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pronoun circle-jerk and the dog charlie

February 18, 2019

Julian Talamantez Brolaski: I’m Julian Talamantez Brolaski, and this is PoetryNow. I was in upstate New York with a group of artists, and there was that moment where we introduced ourselves, and everyone went around to say their name and pronoun. I have a trans friend who calls this the “pronoun circle-jerk.” Everybody is just so proud of themselves for being good, for being correct. I think that is a kind of cynical viewpoint, but I do feel ambivalent about these pronoun circles. It’s an opportunity for trans people and genderqueer people too, to announce what their personhood is, how they’d like to be referred to, and this is very crucial. But on the other hand, it also produces a kind of pressure on trans people and genderqueer people that they may not be ready for. So, I’m of two mindsboth happy, in a way, to have the opportunity to be recognized, but also feeling like it was really clear I was the only trans person in the room.

(READS POEM)

pronoun circle-jerk and the dog charlie
 
i had scarcely got acquainted
when they took me by the paw & made me even-minded
nor did i mind
i had exactly enough window
i had exactly enough to get started
wine makes a person weak
that is not to say that wine is not delightful, only
that it makes a person weak
a person can be made weak with whiskey
and this was the mexicans’ military tactic
with the chiricahua apache
and the dutch with the lenape down in manahatta
there was a dog named charlie
cally called it an ‘it’
when we had our pronoun circle-jerk
i told the group they could call me ‘it’
you know like the sky and the grass and
a bird where you can’t tell what it is
it, its, itself
but then i sort of chickened out and said
if ‘it’ ‘made them feel weird’ as a pronoun for a human
they could call me ‘they’
or any gender-neutral pronoun i said
xe or zae or e or shim-sham or
two head-cocks and a click i joked
looking at charlie’s belly as charlie
rolled on its back

* * *

I think “it” is great. I would love to have “it” as a pronoun. But there’s part of me that’s also very polite, and then I’m like, well maybe I can’t expect people to use that because it’s so weird. People have told me that it makes them uncomfortable, that it’s like they feel like they might be dehumanizing me, and I was like, exactly.

(QUOTING FROM POEM)

i told the group they could call me ‘it’ / you know like the sky and the grass and / a bird where you can’t tell what it is / it, its, itself

For me it’s expansive rather than degrading. It’s actually an honor to be an “it”.

Katie Klocksin: That was Julian Talamantez Brolaski and its poem “pronoun circle-jerk and the dog charlie.” I’m Katie Klocksin and this is PoetryNow, a production of The Poetry Foundation. For more about this series, go to poetryfoundation.org/poetrynow.

Julian Talamantez Brolaski considers the way we use pronouns to signal gender.

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