You think you have a good command of English. You score in the top percentiles of every verbal test anywhere, you win prizes for essays and poems, and, oh, yes: You write for a living.
Then, one day, your husband chooses some dresses, gets some electrolysis, and changes his name to Melody, and suddenly all of your hard-won language skills mean nothing. Suddenly, you’re a first year language student studying a language where tables are “la” and doors are “el” and El Gato is still El Gato even if El Gato is an adorable she-kitten.
I’m Melody’s wife, for heaven’s sake. I’ve been with her every step of the way, and you’d think I’d be flawlessly smooth in my deft usage of the correct pronoun at the correct time.
Not a chance. Someone asks how Melody is doing, and I answer, “Oh, he’s doing, I mean she’s doing fine. He wants to…She. She wants…aw heck. He. She… HimHerIt. Whatever.” And then I laugh, to let the person know that this happens all the time to me.
It’s practically pronoun soup at our house.
It all seems so simple. Just stop using the words “he” and “him” for someone, and start substituting the words “she” and “her”.
That’s not the way it is, at least not for us. We find that we pretty much have to make up our own grammar rules around pronoun usage. In my daily speech, I still use the “wrong” pronoun or name, by accident, all the time. But as time goes on, and especially as I try to find a way to write about my experiences as Melody’s wife, I find myself making more and more deliberate choices about pronoun usage.
For instance, if you’ve read other posts on this site, you may have noticed me referring to my spouse as Nicholas, using “he” and “him” as though Melody weren’t on the scene at all. Well, in a way, she wasn’t, at least not at certain points in our past. I tend to refer to the person I met nine years ago and married eight years ago as Nicholas. Back then, he was not presenting as a woman in any sort of conscious way, and he referred to himself as male. He dressed exclusively in male clothing, and even though he admitted he was transgendered, he was (somewhat) content to be seen as a man on the outside. He was a guy, and living as a guy, so it makes sense to refer to that person during that time as a guy.
In some of the posts, you may have seen me mixing gender pronouns within a single sentence, making a terribly confusing mess out of an already complicated story. (My only advice to you if you are going to follow along with us in these adventures is: Buckle yourselves in; make sure your tray tables are in the upright and locked position.)
Those posts tend to be about the last year or so, when Nicholas had just started asking me to call him Melody, when we had just begun exploring the changes to come, when no one outside of the two of us really knew what was going on. That was an interesting (and confusing) time for both of us. Nicholas would answer to either name; half the time I called him one thing and half the time I called her the other. We tried out nicknames, we experimented with telling our dog to “Go see Mama Melody!” instead of the usual “Go see Daddy!” This was only when we were alone together, of course; it was important for us to test-drive this new situation way, way before we got others involved in the grammar fun.
Now when I write about that time period, I choose each pronoun carefully, with much thought, in order to convey the state of the change-in-progress, a switchover from male-to-female that was happening right before my eyes at that moment.
For present-day happenings, I refer to my wife, she, and Melody.
There are days, however, when my temper gets the better of me and I get all riled up and yell at “Nicholas”. Because of course, my wife is PERFECT. Melody, my lovely sweetheart, is the apple of my eye and can do no wrong. (Poor “Nicholas”. That guy really puts up with sooooo much.)
Sounds like I am joking, right? Maybe yes, maybe no. It is true that I have a more difficult time getting mad at Melody; after all, I’ve only had a wife for a few months now. It’s a new stage of our relationship. There’s a tendency to mentally lump all the annoying characteristics of one’s spouse onto the identity which is being shed, leaving only the good stuff behind in the new persona.
Trouble is, though: We both know about this now, and whenever I start talking to my husband instead of my wife, Melody raises her eyebrows and says something like, “Oh, so now I’m Nicholas, am I? What did Nicholas do this time?” At which point, we dissolve in giggles and that pretty much is that.
After all is said and done, all I can say is: If you think you’re confused, you are definitely not the only one.