Blog / 2024 / Why “They” Is the Best Gift You Can Give Me

May 22, 2024

Thirty years after I first felt an inkling that “woman” and “she” didn’t fully describe me, I’ve started asking people to use “person” (or other non-gendered terms) and “they” in reference to me.

To those who know me well (or who’ve been following this blog for a while), this isn’t a huge surprise, but what is astonishing—even to me—is how thrilled I am about this simple change.

The best way I can think to explain it is that, if you’re a man or a woman and someone keeps referring to you as “they” when talking about you, it can feel weird or even aggressive. Your reaction might be: “Why can’t this ninny just use the correct pronoun for me? ‘They’ doesn’t tell people who I am. ‘They’ is a plural pronoun! And I’m just me.”

If you’re genderfree like me and “they” feels like a good way to describe you, but others keep referring to you as “she” or “he” when talking about you, it’s uncomfortable in the same way. Gendered pronouns feel incomplete or wrong for me; “they” makes me feel seen. And, in a lifetime spent feeling like an important part who I am is invisible, being seen counts for a lot.

Which might make you wonder why it took me so long to get to a place where I could ask for this simple change. I came out as queer years ago and as genderfree in 2022, so what was the hold-up with the pronouns?

In a word: convenience.

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Generally speaking, I know I’m an inconvenient person. For example, I’m childfree. For some, the fact that I don’t have kids and I don’t apologize for it comes across as a threat to their identity. I know this because they used to menace me in return in the comment section of YouTube, back when I subjected myself to that rage machine.

This choice to stray from the mainstream—along with the many others I make—are difficult. Society is really good at reinforcing its most conventional ideas about the correct way to be, and humans are built to enjoy going along to get along. We are deeply social, and the approval of others matters to us.

All of which is to say that the idea of being even more inconvenient and asking that people treat me as genderfree feels like a lot.

LGBTQIA Lamb-ertville, progress pride flag lamb and sheep painting by artist Gwenn Seemel
Gwenn Seemel
LGBTQIA+ Lamb-ertville
acrylic on canvas
36 x 36 inches

But then I think of what it felt like when I first became a vegetarian and a friend invited me over for lunch. I had to tell her that I wasn’t eating meat, but it felt impossible to ask her to make me special food when she was already being so kind as to make me a meal in the first place. Nevertheless, ask I did. And each time I was faced with that situation it became a little more natural. Today, I don’t feel like a rebel for being mostly vegan. Instead, every time I share my inconvenient choice, I remember that my certainty in my choice—my certainty that it’s perfectly acceptable—makes it easier for those who are thinking about going meatfree to imagine doing so as well.

Which is precisely why I knew I needed to switch my pronouns from “she” to “they/she.”

If you prefer to keep calling me “she” that’s okay. But, if you make the effort to use “they,” I want you to know that you’re the best kind of human. You’re the kind that who understands that, while “woman” and “man” might feel like enough for you to be able to describe all of humanity, you also acknowledge that your experience isn’t everyone’s. And you make space for that difference.

progress pride flag lamb face
detail image of LGBTQIA+ Lamb-ertville

I’ve been working on this lamb and sheep painting for a while. I was just starting it when a Belgian film crew visited my studio to ask me about my art and my gender identity. LGBTQIA Lamb-ertville is part of a series of animals who embody the progress pride flag. It started with a tiger and a bunny. Then there was a fish, a duck, and a wolf. A year later, I added a sea turtle, a crab, and Eeyore.

Each of these images represent an aspect of my queerness, which can be everything from fierce like a tiger to depressed like a storybook donkey. Along those lines, it’s fitting that I finished the lamb and sheep painting right as I found the courage to ask others to use “they” in reference to me. After all, this moment is a meeting between kid-me who was sure no one would understand them and grownup-me who finally realized it wasn’t too late to ask that people try.

progress pride flag lamb and sheep
cut out image of LGBTQIA+ Lamb-ertville

The original image is available for $3000 plus shipping (and tax if you live in New Jersey)—contact me if you’re interested. You can buy prints and other pretty things here in my print shop.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


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