They would ask that to my mother, or me, or their parent. I was the child called “It,” before the book was ever published.
The first time I knew something was really different about me was when my mother took me to Rehoboth Beach and a man asked me, directly, the question, “What are you?” His look was tender and loving. His question had meaning. You could see it in his eyes. Mom came over, sensing the question. “Is he saying something mean to you?” I can still hear it in her voice. And I can still hear my reply to her, “No, mommy, he just asked me a question.” I had never been asked in that fashion before. It has remained with me ever since.
Growing up as a very sheltered Gen X’er, it wouldn’t be until later in my life that I would be exposed to unconventional pronouns. So don’t feel bad if this is your first time with materials like this.
The very first time I came across these pronouns was at Central Outreach Wellness Center [COWC], on the North Side. I had always seen the pronoun buttons some folks use to express their identities, but was afraid to ask what they meant. I knew the typical he/she/they versions, but ey/em/eir, ze/zem/hir and xe/xem/xyr were totally new and foreign to me. Surely, I thought, these were made-up words.
One day, after going to COWC for nearly five years, I decided to ask someone at the desk. I was two years into my non-binary journey, These new pronouns looked appealing. I wanted to know their meaning. The person who I talked to said they were neopronouns, and that I should look them up when I got home. Of course I did.
Ey, em and eir make non-binary a much easier fit with my love of English. I’ve had friends say to me that they couldn’t claim to be non-binary because of they/them pronouns. Ey, em and eir are the perfect replacement for me. And I believe it can be the same perfect replacement for others who choose it.
There are many more forms of pronouns that you can look up at on the internet. We’re just breaking the pronoun ice here.
For those thinking that this is just a 70’s thing that took off, did you know that there is a set of pronouns that was first used in a 1920 novel called “A Voyage to Arcturus” by David Lindsay? The pronouns were made for an alien race that was born from a third sex and the element of air. That pronoun set is ae/aer.
Much later, neopronouns were born. Wait! What’s a neopronoun? So glad you asked!
Ze/hir/hirs or ze/zir/zirs are neopronouns. Ze/zer/mer goes back to 1997, used by Richard Creel, a philosophy and religion professor at Ithaca College.
In 1998, Kate Bornstein published the book “My Gender Workbook,” and thereby created zie, sie and hir.
One of my favorite books is Ashley Mardell’s “The ABC’s of LGBT.” The author, now named Ash Hardell, also has a YouTube Channel that was my entryway into learning about myself and the definitions in our varied communities in the rainbow.
Pronouns (or neopronouns) do not necessarily indicate a person’s gender identity. Gender identity is a rather private, personal thing. Sharing gender identity means I feel vulnerable to open up how I see myself to you. It means I trust you – which means I trust you to not intentionally misgender me. I’ve opened up to people who I thought I could trust with my gender identity, who then only served to misgender me every single time they saw me. One person bullied me with misgendering for seven years, here in Pittsburgh. I kept sticking up for myself, and it finally came to an end.
I gave many people time to adjust to my pronouns. Seven years is a long time to be “out” to the people you know. If that isn’t enough time to get someone adjusted to your new way of perceiving yourself, I don’t know what is.
Gender identity can be fluid, hence genderfluid. As a non-binary (which is considered as a third gender), trans-masculine, demi-sexual, I’m a little bit on the rarer side of the spectrum. Before a demi-sexual, like me, gets into anything physically sexual, we have to have a deep feeling that we resonate with this person. Mardell defined demisexual as a person who only experiences attraction to people with whom they have formed a strong emotional bond.
I can almost hear some of you muttering: “What did you just say?” Stick with me.
So many of us, when we begin our journeys into transitioning, cross the line of androgyny. In the trans community we have Female to Male (FTM) (that’s me!) and Male to Female (MTF). Trans-masculine individuals (who take testosterone), like me, are much less in the population than our transfeminine counterparts (who take estrogen).
People can also use multiple types of pronouns. I’ve gone through he/they through the years. Having the courage and confidence to tell people your new pronouns is sometimes hard. Other times it is easier. It depends on who you’re telling.
When you find who you really are, what is at the core of your essence and soul, what pronouns really define you, it is an amazing and fulfilling experience beyond words.
To find a verbiage that reflects your insides to your outsides makes you feel like you can scream to the world, “This is me!” Our real selves come out and truly reflect who we are. It is then that we know true happiness.
When we have the language — our pronouns — to know who we are, and who we are not, we effectively produce a core of intimacy in humanity. That seed of intimacy, through the use of proper pronouns, gets planted in every life that touches ours — especially when our pronouns are properly respected. The experience of being human becomes better because I know what kind of human I am, and now I get to share that with others.
Note: Some of the information for this article was taken from www.pronouns.org, and the Pronoun Wiki at www.pronoun.fandom.com.
Aim Comperatore is an independent advocate and writer with degrees in criminal justice and a love of legal research. If you want to reach Aim, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you feel more informed?
Help us inform people in the Pittsburgh region with more stories like this — support our nonprofit newsroom with a donation.