I had been thoroughly in the ‘woman’ box for 19 years of my life until I saw one of my friends come out online. Suddenly a lightbulb went on in my head and I started seeing myself completely differently. Once I started viewing myself with she/they pronouns I realised that so many of my troubles were coming from not feeling comfortable in myself. Not wanting to pursue romance was stemming from feeling like people didn’t see me. Not feeling confident having sex was because my body didn’t feel right or like it was my own. I was unable to feel as though I fully fit in anywhere because I was trying to change myself to fit into boxes that weren’t made for me, instead of listening to what I actually wanted.
This new realisation was a shock to me as I have always been very self-aware and never shied away from being myself. But society had done such a number on me I had never considered anything else other than ‘girl’ and gender queer had never even been on the cards. It’s important to understand what terms like gender queer and non-binary mean. Being gender queer tends to mean that one doesn’t subscribe to a conventional gender binary or identity. Non-binary is similar but is often used as a more specific term for someone who identifies as no gender at all. However, these terms vary from person to person so it’s always best to ask for someone’s preference. The spectrum of gender is such a wide one that I think that no one person is in entirely the same spot. Pronouns are just the surface level part of gender identity. For example, while my pronouns are She/They I don’t identify as non-binary because I still feel a certain affinity to the label of woman, but it is more of an influence than my actual identity. Not being completely non-binary or feeling closer to a particular gender does not invalidate someone’s gender identity. The sooner we leave behind our preconceptions about what gender looks like, the sooner we can understand the complete fluidity of how people choose to express it. It’s practically impossible to get close to understanding your gender queer friends if you are still trying to assign them a category in your head.
While I felt more relief than self-consciousness or insecurity about my recently discovered identity, I immediately began worrying that once I returned to university my life would be thrown into chaos when my friends didn’t understand or accept me. Which looking back, is ridiculous because all your friends want is for you to be happy, they don’t really care how you do it.
I began with a relatively subtle approach to coming out by posting things on my Instagram story in Close Friends just outlining where I was at in my thoughts. I changed my pronouns on my social medias and posted a bit about what pronouns meant and how to use them. Some friends responded really well and commented on how it gave them time to do their own research or practice by themselves. It was so reassuring that although I didn’t adamantly demand that people refer to me as this and that, people were still paying attention and taking little steps before I even had to ask. This is an important part of supporting your friends who are feeling a similar way. Taking initiative by yourself and doing research subtly or even entirely privately because they are probably navigating it with you and don’t have all the answers ready.
The next step for me was having direct conversations with people about it where people asked me questions and I tried to answer as many as I could. As someone who is not often emotionally vulnerable around friends I felt as though I was letting them see me naked, though I think that’s how it’s supposed to feel. This is the next important factor – asking questions and taking interest. While it’s important to do your own research and take initiative it’s also important to ask when you don’t understand something. Check how they feel when a new phrase or situation arises that you haven’t covered. It makes everyone more comfortable, and someone’s identity should never be a taboo subject. Equally, I, as the one who was requesting these changes tried to create an environment where they could ask questions. It was important to me to have more positive conversations than negative ones and that only comes with open mindedness. It’s important to acknowledge that sometimes people haven’t come across this before and may find it difficult, and that’s ok if they’re kind about it.
Upon asking how they felt about this change I was told that they don’t really care as long as I’m happy. Which may seem dismissive but one of my greatest fears throughout this whole process has been that people would see me as weird or as someone who they no longer had anything in common with. I am still just Maeve. I am probably more Maeve than I have ever been and my friends not caring what I do with my identity and still loving me, was such a relief. Not making a massive fuss and trying to maintain normality in the person’s life can help greatly because while they are feeling as though their whole world is getting thrown upside down, it’s invaluable to have something safe and familiar.
Hopefully at some point everyone will feel that these new pronouns are completely normal, and I’ll stop having to correct people and come out ten times a week. Something that will only bring that sooner is biting the bullet and correcting people when they’re wrong. I always felt it was too awkward but once you start politely correcting people it gives a sense of empowerment and people stop making as many mistakes. If people in your life do make it awkward or try to make you uncomfortable about it then they don’t respect you or your pronouns and they should be swiftly axed from your life. This is an important step for friends to take as well. Correct your friends even when the person in question isn’t there. This stops one person having to do all the correcting as it can be emotionally exhausting and often it makes us nervous or uncomfortable. Correcting people when they slip up, especially when the person isn’t there is a little altruistic act of love which is so appreciated.
Finally, and the most important in my eyes, is a bit of inner perspective shifting. A change in pronouns is not just a grammatical adjustment it is a literal shift of being. Widening our views of gender and understanding the fluidity of it is paramount in supporting your gender queer friends. When my friends use my pronouns, I hope they are not using them under duress. No matter how feminine someone presents or if they look androgynous, if they identify as gender queer or non-binary they are just that. Understanding as much as we can is the only way of genuinely knowing the people we care about.
Throughout it all remember that coming out to friends and family should be a joyful event that displays the love and trust you feel for one another and the way I went about it may not be what works for other gender queer people. All we can do is listen and talk and be kind to one another.