When You Use the Wrong Pronoun, You’ve Crossed My Boundary But You Could Never Misgender Me
Note: Do not use my essay to disrespect or violate other trans people because we do not all navigate gender, gender identity, pronoun affirmation, or survival the same. Don’t you dare harm or invalidate other trans people, you demon.
One time this nigga introduced me to a room by saying, “They are nonbinary. Their pronouns are they/them.” I giggled because I never said anything about my pronouns, but my transgender identity was something the organizers knew before I got there. I interjected and said, “Actually, my pronouns are she/her, babe.” They looked at me seemingly betrayed, but never ended up naming what they felt to me afterwards.
Another time, I told someone that I was nonbinary randomly in a conversation and they felt it necessary to share with me that they didn’t believe in using ‘they’ in the singular. I honestly gag at this argument every time because I actually hated English and antiblack grammar growing up so I have no attachment to language in that way. But I laughed and let them know that my pronouns are actually ‘she/her.’ They said, “Well, doesn’t that mean you’re a girl? How do people know if you’re nonbinary?”
What gender is ‘she’? What gender is ‘nigga’? How can you misgender me without knowing my gender? How can I give you a power that only comes with a shared intimacy? I don’t know y’all niggas. And you don’t know me.
Calling me ‘she/her’ isn’t actually misgendering me. Calling me ‘he/ him’ isn’t misgendering me either. Because my gender isn’t translated through my pronouns, only affirmed by them. I don’t look like pronouns, and pronouns don’t look like me. I don’t perform like pronouns, and pronouns don’t perform like me. My pronouns are a boundary. My pronouns are personal. My pronouns are not gendered.
Antiblack systems of oppression create a culture of gendered violence that make us believe pronouns are our gender. If you are a she, you are a girl. If you are a he, you are a boy. And as we make more culture shifts towards incorporating nonbinary and beyond-the-binary genders, these same cages of assumption are being applied to our gender identities without our consent. The violence we’re fighting to eradicate is that of captivity — the brutality of surviving projection of gender. We are fighting for a world where gender is as personal as our deepest thoughts. While we embody the reality that gender is far beyond language, consumption, forecast, proximity, or performance — we are actively being killed and erased by the rigid gazes others keep us in. The gender gaze is that of enslavement — a mirror of the cages the beholder confines themselves to, and the act of other-ing your flesh for their own self-preservation.
The cages others project onto us are the cages they still live in. I don’t define my gender through my pronouns, and my pronouns could never define me. My pronouns are a part of my nomenclature, my name, how to address me, how to reach me and respect me. My pronouns affirm my being, my space, my sensory, my accessibility to the rooms I bless with my presence. If my boundaries aren’t honored, if my request to be called what I want isn’t respected — then I have the choice to decide if I will correct you and hold you accountable. This is how I reclaim the autonomy around my being.
While my truth looks like shifting power by redefining the intimacies of gender, not everyone feels affirmed by this. Some trans folks use pronouns to solidify their gender in a world that denies them access to their true selves. Some of us are forced into assimilation tactics because it shapes our entire experience and access to resources. And often, we use pronouns to affirm what we need to embody in order to survive gendered systems that demand we be consumable and performative at all times.
For me, my gender is always in fugitivity. You cannot capture what you cannot see, you cannot put chains on what shape-shifts. You have zero power and zero ability to misgender me through using the wrong pronoun because my gender isn’t accessible to you.
In my essay “Giving Birth to Language,” I write:
There are as many genders as there are people. Gender is not the absence of or presence of, but rather an affirmation within yourself. Your gender is ever evolving, mutating, transitioning, at war, at peace, but always at home because it lives within you. Acknowledging the vastness of gender is the act of breaking chains from the violence of boxes, cages, limitations, and rigid definitions. Your gender will never fit into one word, because your being will always be the lexicon.
If my gender is always at home because it lives within me, how could you ever disrupt that? Yes, gender violence is a reality for everyone surviving antiblackness. Yes, how you see my body, my genitals, my performance, my being when I move in certain spaces, geographies, situations, in juxtaposition to other bodies will shift what and how much violence I experience. AND, the truth is that our gender is truly a world no one has access to but ourselves. Our gender is between us and our journal. Pronouns will never be the end or the beginning of gender affirmation. Pronouns are footnotes to our transformative journey of self. They are important, but they don’t speak for me.
This essay is an indictment of the gender violence I am surviving daily that creates false intimacies around what is personal, what is unseen, and what is untouchable. While the world has the ability to kill me, the world has no ability to violate what cannot be accessed. You cannot misgender me because you do not know my gender to invalidate, disrupt, or misname it. You can kill me, you can cage me, you can drain my energy, you can project onto me; but who I am won’t die even in chains. No matter how hard antiblackness demands us to assimilate to death, our truths are infinite.
Nonbinary and trans people birth new language, shift grammars, transcend anti-Black normativity, create plurality from binaries, and cultivate life beyond the carcerality of the gender binary. As we develop and breathe life into new language, our language should never become another cage, another world that recreates the prisons we just escaped. So while everyone should respect our boundaries, and do the foreground labor to cultivate a culture of care — we cannot demand that language to do the labor that only we can do.
We should never overestimate the power pronouns have when the power to name all of who we are exists within ourselves. We are the embodiment of language long before we develop it. Let’s use language as a weapon to move us through violence to get us back home to ourselves; knowing home is not contingent on language or translation. No one knows how I see myself, my limbs, my genitals, my embodiments, my secrets, my name, my pleasure, my affirmations, my truth. No one knows my gender but me. And you were always uninvited.