Zizi? Not a Girl, Not an Island: Finding Gender Neutral Words for Family

October 20

Les,

On National Coming Out Day last week, my sister texted me excitedly that her friend came out as genderqueer on Facebook, and that their friend’s new nephew will call them Zizi instead of aunt or uncle. My sister loved the name and wrote that perhaps I’d like to be Zizi Emily or something else one day! Zizi made her smile. I responded yeah, I could maybe be Zizi Em, Zizi Gritz, or just plain Zizi. Her texts gave me some much needed hope and joy.

None of us exists as a complete island in this world. We are connected through bridges, blood, households, offices, teams, and more. Although we are all individuals, we are also defined by who we are to others—who we love, bicker with, tease, and mourn. Our bonds with others and the roles we play in these relationships are integral parts of our identities.

One of the most difficult things about being nonbinary is how quieted I feel when thinking and talking about my family.

I don’t have words—not satisfying words substitutable for gendered ones—when talking about who I am to those I love. Sister and daughter, both important and strong words, make me unsteady.  I may have some attachment to sister, but I can’t place an asterix on it in conversation with a footnote explaining I’m not actually a girl. I don’t want to offer fuel to anybody’s misinterpretation of my gender. Niece and aunt just have no business being used for me, outside of Niece being one of my middle names.

I don’t feel I can ask anyone to restructure their thinking of gender for me, so I spend a lot of my time quiet. As someone who rushes across crosswalks so cars can turn sooner, how am I supposed to feel comfortable asking for spaces made for me in conversation? How can I ask people to accept new words and ways of thinking? New words forged and new fabric sewn, so I can talk about being a child to my parents, sibling to my brother and sister,  _____ to my aunts and uncles, and _____ (zizi?) to my sibling’s children? There are so many things I’d like to talk about sometimes but don’t, including how sometimes I daydream about someday chasing around my sister’s and brother’s future children, teaching them how to use the library and reading with them, and teaching them the names of trees and when different flowers blossom and bloom in spring.

Language is important. I exist and I’m someone to my parents, my siblings, and my aunts and my uncles, and I will be someone to my siblings’ possible future children, regardless of the letters that don’t exist in a dictionary for me. But not having words for who I am to others, and words reflecting the very important relationships between us, renders me invisible to myself and others in conversation sometimes.

My sister’s text touched me both because Zizi is a great possible idea for what my future nieces, nephews, and their possibly nonbinary sibling(s) can call me someday, and because the idea came from my sister. I was touched that my sister saw something she thought we could use, and came to me. It makes it so much easier to navigate the world as nonbinary when I’m not doing it alone. I really love my family, and family of friends, and I like being able to identify myself in relation to them, as do many folks who are trans and nonbinary.

None of us are islands. Not completely.

It’s true sibling is a gender neutral word, but how often does someone introduce you to another as their “sibling”? I’ve always thought it’s a rather strange word with the texture of room temperature wet canned dog food. I’m thankful this gender neutral word exists, but I’m not looking to get cozy with it on a regular basis.

 

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