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#NotionsofMasculinity Roundtable Discussion: How Pronouns Are Defining My Masculinity

For centuries, pronouns have largely defined and influenced how society both acknowledges and accepts you. Whether they are he, she, him or her; family, friends, coworkers and strangers all use these terms as definite definitions of your existence. He/him defines a boy or a man, and she/her defines a girl or a womxn. But beyond societal borders, and among many outlier sub-groups, it no longer makes sense for pronouns to be so strict in nature. There are many womxn, who very much enjoy and accept themselves as a womxn, who now prefer to be referred too as he/him.

Often starting with the external preference of men’s clothing over womxn’s, this change soon becomes more internalized and adopted throughout one’s entire identity. These days, it’s not uncommon for femmes to refer to their partners as their “boyfriend,” “man,” or even “husband.” And while it’s easy to assume that this change in pronoun preference must be rooted in trans or non-binary identities; social research (aka conversations on Twitter) has shown us that neither of those assumptions are always correct. Simply put, some womxn just no longer identify with feminine sounding pronouns.

Wanting to explore this topic further and more in-depth, LBH sat down with four masc presenting lesbians who are currently going through this internal transition to discuss.

So, to get started, let’s talk about how you feel masculinity defines you?

Ebonee: It's interesting in regards to my masculinity. It took me a while just because I am in the Bible Belt. It took me a bit to become comfortable, not only with my sexuality, but then again I had to then reintroduce myself to my masculinity So, it took me I guess a good amount of my adulthood to get to that point, but it's still sometimes a toss-up because I'm pretty feminine to the core. So, it's been interesting these last couple years as I get settled into who I am as a person.

Adwoa: I guess masculinity to me is something that has been a natural state of being. Just growing up as a kid, this is what I have been. I never went through a period where I had to come out or had to sort of try to be anything else apart from how I am. And luckily I had family that just allowed me to be. So recently, I have been finding out that I'm more comfortable with masculine gendered language. And I know that I do not identify as a trans-man. So, it is interesting.

How did you handle coming to that realization [that you identify with more masculine terms and behavior] with yourself before you were able to share it with everyone else?

Jaz: It took me going to Howard and being around other queer people to be like, it's cool if I am a bit more masculine presenting you know. I was masculine presenting all through high school, but for some reason for prom I felt like I had to wear a dress to prove to people that I could. Which is crazy because I don't care about what people think today. But for some reason back then, I had to prove that I could still be fem. And then once I kind of hit eighteen, and was on my own, it was like “okay, no, this is more me and this is okay.”

In terms of dating, do you find it easier or harder to date as a masculine presenting queer?

Jaz: Well, that is a tough one [laugh] I don’t know if it is easier. People sometimes expect certain things of you based on their own personal, I don't want to say beliefs, but their own personal wants. Like things they want out of a partner, [and what] they might expect of you because of how you present. So, it's having to sometimes explain that it's not one size fits all. How your last partner shows up and will not be how your next partner shows up.

Kiara: I would agree. Just because I'm presenting in a certain way, just know that's not what you are necessarily getting. Outside of me being masculine, I'm my own person who maneuvers certain ways. And sometimes the expectations are just a lot different coming from my femme counterparts.

I purposely didn’t use the word “lesbian” in that last question because I didn’t want to assume anyone’s pronouns. Has the way you embraced the masculine parts of yourself changed which pronouns you identify with? If so, has it also changed the way you move about in life?

Adwoa: It has not changed my pronouns per se, but I'm also in a position where I don't really generally care which pronouns are being used. However, I have realized that it feels, or it makes much more sense, when a masculine pronoun is used. But then again, I'm not averse to being referred to as he or she either.

There was a conversation the other week on Twitter around nouns, such as girlfriend and wife, and how those of you in this roundtable discussion no longer relate to such terms; and instead would prefer “partner “or “boyfriend” or even “husband.” Is there a deeper reason behind that preference? If so, how has it influenced your sexual identity?

Jaz: I wish there was a deeper reason as to why those words don't feel right, but they just don't. And I think I've spent time trying to figure out if this means this or does this mean that? Am I something else if I say that this doesn't feel right? But no, it’s okay if that doesn't feel super great. You know for me right now, I think genderless things kind of feel best. So, like partner feels great. I love that. That's super cute. But some of the other stuff, not so much. But this may change again in five years. So, I'm just trying to also remind myself that it's okay that what felt great a couple years ago doesn't have to feel great now.

And do you have a hard time explaining that to your partners?

Jaz: I’m not offended by either, so right now I'm okay with both. But I go by Jaz, and not my full name, because it feels better. I wear a chest binder most days when I’m out of the house. So, all those things combined makes it hard because some people can't really wrap their heads around [it]. But I'm still cool with being a womxn. Some people can wrap their heads around it, some can’t, and the ones that can’t aren’t the ones for me.

Adwoa: So, in my situation, luckily. it's as easy as just saying “this is what feels right, this is what doesn't.”

And how do you balance the feminine parts of yourself that still exist? Do you find that balancing act difficult?

Ebonee: I don't really currently have that war with my femininity versus my masculinity. I used to only because I felt like, okay, because I want to wear these clothes then I must want to take on this role or I must want to act in this way. In my mind, I couldn't make the gray. I kept it too black and white. And then that's where I kind of just got into that struggle of: just accept the gray. Wherever you fall in that gray is where you fall in that gray. Gray is your spot. There are a thousand different shades of gray. Pick your shade, stay within that shade, work within that shade. And if the shade doesn't work for you, lucky you, you get to find a new shade. Like you don't have to worry about, stay in this one color your entire life. And I think when I accepted that about myself, it then became easy to not care.

What about romantic partners? How have they responded to this preference? And do you feel like their response is more of a playful indulgence or a clear understanding and show of genuine emotional support?

Jaz: I feel the womxn that come into my life are at a certain level where they get it and they do well with it. So, I've been attracting the right people right now. It hasn't always been that. So, in the past it has been people who didn't like that I was softer in certain ways, and by soft [i mean of how] I moved, for example. Just weird things like that. And that's frustrating. I can't exist well in spaces like that. We have so much coming from so many directions, like enough pressures coming from everywhere else, I don't need that in my close relationships. So, those [relationships] don't really last long. But I'm grateful [to] now to be around people that are vibrating on my same level and get it.

Ebonee: I guess when you gain confidence, you start to attract the people who are attracted to that confidence in whoever you are. They might not know exactly what to call it, but they know that's what they're attracted to. So, until you give it a name, they don't care what it is, you know? And I think that once you get to that point where you have that confidence, you kind of get those people around you. It makes it a little bit easier.

Knowing that you identify more on the masculine side of the scale, do you feel pressured in relationships to feed into heteronormative roles?

Adwoa: There is no pressure to be the man. If anything, the pressure that I put on myself is to just be the best version of myself. I know it sounds cliché but that's what I try to do. But also, it's not a common effort to say that I'm only doing this or that because that's “what the man does.” It just happens that's what I'm more comfortable doing. Or that's what I like to do. I don't really know how to cook, so I'm not going to be the person cooking. And to be honest, that could also have been the fact that I grew up being very masculine. I was out playing instead of learning how to cook and I was allowed to do that. So, yeah, in a way that is socialization. But currently, it's not a conscious effort to assume a certain role because that’s what I think the masculine person should do. I just end up doing it because that’s what I’m comfortable doing.

Let’s focus on family and work dynamics for a second. Do you also prefer that in those settings your pronouns are changed? What does that look like? And if you are planning to have kids or already have kids, would you prefer the term “daddy” over “mommy”?

Kiara: Kids are nowhere near in my future, so I haven't really given it much thought. But as far as work and at home, I'm still somebody's sister, I'm still somebody's daughter. That part hasn't changed.

Jaz: Professionally it’s still she/her. I do professionally go by Jaz. That's how I introduce myself. It’s what my card says, it's what I prefer. I take that pretty seriously. But other than that, as of right now, it's still she/her. But I will say my boss has asked me if that changes to let her know. And I appreciate having that kind of environment as well.

And do you feel like you work in a safe enough space to do that? Because I don't feel like everyone does. And we often see discussions of how t's harder for mass presenting queers to be in corporate America because of how they present.

Adwoa: It is definitely very difficult for masculine womxn, black womxn in any work environment. When people meet you they have all these assumptions, and they're very standoffish and very cold. And those are only the things you see.

We're so connected on social media. A lot of us have met through social media, we date through social media, but is it truly a safe space for you guys?

Jaz: I feel safest in the communities that I've kind of established for myself. On social media, it's very clear that masc presenting womxn can do nothing and will still somehow be the butt of a joke. For that reason, I curate my social media to my liking. I can't even follow people that encourage or engage with those kinds of things. But also, it sucks that we can't just exist. We can't make a joke. We can't tweet a lyric. We can't do anything for fear of some straight person from straight Twitter grabbing it or somebody from another part of Queer Twitter grabbing it. And I don't know why we are the easy subjects of jokes. I have no clue. I take myself pretty seriously. I wish people took us as seriously as we take ourselves. It's unfortunate to see though. Because it happens literally daily. And across social media. It's not just Twitter; it's Instagram, it's Facebook. We are memes. And I hate that we're treated as memes because we're not.

Written by: Kee Simone, LBH Editor-in-Chief (@thebaddiegalore)

Roundtable Participants: Ebonee (@ohitsebb), Jaz (@FckYeahJaz), Adwoa (@ScientistJollof) + Kiara (@_CallMeKi)


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