Posted by: maxvoltage | December 20, 2010

the pronoun question

People often ask me which pronoun i prefer.  I have answered this question in pretty much every way one could answer, to varying degrees of effectiveness.  There are different struggles for me, challenges in each answer I give.  Here’s a rundown:

In our binary world, I am usually perceived as female (except for in airports, the only place I consistently get called “He”).  Perhaps because Portland is a relatively queer & gender-deviant place, and thus folks are used to more masculine-presenting women, and I don’t throw them off, and get called “She” without a missed beat.  The occasional grocery store clerk will “He” me, but then just gets confused & embarrassed once we actually begin speaking.  Just the other day I was walking to work in the Pearl District and a Greenpeace person yelled at me “Hey there guy, you like the kind of Man who wants to save the world.”  I was amused, and kept walking (less ‘cause of the gender situation and more ‘cause I avoid the clipboard carrying folk at all cost.)

I walk around in the world as someone female-socialized, and I don’t deny that history, and how that fact has shaped and continues to shape my reality.  The problem with “She” is that I don’t identify as a woman, per say.  I identify as genderqueer.  And here’s where my identity gets tricky.  It doesn’t quite fit into “She.”  “She” keeps the gender binary intact.  “She” makes my genderqueerness invisible.

I first started being called “He” when I became a drag king, and my friends who knew me in that world called me Max all the time, and the associated pronoun was “He.”  And i liked it, it felt right.  So when my drag king identity seeped into my all the time identity, “He” came along for the ride.  It often sounds weird to me when I hear Max and “She” in a sentence together.   In our transgendered queer bubble, the fact that I go by a chosen name that is masculine-slanting, signifies to most that they should call me “He” or, at the least, ask what pronoun i prefer.  What I love about “He” is that it makes my genderqueerness visible.  But it also has the potential to create confusion in the larger, gender binary world.  I once had a boss who asked my pronoun during my job interview.  I was taken aback at being asked this question in this context, and I answered “He.”  However, later i regretted the decision, as my boss would “fuck up” my pronoun, aka say “she” and then freak-out about it and create a bit of a scene in professional contexts.  My boss would refer to me as “He” via email to people I had never met before, and then once we met, it was confusing, and suddenly the conversation was about my gender, when really we needed to talk about the work.

Another “He” anecdote- I was touring recently with Chris Pureka, and everyone in the bad was on the masculine side of dyke/queer identities. Our own little queer boyband (Abby Posner, myself and Lyndell Montgomery pictured)  Our last stop was in San Francisco, and we stayed with one of the members of the other band touring with us, and her boyfriend.  Well, apparently word got to the boyfriend that one of the band members went by “He” which confused the hell out of him.  So, he asks Chris, “which one is the man?”  All of us boy-ish queers seemed both equally likely and also equally unlikely candidates to be “the man” in the band.  Chris later told me the story, hoping I wouldn’t be upset.  I thought it was hilarious and awesome.  The reality is, I am not a man, nor do I want to be; I have no interest in walking through the world as a man.  Power to those who do, but it’s not me.  I am relatively happy in the way I walk through the world, and the body I inhabit.  For that reason, outside our genderqueer/trans/queer community, the pronoun “He,” read from the binary perspective, doesn’t make a lot of sense, and often creates more confusion than it’s worth.

“Ze/Hir, They” and other gender-neutral pronouns
While I like these in theory, in practice it often becomes a huge pain.  Especially if you’ve never used gender neutral pronouns before.  You have to re-train your brain to make it work and/or be grammatically incorrect, and again, if you’re talking to someone outside our queer/genderqueer bubble, they really have no idea what you’re talking about.  I’m all about teachable moments but, there is a time and a place and a limit to how many you’re willing to have every day, and how many you want to by proxy force your community & friends to have on your account.

“It’s cool, whatever you feel like, there’s no wrong answer”
While this is true, I feel like this answer just confuses people and they don’t really know what to do.  In my experience, folks like to have a set answer, and being vague seems like I’m not answering their question.

In Conclusion…
For me, pronoun is not a simple question nor a simple conversation.  My identity doesn’t fit into the world we’ve constructed, and thus the language doesn’t ever quite fit either.  It is important to me to be seen as genderqueer within my queer community.  We understand that gender is a social construct, and pronouns mean a very different thing to us than they do those in the mainstream society.  I like being called “He” by people who understand the variety of genders “He” can represent.  But the ability to see gender in this way is not something we all stumbled into, its a lot of work, re-programming what we’ve been socialized, and I get that not everyone is there.  Being called “She” in professional contexts, with my biological family, and friends who aren’t part of our genderqueer bubble, is totally acceptable.  And I just trust that these folks see my genderqueerness too, just with different language understandings than within my queer community.

I am a changeling; my identity doesn’t fit into the way our society has constructed gender.  My gender is complicated.  There is no one right answer and thus, there is no wrong answers, either.  You can’t “fuck up” my pronoun, even if you try.



  1. Great piece Max! Joe could have written it. You two see the issue almost word for word!

  2. Eloquent, poignant, relieving and enlightening.
    Thanks, Max!

  3. I really appreciate your discussion on this. Even though I do walk through the world seen as a man, it by no means is a clear and accurate definition of my gender identity or whom I am.

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