Let’s Talk Neopronouns!

[Description: “Fae/Fem” inside of a heart with purple fairy wings, surrounded by hearts with other neopronouns. Art by Damien.]

You might recall my releasing some erotica with two characters who use neopronouns a few months ago. I’m definitely going to be revisiting Laurel and Jax sometime, but I wanted to talk a bit about the background of that—namely, neopronouns themselves.

Pronouns are simple in many ways but complex in others. Until recently I used both “she” and “they” pronouns in public spaces; I’ve dropped the “she,” not because I don’t like hearing it (I don’t mind at all from people I know and trust) but because including it when I introduce myself? Yeah, I can just sense the “she” settling into people’s minds, and the “they” falling far away and vanishing. By introducing myself as “she/they,” I’m setting myself up to be labeled “woman,” which is not how I identify regardless of pronouns, and I’m extremely uncomfortable with that perception, so, I am accepting no new applications for “she”s at this time. If you have never lived in the same house as me then you don’t get to call me “she,” sorry, that’s the rules.

Neopronouns, however, are another matter. On my socials and email signature, I’m now using both “they/them or fae/fem” pronouns. The truth is, I know most people are not going to use fae/fem for me, and I’m okay with that, which I’ll get into in a bit; but the option is there and for a lot of good reasons.

I wanted to explain why I, in particular, am currently using neopronouns; my reasons are not everyone else’s reasons, and there are obviously tons of nuances that may be lost here, but I can only speak for myself and my current reality. Will I stick with these pronouns? I don’t know! Damien was using xey/xem and fae/fem for a while as well, as in this post they wrote, but has returned to exclusively using they/them, because, as they told me, “They/them felt right immediately; the others were fun but didn’t feel like me.” They’re open to trying it again but, at the moment, find it a little overcomplicated.

This is based on my response to someone asking on Reddit, expanded upon for my blog format. But in answer to “Why fae/fem,” here’s what I have to say:

Why Neopronouns At All?

I actually chose to start using them in the middle of a discussion about respectability politics. I’d admired fae/fem as a pronoun set for a while (also fae/faer, which is more common but which I don’t like as much for me), but my hesitation was less for myself and more due to others’ perception. There’s the classic argument against neopronouns—basically, if you start doing weird things, how will cis people ever respect us?

But let’s be real: people who don’t respect me because of my pronoun choices aren’t going to respect me at all. You can’t…whittle yourself down to try to fit in with people who already don’t like you. They don’t want me to be a better, more acceptable variety of nonbinary queer; they don’t want me to be trans, nonbinary or queer at all. I am not interested in playing that game, and so to an extent, neopronouns are a deliberate statement against playing that game, a game which I can literally never win unless I pretend not to be what I am. I spent most of my life trying to tone myself down (gender, queerness, personality)to please people that I don’t actually like, and I don’t want to do that anymore.

I also enjoy the signaling aspect to other people. It indicates (I hope) that you are safe near me whatever your identity, even if you are worried that it’s weird. I clearly have no issue with it, and don’t expect you to conform to anything, either. Heck, you can use me as a bad example to your grandparents or something. “Yeah, I’m they/them and I know that’s hard to get used to, but look at this person who thinks they’re a fairy! At least I’m not that weird, right?” They say that if you can’t be a good example, be a horrible warning. I can be both at once.

Obviously, it isn’t that simple for everyone. There are places were being obviously trans can put you in danger; I’m fortunate that I’m out to everyone I know, and I don’t work outside the home, so I don’t have to deal with transphobic pushback from bosses or others in power over me, and I have white privilege that means I don’t have other forms of respectability politics to contend with. I do live in rural South Carolina, which doesn’t exactly have a trans-friendly reputation, but if I go out and about being Obviously Queer, no one apparently gives a shit. I’ve mostly just heard compliments on my Pride shirts (I do sometimes sometimes dirty looks, but I get those more if I have a goth day than if I’m wearing a pronoun pin. Or I’m oblivious! That’s possible). But that’s also why the signaling matters to me: in areas that may not seem safe, I am a safe person.

Why Fae/Fem Specifically?

The specific choice of fae/fem is because of how I perceive my gender–neither male nor female, not quite in between, but also not nonexistent as with agender. I like that fae/fem is inhuman and also connects vaguely to my paganism. There’s an aesthetic aspect as well; I’ve joked (“joked”) that my ideal gender is basically Amy Brown faerie, something sort of tattered and not easy to identify but ultimately harmless.

I also like that it is fairly whimsical, which to me is in direct and radical opposition to the cultural idea that queerness and transness are inherently tragic. Our anti-trans political climate depends on it being seen as a tragedy; that not only can transness be stopped or changed, but it should be, not only for cis comfort but to “save” trans people, because transness must be a miserable experience. Even trans-positive media is rarely interested in trans joy; it’s much more interested in the misery and drama, which only reinforces the rest.

My life is not miserable, and my gender is not a tragedy. I love being nonbinary; while I have depression, being nonbinary is not a factor in it. I love experimenting with things that make me feel like me instead of how I think I should be perceived, which is what I did for the first 33 years of my life. I love when people at stores don’t call me ma’am. I love my fuzzy legs, my undercut, my chubby tummy. I love how my boobs look in a sports bra, but I love how I look if I’m wearing a binder, too. And I love—love—that I have words for what I am, even if sometimes definitions are a little vague.

Do I Expect People To Really Use It, Though?

Yep. That is to say…some people already do, mostly friends who also use neopronouns or are super active in certain trans spaces. (One person who uses tey/tem was really excited to have a “fae/fem” in teir friend group, like, I think tey’ve got a Pokedex for neopronouns and is genuinely trying to catch them all, and I wish tem good luck.)

I’m also a pretty safe person to practice neopronouns on, so people are welcome to use it both genuinely and as, like, an experiment.

For a lot of people, though, they/them is easier and feels more natural, and that’s fine, too, for me! If I’m speaking about myself in third person (which I do…a lot…) I’m more likely to use they/them or occasionally she/her for myself, but I do sometimes use fae/fem for myself as well, depending on my mood and circumstances. I like having options. And it’s possible that I won’t find that they fit after all, and chuck them out or use something else. Who knows?

Keep in mind, though, that’s me. There are people who use neopronouns who do not want you to use an alternative. Pronouns are a statement of who someone is and how you perceive them. Using the pronouns someone has given you to use is a basic form of respect. And that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for error, because a lot of people are like, “Well, I’ll just make mistakes, so I’m not going to bother.” You can make mistakes; you should still bother.

Should You Use Neopronouns?

I mean…do you want to?

Contrary to popular belief, there aren’t rules on identity and pronouns. (Gatekeeping is not sexy, friends, try something else.) Men and women can use they/them if they like. Nonbinary people can use she/her or he/him. And you can use neopronouns if something suits you and you want to try it.

Choosing to use certain pronouns doesn’t mean you can’t ever change them. You can experiment. You don’t have to stand up to a chart that says “Must be THIS QUEER to ride the ride” before you settle on pronouns. It also doesn’t mean that everyone has to use them or that you have to list them everywhere. (Circumstantial pronouns are a thing and one that, I think, should be spoken about more. You could be him at work, xem with friends, and them with the general public, if you want, and they don’t have to mean you’re lying—they could just be what makes you feel right.) (Also, there’s nothing wrong with lying or being closeted if you need or want to be, but that’s a different topic.) That isn’t to say that every use of neopronouns is experimental or temporary; just that it’s all right to dip your toes in if you’re not sure. I’ve found most about my gender and gender expression by trying things and seeing what works.

You also don’t have to use pronouns based on what other people will find palatable.

So: If you want to, you could. If you don’t want to, you definitely shouldn’t.

Want more like this? Check out my nonbinary tag or my queerness tag!

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