Punches and Pronouns: How Being Accused of "Acting Like a Man" Convinced Me I Was Anything But

Hitting that guy back wasn’t acting like a man, it was the most lady-like thing I’ve ever done.
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Rye Silverman
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Hitting that guy back wasn’t acting like a man, it was the most lady-like thing I’ve ever done.
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My approach to gender identity has always been a little unorthodox, somewhat of a hybrid of non-binary and binary philosophies. I believe in the concept of gender as a spectrum, or even a combination of several spectrums, and that every single person has a gender identity, and that for all of us it is different. 

Through this philosophy, I’ve never found identifying as transgender, as a woman and as genderfluid to be mutually exclusive. For years, pronouns never mattered much to me. In fact I prided myself on it. I took on the philosophy of Tyrion Lannister: “Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.”

While I knew how I really felt, when asked about my pronouns I’d respond with something like, “He, she, or they, just don’t be a jerk.” This worked. It worked well. It was my armor. 

But then, last summer on my way to the 2014 Dyke Day in LA, I was attacked by a man for whom a cheeky approach to pronouns was no defense. He wasn’t interested in what I called myself, his only criticism was that I even exist to begin with. I survived his attack with barely a scratch, a fact I’m thankful for to this day, and with a story to tell. 

Thanks to social media and a very bizarre set of circumstances involving a man-on-the-street video which to this day might be the only hate crime to also become a Funny or Die exclusive, that story went viral. For a few weeks it was all anyone would talk to me about, even when I asked them not to.

In one of those discussions I didn’t want to be in, a friend decided they needed to link me to a conversation that was happening in a gender critical group on Facebook. I don’t understand why we always think someone wants to read negative things that strangers are saying about them, but that’s what this was. A group of women, some trans, some cis allies, and some the opposite of that, were debating my attack and what my reaction to it said about me. 

I lurked over the comments for an hour or so but never joined in. I didn’t even want to be there but I couldn’t look away. A disturbing trend developed in the comments I read. Repeatedly, several of the more critical commenters started saying that by defending myself, by not letting myself be a victim of this assault, I was acting “like a man.”

This was a painful thing to read, because it as was an echo. “You’re acting like a man right now,” is something my attacker had said to me during the attempted assault. He had gone so far as to blame the ensuing fight on me. He was not at fault for grabbing me in the first place, I had “started it” by hitting him back. The message he was expressing was very clear, it was a message that he would later repeat in the video interview. I had to be a man, his logic dictated, because if I were a woman he had the right to touch my body and I had no right to stop him from doing so.

As disgusting and as abhorrent as I found that philosophy coming from him, it was easy enough to dismiss it. This man was a violent prick who hated me so much he had to make his rage physical, it is easy to not give credence to him. But seeing those same words, with the same point of view, coming from other women on that Facebook thread? That broke my heart.

Others in the comment thread stuck up for me. Some of these women said that they were as disturbed by that line of thinking as I was. They said all the things I’d have said in my defense, allowing me to lurk and let it sink in. But when they argued that it was wrong of the others to misgender me based on what I’d done, my critics replied that it was impossible to misgender me, because I had told the world it was okay to still call me a man, by not insisting on certain pronouns. To their eyes, I was a man who slipped into female pronouns when it was fun and breezy, but that when the trouble started I immediately became a man again.

At the time I hated this response. I felt it was a complete misinterpretation of my pronoun preferences. It was a direct violation of my “don’t be a jerk” caveat. But as I walked away from that discussion I repeated it over and over in my head. And while these critical women had still been playing the wrong song, they had gotten a few of the notes right.

My armor, the laissez-faire attitude I had towards my pronoun preferences was not me playing fast and loose with my gender identity, it was not me trying on one sex for fun and another for business, but it was an open invitation for others to do exactly that with how they thought of me. 

I realized, thanks to those critics, that I never again wanted my behavior to be viewed as being that of a man. I hate what that philosophy says about women and what we’re capable of, of what our role is. Hitting that guy back wasn’t acting like a man, it was the most lady-like thing I’ve ever done.

Whether I stand up for myself or not, whether I am crass or kind, whether I’m snarky or sincere, I am not ever acting like a man because I am not and never have been a man and it is never again going to be okay with me if anyone suggests otherwise. My pronouns, like everything else about me, are female.