When you ask a New Zealander to describe their personal style, the responses are often so cringingly modest that you could swear the writers for Flight of the Conchords gave them their lines. We are so funny with labelling ourselves in New Zealand – few people want to step out and say “I’m a fabulously flamboyant urban rocker with a twist of boho”, just in case their friends call them out on sounding like a bit of a dick or a show off.
Many of us are much more comfortable with how we label our sexuality and gender identity. For a lot of people, coming out and announcing “I’m gay”, “I’m bi”, “I’m takataapui” or “I’m trans” is an empowering act – by giving yourself a label and defining yourself on your terms, you show that you’re proud of who you are and don’t care what others label you; it’s an incredibly powerful and political act. So what if you don’t know what to call yourself? What if the words you find don’t fit how you feel about yourself?
It’s been interesting to read an increasing number of stories from genderqueer and trans people over the past year. From where express is standing, there has been a real united front of genderqueer and trans people coming forward and talking about how they would like to be referred. Whether it’s introducing people to the term genderqueer in the first place or telling them about gender neutral pronouns such as “zhe” “hir” and “they”, a confident new group of people who don’t fit into any of the prescribed terms have come forward to proudly educate others. Here is a group of people that have always felt uncomfortable with the labels given to them by others finding a way to let language make them feel comfortable.
For those of you who think “zhe” or “they” sounds like a silly way to refer to a person, bear in mind that these terms are not for you – they are a way for people to feel relaxed in conversation, rather than wincing every time they hear themselves referred to as something they feel doesn’t apply. If someone asks you to refer to them with pronouns that match their gender identity, try and use them immediately – faces light up and people appear instantly more relaxed when they are described in the way they want to be described. It’s a political act to choose these words, but its also a political act to use them, so do try it. Zhe, hir and they will thank you!
| Hannah JV