To The FemmeMobile! Away!

{April 8, 2011}   On Pronouns and Habits

So, my friend Nezu was over today for pizza and… well, pizza, and our mutual friend DK came up. Now, after first knowing DK as a lesbian, and then as butch, and then recently as butch-with-male-pronouns, and now checking-out-trans (how do I refer to that? Do I just say ‘trans,’ though he isn’t sure and according to himself is exploring the possibility? Or do I say ‘possibly trans,’ even though he seems pretty sure? Hmmm… I could ask, but he’s probably asleep right now!), I’m mostly used to using female pronouns for DK.

It really wasn’t much of a surprise when DK shifted toward trans, so using male pronouns wasn’t such a big deal. But I discovered something interesting today: old habits die hard.

When I’m talking with my boifriend, Q, I refer to DK as ‘him’ almost without fail. Once in a while I’ll slip, but mostly it’s easy. Now, I started dating Q not too long before DK made the pronoun-switch, but I never really thought about that.

Today, sitting with Nezu, I said:

“How is–” and my brain froze. Something like this: Error! Error! Too many options! Find the masculine!

The next thing I meant to say was ‘he.’ Instead it went like this:

Me: “–K*** — Dark — AGH! DK!”
Nezu: *dies laughing*
Me: “What is wrong with my brain?!”
Nezu: *totally unhelpfully keeps laughing*

Okay, I was laughing, too.

Throughout the rest of our conversation, I was flubbing up more often than not — which is totally different than when I’m with Q and DK comes up. But Nezu and I have both known DK for years, and all I can think is that habit is biting me on the ass.

It’s definitely true that if you have a dog that attacks on Elm, and you get them re-trained everywhere else, then take them back to Elm… habit will kick in, and they’ll need extra reminders they don’t normally need to behave. I definitely felt dog-like today. It was like, I don’t have that habit with Q, but with Nezu… DK has been female-pronouned until recently.

It was like my brain was going, “No, no damnit! I know this pattern of speech! Just let me do my thing!”

Fascinating. Anyone else have problems like this?




Jolie says:


I was laughing reading this! When I first met Rhett, he wasn’t he at all except on his blog. He identified as genderqueer and butch. I actually knew him that way for a while before he came out as trans. In fact, still, he’s not out as trans to his family, so he gets female nouns and pronouns when we are with them.

When he started adopting male nouns and pronouns at home, I had a HELL of a time with it for about a month. It drove me NUTS. I think you’re absolutely right; it’s the brain pattern of a customary pattern of speech.

Our son, Sharkman, actually saved me from myself. He was the one who shifted the most naturally. Talking to someone who was comfortable with the pronouns made it easier for me to retrain my brain into alignment.

JB says:

Ha, so basically I need to have kids? I’m doomed! ;-D At least I don’t have to worry about DK’s family triggering old habits; they’re in the UK. I can’t imagine having to switch back and forth! My hat’s off to you, Jolie! ;-D


Q says:

I have similar habits. My friend Jake has yet to choose a pronoun, and by most people is referred to as ‘she’. But I usually use male pronouns with him simply because my son is also Jake. I’m so used to talking about my son Jake that when I’m talking about my friend Jake I automatically lapse into male pronoun usage, out of habit.

JB says:

*laughs* So basically, you have the opposite problem… good thing ButchJake doesn’t seem to mind! ;-D


[…] has not been quite so successful. Even the very trans-aware friends are having trouble, pretty much for exactly the same reason of habit. And I haven’t picked a […]

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