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Misgendering and Pronouns

I’m going to talk about using various pronouns in writing later. First, let me give a little #ownvoices background as to why being misgendered is painful. It's one of the many reasons why I'm so passionate about correctly identifying people. As always, I can only speak on behalf of my experiences as a cis woman and no one else.

Shocker: I’m sensitive about my name and what I’m called. It’s Dill. No–not Jill. With a D. *heavy sigh* Yes, like the pickle. I’m not Dillan. Not Dylis. Not Delilah (I’ve been asked). It’s just four little letters: D-I-L-L. You can call me Ms. Werner or Mrs. Werner [Redacted Married Name] if we’re in a business setting. When I was sending out queries, I’d always sign off with Ms. Dill Werner. If I didn’t, without fail, I’d get a response to Mr. Werner. It’s like a knife to the heart every time. Ugly little Dill will never be like the other girls, never good enough to feel pretty or feminine.

I do NOT blame the agents. They have a lot to go through and my name isn’t as androgynous to some people as it is to others. Side note: Dill is a familial name that originated from the Welsh female name Dilys. Still, it hurts to be misgendered. I feel like I’ve come so far from that little kid on the playground, who was crying because people made fun of their name, buck teeth, and mushroom haircut. I'm comfortable in my femininity now, and to be slapped in the face with “Mr. Werner” reminds me of all the times I didn’t feel worthy.

If it hurts this much for me, a ciswoman who doesn't have to try to pass as female, then what can it be like for someone who is terrified of being clocked as the opposite gender? If you want to know what you can do to prevent misgendering, then use their name and "you" until you learn their pronouns. Avoid addressing someone or groups of people by gendered terms like "lady," "guy," "dude," "ma'am," "sir," etc. If you're speaking at a conference or in a classroom, ladies and gentlemen doesn't cut it. There are people outside of the gender binary. Some options for addressing mixed groups are:

People
Individuals
Persons
Everyone
You all or All of you
Guests
 Those gathered
Audience members
Readers/Listeners (fill in for the appropriate audience)

Until I was about 10 or 11-years-old, people would ask me if I was a boy. I had short hair, a masculine style to hide my body, and didn’t really have many features that screamed, “I’m a girl!” I wasn’t a tomboy by any means. I also wasn’t girly because I didn’t believe I had the right to be. In my mind, only pretty girls wore dresses and made themselves up. I wanted to disappear into the background of rock music and alternative style.

When I finally came into myself, I learned to be proud of my name. It wasn’t until I was teaching in Germany that I felt ashamed of it once more. Germany has strict naming laws that follow the gender binary. For a closer look into the laws with examples click here and for a brief overview click here.

A child’s first name should easily reveal their gender. Only male children can be assigned male names and only female children female names. The name cannot be degrading to the child or absurd by the standards of the law. No negative Bible names. Sorry Delilah, Judas, Lilith, and Cain. You’re out. You cannot give the child a last name as a first name, which made me very angry since this is where Dill comes from. The highest courts in Germany have even gone so far as to put a limit on hyphenated last names. Werner-Smith would be fine. Werner-Smith-Johnson is a no-go.

While teaching in an elementary school in Magdeburg, I would constantly be told by the adults that “Dill” wasn’t a real name and that I’d never be allowed to have such a name in Germany. It doesn’t help that “Werner” is actually a very popular, traditional male first name across the country.

First of all, f**k gendered names and their laws. Sorry if you have one, but a person shouldn’t have to limit what they name their child because of the gender binary. Dill is an awesome name. It gives me androgyny in the writing world. I’m currently writing adult and young adult Sci-Fi and Fantasy, two genres where having a non-female name has statistically been proven to boost sales. But the fact that I was assigned female at birth will also bring in readership. My gender is complicated. I go by she/her and use female for now, but that may change to something less rigid. I’m not one for convenient little boxes.

If there’s one thing I’m insistent (preachy) about in my queer circus book, it’s pronouns and preferred names. There are about 4 genders currently residing in and out of tent city. Those individuals have preferences on how they want to be address and the pronouns the use, which are shown on the page. I have a non-binary clown, who prefers the pronoun xie/xir. And there is another gender-neutral circus leader who kindly steps off of their pirate ship for a bit to visit the Zirkus. This individual uses the singular they. I will admit that I chose these separate pronouns for two reasons: to raise awareness of the pronouns and to provide a clear distinction between the gender-neutral and non-binary character. If you’d like more information on gender-neutral pronouns here is a complete list of examples, their cases, and the history behind their uses, here's a link

Curious as to how these pronouns can be used in writing? Here’s an example of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland with all of the pronouns changed to be neutral (select your preferred pronoun from the list)

There are also characters in the circus who use he and she, but in different ways. I have an intersex contortionist who was assigned male at birth, but she (note I said she) is neither truly male or female in sex. Their gender is female. I’m not saying their name because they actually kept their male name (for reasons), and I want to see if anyone picks up on this. It’s one of the most popular male names from their native country, too.

Then there’s my little flame of fire, Nez. He was assigned female at birth, uses he/him and a different name that fits his new identity. I’m afraid Nez's name is at the center of some controversy in this circus book. I’ll say it again: This isn’t a transition story. Nez has been Nez for over five years since the beginning of the book, but he is coming into his first post-transition relationship while still struggling with his identity. Is he masculine? Is he androgynous? Is he nonconforming or a combination of multiple genders? You'll have to read to find out. The romance centers around two people trying to make sense of gender, identity, and the rules of pseudo-adult dating, which are new to both of them.

In flashbacks, Nez gets dead named by one person in particular. I know it’s a horrible thing to do, and I wouldn’t have done it without just cause. I’m like Nez’s second mom. Every time I have to hurt him, it hurts me. I could mangle any other character without batting an eye, but not my Nezy. Heart=Destroyed. The dead naming is done because the person who does it was problematic and wouldn’t correct their behavior even when it was addressed. They wanted to hurt him, wanted to let him know they didn’t accept his identity. And this person is ostracized from the circus community accordingly. Nez is the one supported throughout.

I do this because I want to show there can be love and there can be acceptance if only in this queer magical circus. It's an escape from the fact that every 48-hours a gender-nonconforming person is killed somewhere in the world. And because cisgender people think there is some weird trans war in our bathrooms when all they want is safety, acceptance, and to have the same rights as every other individual. Cis people, we are not special little snowflakes that need to be protected. We are not the ones in danger. We do not appreciate how easy life is for us, how the world is made to suit our needs. We do not need the laws to protect our safety because we're not the ones dying in rising numbers.

If you're hurting and targeted because of your gender, know that I appreciate you. I support your journey. You are valid. You are a beautiful, glorious person. This world is so much brighter for having you in it. Don't ever give up. You deserve your Happily Ever After.

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