I have been writing this column for nearly 10 years now.
This is how it usually works: I rumble an idea around in my head for a couple of months, feeling its edges with my tongue and running my thoughts around the shape of it before I set anything to paper.
Often I wrestle with the words for a couple of days, and eventually the new story is born, slippery and bloody and wobbling on its unfit legs for a bit, and then I tweak it, spank its ass a little, take a deep breath and hit the send button. I hope the people who read it will be moved in some way; I hope the story will be shared; I hope that it will be received and read with the same open heart I tried to hold up when I wrote it.
A couple of months ago I wrote a piece called “A Word’s Worth,” about my journey through pronoun land, at the end of which I settled on the word she as a suitable enough title for myself, given our English language’s lack of workable options. I went through more than my usual labour pains with this piece, and spent an inordinate amount of time fretting about what kind of response this column would receive.
I got a lot of positive feedback, and the piece got a lot of hits. But some of the concerns I had about this column have come to rest in my inbox, and so I feel the need to clarify a few things.
The fact that I have chosen to use the pronoun she does not mean I am always comfortable with the word, or that it has ceased to chafe me in certain places. I make this choice for more practical reasons. She fits better than he does, and I am interested in stretching and expanding what the word she can encompass.
My friends and lovers and intimates are free to continue using whatever pronoun they have always chosen to call me, and I continue to reserve the right to answer to both.
She is what reporters and media and the teachers in the schools I visit can use to identify me. I will pointedly and intentionally use she to describe myself in the public realm, in an attempt to get the mainstream media to get over their tired “she looks like a he” obsession and concentrate on my actual literary and artistic accomplishments. I would like them to ask questions about what is between my ears instead of my legs, just to change it up a little.
The fact that I have chosen to use the pronoun she does not change my politics, my perversions, my preferences or my mind about anything. I am no less transgendered than I was. I am no less of an ally to my transsexual brothers and sisters. I will continue to fight for their right to define and own and control their identities and their bodies, just as I always have. I have always believed that a trans person’s right to self-determination and access to medical treatment is a feminist issue, as much as a woman’s right to safe and legal abortion and birth control is a feminist issue.
To my butch brothers and sisters and genderqueer and FTM family: I will not draw a line in the sand between us. I refuse to let one little “s” divide us, ever. Not ever. My choices do not trump yours. I will celebrate your uncovering yourself and becoming who you need to be as I have always done. Anything less would be unbecoming.
A butch friend of mine recently posted this quote by Audre Lorde on his Facebook page, and it jumped right off the screen and into my throat: “When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I’m not excluding you from the joining — I’m broadening the joining.”
So, to the separatist lesbians who took my words and held them over their heads to advance an agenda that is not nor will ever be mine, I must remind you of who I am and what I believe. My name is Ivan, and you can call me she.
I am, among other things, a proud butch. I will never believe that gender is a choice between two boxes. Do not use my words and reality and truth against my own people; I will not have it. Trans men and women are my family, and you know how I feel about my family.
I was at the queer film festival last night, and I saw a trailer for a chosen family photo project. It got me to thinking.
My chosen family photo would be kind of like my biological family ones: too many cousins to squeeze into just one frame. Faces of all sizes and colours. A drag queen with a run in her stockings and rum breath, a carpenter butch with calloused hands and a ponytail, femmes in high regalia, femmes in track pants, a lesbian wearing sensible shoes and a Ferron T–shirt: my sisters. A 20–year–old trans man with his breasts still bound until he has saved enough, a hairy bear with tattooed hands wearing a flour-caked apron, a nellyboy in skinny jeans and a tiara, a straight-acting accountant wearing ladies’ underwear beneath his navy blue three-piece suit: my brothers. Gender transgressors, every one of them.
So once again, this idea has kicked around in my belly for a couple of months, and once again, I pull it from me, steaming and unsure of itself.
I will check my spelling and ignore the grammar advice and hit send. And once again, I will hope it finds your heart open and your hands waiting, just like I always do.