Usually when people ask why we use plural forms to address ourself, our answer is that it’s a way of incorporating singular they into Polish. And when we’re in English-speaking parts of the internet, we retranslate our Polish pronoun ‘my’ back into its first language. This, as Lu-Tze from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld would say, is a useful lie.
A lie we use after many iterations of questions about our pronouns are thrown at us and when our more honest answers are misunderstood. A lie we use when tired with the question itself. No matter what someone’s intentions are: they are not the first to ask, they are one of many.
So we decided to write this essay to explain why we use those pronouns: They/them. We/us. My/oni. But it’s not just for you and only you. It’s for us, so maybe we will be a bit less tired at the end of it.
Firstly ‘oni’, a Polish masculine plural pronoun, was one we started using for ourself on a Discworld messageboard that no longer exists. It was play and we all had a lot of fun with it. It wasn’t in any way related to being transgender. At this point in our lives, those of us on the Discworld messageboard were too oblivious to be aware of queer stuff beyond the knowledge that there were gays, lesbians and maybe bisexual people.
And yet we, Ginny, come back to this point in our past and ponder, why? Why didn’t it bother us to not be referred to by pronouns denoting our assigned gender at birth (AGAB)? A gender we thought we had no issues with? Even if we never really knew what it means to be a [binary gender]?
Why did we begin to expand our pronouns on the internet? First slowly, as a performance (we reasoned) for use in this one space. And for this other place too. And that place, and there. Ok, on the whole of the internet. But our essays were still in a singular [binary pronoun].
That last online space, as of today, was claimed by we/us, after we let ourself see we are agender.
We assumed for so long that we were our AGAB, despite knowing we don’t see ourself through a gendered lens. We knew for years that there are transgender people and nonbinary people. We have so many queer friends and we loved being surrounded by them. And yet it took us so long to find one moment of euphoria and calm when we thought: ‘no, we are agender.’ We used our pronouns for about eight years when this moment came, on a mundane late spring day. We were agender our whole life. And our pronouns showed us this long before we realised.
For a few months now we’ve been confident enough in using they/them, we/us in spoken Polish (as it is a language with gendered first person). But what really helped with this transition was when our friends began to use our pronouns when talking to us and about us in person, not only in written language.
We also exist in English-speaking spaces, mostly online, and there we use our plural pronouns. But what about spoken English when we have a chance to use it? ‘I’ is fine as it doesn’t denote gender but it also makes things more fluid and we don’t know how we feel about this fluidity. We’re not sure yet what we should choose here: ‘I’ or ‘we/us’? Or maybe both? But even when we ponder over this problem, we know our pronouns and why they are the way they are.
So we are tired when people ask, and ask, and ask again. When they assume they have a right to curiosity, and that we have a duty to explain what they see or hear, and are seemingly unable to follow without hearing an explanation first. We are tired when they still misgender us after saying, ‘Thanks, I’ll remember.’ And when they assume this does not hurt. When we are too tired to correct them again and again and again. Or that it’s only them who gets it wrong because everybody else remembers.
So we give our short answer. Our useful lie. But we wish we weren’t asked the question in the first place.
About the author
Ginny N. are a nonbinary, aromantic, asexual sf&f writer and essayist from Poland.