I have just switched pronouns from he/they to they/multitudes, so here are some thoughts about what this change means.
1. I have ambivalent feelings about “coming out” with my new pronouns because such an action is usually a burden foisted upon those of us who do not fit neatly within the strictures of cisgender heterosexuality. However, as a writer I believe that words have meaning, and that it is important to be as precise with your language as possible. Therefore, it is important for me to offer others the most precise words to use when describing me.
2. I use “they” in place of traditional pronouns such as “she” or “he” as a refusal to be pinned down by a specific gender, which are constructions anyway.
3. “Multitudes” comes from section 51 of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself”: “I am large …. I contain multitudes” (ellipsis in the original). It signifies that I include aspects of multiple genders, including but far from limited to masculinity, which is why “he” no longer feels like it fits me.
4. These new pronouns mean that I am also now using “genderqueer” to describe myself. In The Queen’s English: The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases, Chloe O. Davis defines this term as someone who does not use “the conventional labels of female or male [and who] may relate to both genders, express gender ambiguity, or refrain from expressing any gender at all.” As multitudes, I express gender ambiguity by expressing multiple genders at different times. My gender is a wave and a particle that cannot be measured simultaneously.
5. In case you are keeping score at home, this means that I define myself in the intersection of my gendered and sexual selves as a kinky genderqueer bisexual. Of course I define “bisexual” in the inclusive sense, synonymous with “pansexual”: I am attracted to people of all genders.
6. Many folx who are genderqueer or use “they” also use “nonbinary.” I’m glad that many people find this term meaningful, but I do not use it because to me it sounds like the middle of a spectrum between female and male. It still uses the binary to locate itself. Rather than being a middle place on a continuum, my gender is an octopus, fanning out in all directions, and “genderqueer” does a good job describing this diffusion.
7. Lastly, remember that genderqueerness does not equal an androgynous appearance, though for many folx they may coincide. I’m keeping my beard because it has deep spiritual meaning for me even though I realize this choice will probably lead to frequent misgendering. Just before the pandemic I was beginning to experiment with some more stereotypically feminine clothing and accessories, and then the pandemic hit and I stayed inside wearing sweatpants and t-shirts or hoodies for a year, and now, amidst the cumulative and continuing stress of pandemic life, fashion feels like a complete puzzle to me. I’m not sure where my style will end up, but for now nothing much will change (if for no other reason than I am a graduate student without money for a new wardrobe, ha!).