on pronouns and gender and names and life on my birthday
august 11th was my 32nd birthday. it was a pretty good day. i woke up with a beautiful woman. we laughed and smootched a little. I made my bed. I rode my bike to the barber shop. I made coffee. Ate yogurt and grapes. Sat down and listened to MAro, one of my new favorite musicians. And I decided to enjoy some alone time and write a bit.
Last year on my birthday- I made the decision to spend the day making oxtails for my close friends and family. It was my first sober birthday since adolescence. And it was maybe the first time I realized what kind of birthday I truly love. Something tells us we're supposed to be served and surprised and pampered and carried around on golden thrones. We're supposed to get manicures and lap dances and do photoshoots in expensive clothes. We're supposed to be surrounded by one hundred beautiful people and gifts and champagne. Turns out that's not really what i want. I want some of those things some days. But on my birthday, I want to create. I want to be alone. And I also want to give and share with my closest, sweet friends. I want to dance and smile. So my plans for the day are to paint my nails, cook, go to a Soulovely in Oakland, and write about gender. So here goes.
I fly often. Since I last cut my hair, folks in the airport often call me "sir". I don't really mind. I like it a little. They look horrified when they figure they misgendered me. But I don't correct them anymore. I don't love m'am. But it doesn't hurt my feelings. I don't mind "she", "he", "them". I've enjoyed using "they, them" pronouns. I love allowing gender to be an open space. So when folks go around in a circle to talk preferred gender pronouns*, I say I don't really care. Any pronouns spoken with love are fine with me.
*(PGP, is simply the pronoun or set of pronouns that an individual would like others to use when talking to or about that individual. (GSAWEFI)).
That doesn't mean I don't respect other folks' want, need and right to have specific pronouns honored, and I don't speak for anyone's preferences but my own. I think of my pronouns the way I think about my name. I was given the name Rebekah. It was never a name I particularly liked or identified with. My sisters were given names with stories. Katherine- our great grandmother, remembered as a powerful matriarch. Laura- a bluesmoky jazz tune about a mysterious and unattainable woman. When I ask my mother why she named me Rebekah, she explained that Rebekah (in the Bible) "was a generous, caring and beautiful woman. Just like you." It's a beautiful name, a beautiful sentiment. Even if it doesn't fit my weird shapes.
Names are pretty weird. They are given to us before anyone knows what we're like, what we want or who we are. A name feels more like a parent's projection of what they imagine for us. Gender feels a lot like a name in that way. There's this particular sort of genitalia, so the child is a GIRL and we assume SHE loves PURPLE and DRESSES. When I was in college, there was another becca in my acapella. ((Growing up around hordes of white girls, there was always another Becca.)) To avoid confusion, the folks in my acapella group started calling me B.steady. A little mixture of my first and last names. I didn't know how much I'd love being called by another name. A less gendered name.
I remember so clearly the first time I introduced myself as Be. I was outside the town bar in Oberlin. A girl asked my name. "It's be." I said it with a bit of confidence, a bit of fear. "Beeeee??" "Yea, Be, like b-e". I decided in that moment that my name was not an initial or an insect. It's an affirmation. To exist as myself. ((Something as a 20 year old, I hadn't figured out how to do yet. I'm still figuring it out)).
The woman outside the bar must have sensed my hesitation. "I don't believe you. Someone named you that?" "Yea. You wanna see my ID??" I bluffed. I was so defensive. "That's my name, Jesus." I think she apologized. Haha. That doesn't happen to me much anymore. NO WAY that's your ACTUAL NAME!? But when it does, I always wonder why people want so much to know what your REAL NAME is. Like people asking us racially AMBIGUOUS folk WHAT ARE YOU? A need to know always feels like a need to judge. I'll know what to think of you when I know your REAL NAME, YOUR BACKGROUND. Or maybe folks are just curious, ha.
Sometimes old friends and family still call me Bekah or Rebekah. It doesn't offend me. It is odd, sometimes a bit itchy, sometimes a bit sweet. It's like a smell or song from childhood. It reminds me of a time. It doesn't really fit anymore, but it doesn't hurt me. The folks who know and love me well know what I want to be called.
Now I'm Be. Gender apathetic. I have a fresh fade with a crispy part (my barber uses a straight razor, thank you very much). I am wearing tight jeans and sneakers and my eye lids are glittering with green eyeshadow. I am dancing in the sunlight in Oakland. Surrounded by all kinds of gorgeous black and brown queers. I am celebrating my birthday, my survival and my joy! Sometimes I am mostly called her, sometimes they, sometimes he. To some, I'm Rebekah. To some I'm still the 23-year-old lost boi B.Steady. I honor and bless all of it. Someone decided when I was born that I was a girl, and I should use she, her, hers pronouns. They're fine. But I don't feel deeply attached to those. I'm into folks choosing their names, their pronouns, and the way they want to be addressed and held in the world. It's all gorgeous. I've had the urge to remove all the pronouns from my websites and bios. I've had the desire to legally change my name. But. I don't think I care enough. So I'm here. Happy, complex and generally gender apathetic.
*PS. My initial motivation for this reflection is a feeling i've had recently about programming, safe spaces and identities. I haven't been deeply vigilant about the gigs I've taken over the past ten years. As a full time musician, I haven't had a lot of freedom to say no, or to do research about a particular organization's mission statement, or identity policies. I'd like to change that. This means asking organizers about their policies before confirming a performance. It means looking for gigs that center the voices and needs of marginalized women and folks.
I will no longer perform at women's events that exclude trans women, or that only include people who were born with ovaries. I've heard a few perspectives, folk who have tried to make sense of that kind of policy. I don't know if I will ever understand that. I can see that the intention isn't necessarily a malicious one. Maybe folks want to talk about the experience of being identified as a "girl" at birth, regardless of how they identify now. Spaces like that, in theory are inclusive of all kinds of identities. I understand that is a particular experience. I recently performed at an event like this, not knowing about this policy. But as a black, queer person who was raised (and is most often read) as a woman-I don't feel like I can afford to celebrate, heal, party, or grow without welcoming trans women. I don't feel whole and comfortable in self-proclaimed "women's spaces", if they exclude trans women or if they only hold space for "women born women". That's where my heart lands. I'd love to chat more with folks who feel capable of speaking lovingly.