Month: July 2014

Fearing partner rejection because of a gender-neutral pronoun request

theleviathanfromhell asked:

“Hey um a few nights ago I sent my boyfriend some pronouns I asked if he can use (xhe/xhim/xir and they) and he got somewhat confused, so I immediately backed out and told him never mind and all that. I’m a bit scared that if I ask him again he might refuse or reject that idea, or i’m wrong and he’ll accept it. I don’t know, i’m just nervous to ask him again. If you can, please tell me if you have any tips on this situation?”

Dear leviathanfromhell,

I’ll start by saying that this is tough. Rejection from the people closest too us – even more quiet kinds like skepticism or fatigue – can be devastating when we are asking for a pronoun change. This might particularly be the case for gender-neutral pronoun users because there isn’t a lot of public consciousness about usage or implications. So we end up doing more education than our hearts or souls can sometimes bear. All this is to say that I feel you.

I think there are two things going on here, based on the information you have provided. What do you think your boyfriend (who I will call B for…boyfriend) was confused about? Was it a reaction to the medium (‘sent’ implies text or email) and the lack of a face-to-face conversation about something pretty significant? Was it about gender-neutral pronouns in general, the particular pronouns you asked for (which are unfamiliar to most), or the implications that B may have presumed based on the request (that you might perhaps transition to some degree – a common assumption – and what this might mean for B or your relationship)? If gender hasn’t come up before in conversation, or if you hadn’t talked to B about your gender until this pronoun request, there may be many reasons for the confusion. (Here I’m making an assumption that your choice to use alt pronouns is connected to gender, which it isn’t always…if this is wrong I apologize.)

For others reading, I’m basically suggesting that a pronoun request coming ‘out of nowhere’ (at least in terms of how it might feel for someone receiving the request) is probably going to cause some confusion. This is basically a tactical issue in terms of how you plan the conversation.

That having been said, it is clear that B’s reaction gave you cause for fear and discomfort. This makes me think that you may have good reason to expect that B’s confusion isn’t the benign kind like being caught off-guard (this is the kind we can kind of manage with conversation tactics) but rather a pattern you are recognizing. While you try to figure out if B might reject you (and/or your request), think about how B generally speaks about pronouns, gender, trans people, etc. OR whether B tends to be supportive or not of new things or ideas you have (or that B’s friends or family members have). These could be equally telling. Alternately, it could be that you have experienced judgmental rejection before from others (friends, family or partners) and this is coming back to haunt you in B’s reaction which – and I know basically nothing here – could be just ordinary and not malevolent or prejudicial. What is firing your furnace of fear and discomfort?

Only you know what’s best here, leviathanfromhell. First, and only if you feel safe at at liberty to do so (like, rejection will not result in losing housing, financial or other support), you can choose to have the conversation again but differently (if you haven’t already…sorry for the lag-time this month). This way you can gauge, in person, the kind and degree of confusion B is having. You could also talk to mutual friends you trust and prepare for the chat. These friends could perhaps also be resources for B to practice or express their feelings about your pronoun change (which do exist, and to deny these just isn’t realistic).

If you don’t feel safe having the conversation again, it would be useful to think about whether you are willing or able to be in a relationship where your preferred pronouns aren’t used, or if you feel like you can’t ask for your needs to be met. It might take time to get it right, but while there is time being taken I hope you can feel like B is trying and being kind. As I have already suggested, though, it would be useful for you to think about whether this is coming from B or if it reflects an expectation that you bring into the relationship from prior experiences.

Hope that helps,

Lee

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