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My 30th birthday present to myself was a tattoo: a line drawing of a face, ambiguous but undeniably masculine. Only if you’ve studied the contours of the specific person’s bone structure as long as I have would you know who the tattoo was modeled from, but otherwise it just looks like some guy, a vaguely dude-shaped form.
The tattoo was etched into my body on my actual birthday. When the tattoo artist was officially finished, I looked down and told him how much I loved that tattoo, before he could ask me to take a look in the mirror. The experience was perfect, almost blissful, taking less time than I thought it would, and the thing is, I was misgendered within 10 minutes of walking in that tattoo shop.
If you’ve read anything I have ever written, you might be confused, because practically all I talk about is how not to misgender a person, and yet, here I am, expounding on the glory that was that day. I can’t remember the specific words other than the pronoun, and the feelings that it inspired — he. Hearing someone refer to me with a masculine pronoun felt like coming home, like stumbling through an open threshold, looking around and knowing that, Yes, this is mine.
I’ve been fooling around with the idea of multiple pronouns for a while now, but I can remember the exact moment when I knew with a certainty deep within my bones who I was, and who I was trying to hide from. The realization occurred during a conversation with my best friend, where I was admitting that, were I brave enough, I would use all pronouns. I wouldn’t, though, because I was worried people would default to using she/her instead of validating the other parts of myself, based on how others perceive me, despite being vaguely dude-shaped myself.
Multiple pronouns can be elusive. Pronouns are confusing and when you throw more than one into the mix, they can get even more difficult to grasp. What does it mean to have multiple pronouns? How do you validate someone when their name tag says she/they or when their bio reads “all pronouns”? How do you keep track of all these individual parts? (I’m mostly talking to you, random Cis Person reading this, so please, do everyone a favor, and pay close attention.)
Step 1: Acknowledge that gender is personal. Your experience does not equal everyone’s experience, which means some people have a relationship to their gender that is limited, or maybe it’s all-inclusive, the more pronouns the merrier.
Step 2: If someone has multiple pronouns, use their multiple pronouns. When the person has multiple pronouns, you can use them interchangeably, switching them out for one another, even in the same sentence. Ex. “Max had to run back to her car — they forgot their key fob.”
Step 3: Recognize that individual experience may vary, and it’s up to you to ask what people prefer. Someone might use all pronouns, but they prefer using they, or maybe she doesn’t care because he thinks all pronouns are great! It’s all about preference.
Gender is complex. Constructing your identity while actively warring against external messaging is exhaustive work, and sometimes minds can change. It’s important, though. I’ve been 30 for nearly a month, and when I think about that brief moment of being accidentally “misgendered” I still feel good. And then I think about that conversation I had with my friend, months ago, when I expressed concern about only being referred to by she/her by people who don’t understand how multiple pronouns work, and I was filled with dread, with the imagined pain of it all.
Then I thought about what it would be like for someone to view me the way I think of myself, and I felt … radiant. “Maybe I’m just he/they!” I blurted out, my words getting away from me before my brain could catch on, and I looked at my best friend. They looked back, a mirror of my thoughts.
Multiple pronouns aren’t always easy. If anything, it gives more opportunities to be misgendered, like having one aspect of myself be ignored wasn’t bad enough. Ultimately, I cannot deny who I am, any more than I can deny that I have Harry Styles’ face permanently inked on my forearm.
All of this is to say: Hello. My name is Kimberly Lopez. My pronouns are he/they.
— Kimberly Lopez (he/they) is a queer, nonbinary librarian living in the heart of Lawrence. He can often be found reading romance novels or ranting about the validity of boy bands. Their obsession with Harry Styles is “perfectly normal” and “healthy.” Follow him on Instagram. Read more of their work for the Times here.