Why We Ask for Pronouns

My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex. I wrote a book.

Have a question? Email askbeastly@gmail.com or go here.

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Hi readers,

I will be answering some questions in this post, but first: some personal stuff.

This has been a big week for me.

A week ago, I was not doing well mentally in the same way I imagine most people in America were not doing well.

I am disgusted by a country I no longer want to live in — one I no longer feel safe living in. I am mourning the kids who will not experience the wonder and beauty of growing up — who won’t have first kisses, first crushes, or first dates.

As a country, it feels like we have endured the murder of innocent kids over and over with something like a shrug. Yes, some people protest and post on social media and light candles and plead for things to change, but the other half of the country elects people who purposefully do nothing — who are paid to do nothing — so I think nothing will change.

We endure this evil because our country has been hijacked by a radical minority populace with dangerous philosophies and dogmas. We’re losing our kids at the hands of gun fetishists, their bought politicians, and a terrorist organization called the NRA. It seems they run the show. They bought us. And they have set the image of America to the world: a child in a pool of blood.

I do not think I want to be part of this mess any longer, so I have scheduled a long trip abroad for the end of the year to see where else in the world I might fit. I will be based out of Berlin, but I hope to travel to other parts of Europe, too. (If you live anywhere in Europe and have a safe place for me to crash for a night or two, shoot me a message). Growing up, I spent a lot of time overseas, and although I will not be returning to Zambia or any previous place I once called home, this trip feels right. I hope it will do one of two things: Either it will make me miss New York and refire my reasons for moving here, or it will crystallize my desire to leave the United States for good.

All this was on my mind a week ago when something really big happened in my life.

I’m sorry to disappoint, but this thing is so big that I can’t write about it yet. It’s not bad or good, just big. It’s a family thing, a personal thing, and I’m still working through it. Though I’m usually an open book here, I need to deal privately with something delicate that is currently going on in my life. But it’s made me less active on social media, so I apologize for any messages I may have missed this past week.

I was processing this big thing, a big turn in my life, all week on Fire Island, surrounded by friends and lovers. My friends are pretty great, and the Pines, as it does, gave me space away from the city to think. The things I love — faggots, sex, friends, community — carried me through.

They always do. These things I love are real. They exist. Friends, love, sex: these things matter when the world shifts under your feet, and when it feels fundamentally broken.

For most of my life, I have felt like a plus-one, a tag-along, someone just passing through. I realized this week that I have not been able to tell most friends how much I love them. Time after time, I am surprised by this fact: People like me. They want me around. I realized on the island how silly and embarrassed I would feel if I told my friends how much they truly meant to me. I hope they know. I hope I will get better at saying how I feel. I came back to the city feeling loved.

When you’re young, the world is filled only with wonder. Then you get a bit older and learn the world is 75% terrible. But that means there’s still roughly 25% out there to love, maybe even more — I hope more. This week, my 25% was on a spit of barrier island off the coast of Long Island, an absurd little hamlet where city gays go in the summer to dance and booze and play. It has been a healing place for many generations of gay men. It has been one for me.

In the same world where kids are gunned down in their classrooms and regular people are murdered at the grocery store — where families are torn apart and loved ones lost each day — there is Fire Island, where families are made and friendships revealed. I needed to be reminded of this: that love is still here. That we’ve not somehow lost it in the mess we’ve made of things.

Wherever you are, I hope you have a place that feels safe, your own island in the dark. I hope you have your 25%.

I love my people. The guys who fucked me and the guys I fucked all week might not have been aware that we were engaging in a mutually healing ritual, but we were: we licked each other’s wounds with easy sex. That’s what sex is at its best. That’s why sex matters.

Okay. That’s all from me. I’m trying to make sense of my life, as we all are, and I think I’m doing better. I hope you are too.

— B

hi, I am William and I wanted to email you for advice and help on my being a pansexual male. I am 28 years old and I read your website from time to time and I had good and bad experiences with guys and the fact that I have autism 
if you have any tips or advice for me that would be helpful and useful. if so thank you so much

Hi William,

I’m also neurodivergent in my ways. How my brain works differently seems to be tied to my substantial hearing loss — I’m over 50% deaf. (And I recently learned that neurodivergence runs in my genes.)

So I get it. We live in a world filled with able-bodied people who, in some respects, communicate better than we do. I use my writing to work around that — my clearest self is on the page — but others have other ways to express themselves that work for them. Find an outlet that allows you to shape your thoughts outside your head — writing, art, making playlists, whatever. This helps me.

As for dating: Yes, you might have a harder time in the world being pansexual and neurodivergent. Then again, you might not — you might find these things are blessings, not curses. (I think they are very lucky blessings. I love people whose brains work a bit differently.) Yes, you function a bit differently, but you might find that you like the way you work and that you can trust your gut and your impulses to make good calls for yourself and your happiness. I found, with age and therapy, that I could settle into the rhythm of myself. My mind and its oddities have given me insight and protection, have helped me see things others can’t, and have helped me filter the people I need in my life from the ones I don’t.

You’ll likely have to explain your neurodivergence and your sexual orientation to potential partners early on in the romantic dialogue, and some people will reject you. Everyone faces rejection in dating. The universality of rejection makes it no less painful, but it is a human experience in which you are not alone. Everyone faces rejection alongside you, and along with rejection, we all celebrate the joy of connection and sex when it comes — when people take us and love us as we are. That joy is a universal human experience, too, and it comes more often than you think. And it happens more easily when you do not apologize for your differences and delight in being you.

Humans are drawn to those who do not apologize for their natures. Own your mind, your desires, and your individuality — your tastes, perspective, and manner of being in the world — as treasures that must be defended at all costs. You will have to discard some relationships and friendships in order to be faithful to yourself. That’s good. That’s healthy. Everyone has insecurities and things about themselves they wish they could change — everyone — but as long as you feel your main ingredient, your core nature, is good, then you have what it takes to enjoy life. And when you enjoy life in your own skin, as your own self, you possess a magnetism that will draw the right people in.

In the words of RuPaul: If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love anyone else? There have been head-scratching and problematic statements made by Mama Ru in her illustrious career, but that one, said at the close of every episode of Drag Race, rings true and eternal. Self-love invites love from others. It is the only way to let love in.

Love, Beastly

Hi Alex, I enjoyed your article about the use of the word Queer. As I read about some of the people’s comments about their lives though, there is one thing that puzzles me. I just wanted to ask about it. I am gay and I completely understand about coming out. I never came out because I was lucky enough to live in a home where I was just gay from the moment I started school. I would frequently tell my parents which boys were cute in my class as far back as Kindergarten. But I get it, some people do come out….gay, lesbian, bi, trans. But why would anyone who is “demisexual” or “sapiosexual” for example, want to come out as that? How did that become part of the Queer movement? Do you have to be LGBT to be demisexual? If not, why would anyone say they are demisexual if most people wouldn’t even think it’s odd or unacceptable? As a gay man, I honestly only enjoy sex with people that I have an emotional connection but I never thought of myself as demisexual. And I don’t think any human is attracted to every other human that fits their sexual attraction so is everyone sapiosexual or only LGBT people? I did notice you said, “Please include your preferred pronouns in your message so I may address you properly”. And I don’t want to be an ass, but we address people by the 2nd person pronouns of “you, yours, yourself, etc”. If you are talking to someone, you don’t say “he, his, him” to the person. I don’t believe in giving pronouns because in my mind you are then giving permission for the person to talk about you to other people because that’s the only time you would use 3rd person pronouns is when you are talking about someone and not to someone. But anyway, what’s your take on someone coming out as “demisexual” for example? How is this similar to coming out as gay or trans? Thanks, Anthony

Hi Anthony,

You are correct. In my answers, I address people directly, not in the third person. I’m writing to them, not about them. Just as I am writing to you now.

Knowing someone’s pronouns still helps me respond to their message because it tells me a bit about their gender identity. If someone’s pronouns are “he/him,” I can assume he at least identifies as male — and that helps me tailor my response.

Like it or not, sex advice changes depending on the gender of the recipient, simply because we live in a world with many different cultures, and each culture has its own expectations and norms around gender. I’m not saying these expectations and norms are good, only that they exist and we all have to deal with them, for better and for worse. Dealing with them in some cases means rejecting them outright and understanding that that rejection can incur backlash and even violence, especially in certain parts of the world. As an advice blogger, I can’t ignore the impact of my words, so it would be irresponsible and callous of me to ignore gender or to assume that my advice is equally accessible to all gender identities — especially in a world where anti-trans violence is only getting worse. In addition to gender, it helps to know someone’s cultural background and location when answering their message, and I have many times asked readers to include this relevant information in their messages.

Also, I think it’s respectful on a fundamental level to ask people for their pronouns. Even if their gender is not relevant to their question (though it is relevant to most questions about sex), the simple act of asking for pronouns shows respect for how people identify and sets a good example. I think it should be customary and commonplace to ask people for their preferred pronouns in daily life. Doing so makes space for people who are transgender and nonbinary. Asking for pronouns has helped me (and many others) break the bad habit of assuming gender based on how someone looks. Asking for a stranger’s preferred pronouns might feel strange — even invasive — at first, but it gets easier with practice, and trans and nonbinary folks you meet will appreciate it.

There is no shortage of opinions across the internet on the explosion of labels in recent years (“alphabet soup,” some call it, “identity overload” according to others). In the short time that I’ve been out, there has been a barrage — especially on social media — of newly-coined terms for people to identify with. If all this has been a bit disorienting for me — and, at times, even a little off-putting and alienating — at only 30 years old, I cannot imagine how it feels for people of previous generations, people who did not have the luxury of curating such specific labels, people who had to rally around a Gay Rights movement that relied on simplicity and generalization (at the exclusion of trans folks and many others) to win legal battles for essential rights.

It’s easy for us younger people, sitting on the other side of the plague years and the fight for same-sex marriage, to point fingers at past generations and say what they did wrong and who they overlooked. We are the recipients of their victories, yet we bemoan how resistant they are to our new terms. This generational divide — which, whether you realize it or not, you are commenting on in your message — has mudslingers and curmudgeons on both sides.

Young people tend to rebel against their elders and believe they have all the answers. That is the nature of being young, and we should celebrate that (it’s the reason we have rock-and-roll, ’60s counterculture, Beat literature, and so much else). And older people tend to bemoan the young. It’s hard getting older, watching the world change, watching your body change, and feeling like this thing you spent your life coming to understand (your identity, your community, your country) is now unfamiliar. It is jarring to live in a world in flux. It is angering to grow comfortable and confident in your words only to be told later on by some kids that your words are wrong. Understanding and empathy are lacking on both sides of this divide, as they often are.

I’m sure some people think identities like “demisexual” (a demisexual experiences sexual attraction only when they feel a true emotional bond with another person — they likely won’t be attracted to a stranger they meet in public, at least not until they know them and have formed a mental and emotional bond with them) and “sapiosexual” (a sapiosexual is someone who finds intelligence sexually attractive or arousing) are LGBTQ terms and will argue passionately that they are. I personally do not, and I think most people my age and older will agree with me — and it sounds like you would agree with me, too. We don’t have to change our minds on this — we don’t have to waste any mental energy on it — but we also don’t benefit from discrediting or denying the words used by those who are younger than us or simply think differently from us. Their identities — and how they understand them — are as valid as ours.

I’ve never fully found a word that fits me, and yes, that bums me out sometimes. When I see all the new terms — like “sapiosexual” and “sexually fluid” (where some folks identify as heterosexual, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, gay, and so on, a sexually fluid person is flexible and doesn’t commit to a particular orientation or identity) they all, depending on the day, sound like me. For ease, I usually just say “gay.” Who cares? I know what I am: I’m a sex beast, a faggot, a hole, a heart, and much more.

My identity is too complex to fit in a box, too complicated to be summarized with a word. I’m more “gargoyle” than “gay,” so why should I care if someone feels like “sapiosexual” works best for them? Language often fails to encapsulate desire — at best, it merely conveys it — so even if the term is head-scratching and sounds a bit silly or needless, I respect that it’s an effort to convey something too complex for words. I see new labels as an effort to use language effectively. They are part of a journey of words into a lovely and mysterious and impenetrable dark called human desire from which only pleasure and wonder emerge.

People have many perspectives on identity — and should — and all our identities can coexist peacefully. You’re allowed to think what you think. You’re just not allowed to police the perspectives of others, especially when your life is not impacted by them. This is called “harmony,” maybe even “community,” and in such times, it is something we all could use a bit more of.

Love, Beastly

I’ve read a blog of yours once when I was having a rough time with my question and came across it again just now. I’m a 34 yo gay male dating a 31 yo Bisexual man. I’m his second gay relationship. He grew up in the church. He has been very promiscuous in his stories and the “types” man or woman that he is attracted to seem to have no limits. He is the best man let alone bf I’ve ever met. He makes me better. I have really bad PTSD, anxiety, depression, etc that seems to come from my schizophrenic mother lol. He says he can get anxious or depressed but never long-lasting. Anyways my question is can and if able to, how can I not be so jealous, angry, suspicious, sometimes even envious maybe? Mainly I don’t trust that he won’t eventually cheat on me with a woman because I obviously can’t give him that. He’s given me no reason to not trust him although I woke up to him watching porn and jerking off next to me while I was “asleep” for over an hour and then he told me he had previously years ago sought help for porn addiction which he says is under control etc. anyways I hope this makes sense as I’m just having a really tough time today and he is just amazing and things are really serious between us. He’s mentioned proposing if not just talking about our married life and now always uses us and we as pronouns when he speaks of anything of his future. I basically need to find out how to get over myself or hit the road because the stress I cause myself is not healthy and I can’t do it. You’re a very talented writer and will be reading all of your work. I’m sorry I’m broke until Thursday but will totally be making a tip lol. I hope life is treating you kind. I’m sorry for being all over lol

You’re good, bud. Tips are appreciated but not mandatory. I do this for free and thankfully some people think I do it well enough to pay me. (If anyone reading this is such a person, please join my Patreon and help me pay the bills.)

Let me speak plainly: If your doubts and insecurities truly make you think your only options are to get married or “hit the road,” that doesn’t bode well for this relationship. As you say, the stress you’re feeling is not healthy. If you really can’t do it, you probably shouldn’t.

You’re not going to come around to comfort with his bisexuality overnight. You probably won’t become comfortable with it in a year. I don’t know how long you guys have been together, but if you’re talking about marriage, you have probably been together for at least a year, and you have not become comfortable with it in that time. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but he does not deserve a partner who distrusts a core part of his being — who harbors such intense suspicion for his beautiful and authentic self. That’s not fair to him. That’s not fair to anyone.

It’s okay to feel what you feel, and it’s okay to work on yourself and try to grow comfortable with bisexuality in general. But I don’t think anyone should date someone who has to try to grow comfortable with them. This sounds like a personal journey you should undertake on your own, not in a relationship. It’s not his job to hold your hand and lead you into comfort with who he is.

So don’t get married — certainly not without telling him all this first, exactly as you told me (which I assume you have not done). Being honest with him about these feelings is step number one. At least give him the knowledge he needs to decide if he wants to marry someone who is fundamentally threatened by his nature. If he does — if he’s willing to take that journey with you — I recommend hiring a good, queer or queer-friendly relationship counselor to work through these feelings you have as a couple, with regular counseling sessions and discussions.

Everybody needs help doing things right — relationships especially. That’s why we have experts.

Love, Beastly

4 Comments

  1. “Language often fails to encapsulate desire — at best, it merely conveys it — so even if the term is head-scratching and sounds a bit silly or needless, I respect that it’s an effort to convey something too complex for words. I see new labels as an effort to use language effectively. They are part of a journey of words into a lovely and mysterious and impenetrable dark called human desire from which only pleasure and wonder emerge.

    People have many perspectives on identity — and should — and all our identities can coexist peacefully. You’re allowed to think what you think. You’re just not allowed to police the perspectives of others, especially when your life is not impacted by them. This is called “harmony,” maybe even “community,” and in such times, it is something we all could use a bit more of.”

    I will read this over and over and over and over again until it’s something I can forever recite. Thank you.

    Like

  2. As a therapist who sometimes works with straight, gay, queer, or gender divergent couples, it makes sense–and is imperative to treating both partners with dignity–to know and use their preferred pronouns. I understand Anthony’s position that you would not use second-person pronouns directed to that person, but as in relationship therapy with both partners present, it would sound forced and unnatural to only be able to refer to one partner to the other exclusively by their name–it could be interpreted as a evasive way to acknowledge the person’s gender identity. It’s so much more natural to say “they/she/he is trying to say….”. Language, like gender, is a construct, and (please don’t come after me, my favorite English class professors) I think it’s a good think to challenge ourselves when we start to feel captive to rigid rules and feel it is inappropriate to not take them too seriously. –Thanks for the platform to have this conversation Alex!

    Like

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