brb gender fatigue

By | June 27, 2015

Gender fatigue (n): A condition of exhaustion, occasioned by generally excessive or overwhelming experiences in which one’s gender is present as either an overt or an implicit focus of human activity. 

“I’m sorry I backed away from you when you reached out your hand for a high five and said, ‘what’s up, bro?’ I was suffering from gender fatigue.”

Today I filled out a form so I could get my Denver Public Library card. The form asked for the usual:

Name _______________________

Address _____________________

Date of birth __________________

Gender ______________________

‘Gender’ is not an easy line for me to fill out. I take a lot of online personality quizzes, and many of these quizzes ask you to pick a gender: M/F. If I think gender is being used to analytic purposes–i.e., to help in interpreting the results of my quiz responses–I usually put ‘female’ because I spent a lot of my life trying to be female and building my personality accordingly. If I think gender is being used for data collection purposes–i.e, to keep track of how many women vs. men complete a given personality test–well, I guess I still usually put female.

In fact, I can’t remember ever marking “male” on any form I’ve ever completed. This may change over time, but as of right now “male” doesn’t really feel like the right descriptor. There are lots of reasons for this, but one of the main ones is that I’m practically never read as male. Some friends, family members, and coworkers use male pronouns to refer to me, but they do it because they’ve been told to, not because they assume I’m a man.

Some people aggressively overcorrect, referring to me as “Sir” or “Mr. Jake” or something similar. I understand and appreciate the intention behind it, even though it doesn’t feel awesome. When someone overcorrects, it’s usually either because they’re reminding themselves about my preferred pronouns or because they’re trying to extra-prove they’re willing to respect my chosen gender identity–despite the fact that my identity doesn’t match societal norms about how I should identify.

Believe me, I know I don’t look like a man. Overcorrecting is a reminder that I don’t look like a man to you, right now, in this moment. It’s also a reminder of how consistently gender is in play, in all interactions.

I get tired sometimes. I get tired of having to write something on the “gender” line. I get tired of aggressive overcorrection. I get tired of those pauses: “I was just talking with Jake about … Jake’s new car.” I get what happened: you almost backed yourself into a pronoun corner up there, but at the last second you found your way out by just repeating my name instead. At the supermarket this morning, the cashier said “Do you have your King Sooper’s card, ma’am?” I get tired of that too.

I get tired of having to play the pronoun game. I wonder often what it would be like to just say fuck, never mind. Use whatever pronouns you want–knowing that saying that would mean people would revert, seamlessly and probably with relief, to the female pronouns they assume are really mine to claim.

Meeting new people is always the worst, and hanging out with people I don’t know well is the second worst. Birthday parties, academic conferences, work meetings, grocery shopping: Ugh.

I’m sometimes read as antisocial, because in social situations I can get overwhelmed quickly or feel an intense need to get away from crowds and/or people I don’t know well. It’s true that social events overwhelm me and always have–but another thing that overwhelms me? Holding my breath while I wait for the person I’m talking to to get my pronouns wrong, or aggressively overcorrect, or pause awkwardly as they try to figure out how to avoid pronouns altogether in a language that really doesn’t want to let pronouns go.

I’m glad to have allies. I’m glad they’re trying hard to respect the gender identities and preferences of others. But it’s not always easy. Usually it’s not easy. Usually it’s exhausting.