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When the glorious woman who is now my supervisor interviewed me for the position of Children’s Librarian, she asked: “How would you make sure the families in our community know who you are?”
I was so ready. “I would make a little poster to introduce myself and keep it on my desk!” I exclaimed. “Come out from behind the desk and talk to people! Ask kids how their day was when they get out of school!”
Flash forward six weeks: I’m working at the library and I’m loving it. And the families in our community know who I am! Kids tell me how their day was when they get out of school! Caregivers smile when I approach from behind my desk to ask their care-recipients, “What’s the last book you read and loved?”
I made that poster, too. Carefully. I knew it had to explain that my gender was transnonbinary and my pronouns were “they” and “them,” or my beloved new job would be Misgender City. But I didn’t want my gender to be the only thing my borrowers knew about me, either. So I included it alongside information like “Mx. Aly’s favorite book is Peter Pan!” and “Mx. Aly’s favorite ice cream is strawberry!” “If you have questions about Mx. Aly’s gender or pronouns,” I added, “ask them!”
And sometimes, people read the poster!
More often, they don’t.
That's one of the reasons I describe myself as a unicorn. In Peter S. Beagle's seminal work of unicorn zoology, The Last Unicorn, the titular unicorn is out there questing to save her kind with a sparkling horn right in the center of her forehead, but most people still look at her and see a horse, because that's what they're used to seeing. Similarly, I can sit at my desk behind that poster I made, wearing TWO pins declaring my pronouns to be they/them, and most folks will still see a cis woman…because cis, binary gender is what they're used to seeing. People have to believe in the magical—in anything they haven't been taught is "real"—to see it.
The occasional Schmendrick or Molly Grue spots me: usually a kid somewhere between 10 and 12, lingering over my poster longer than most people do, sometimes smiling shyly at me before heading for the shelves or computers. But aside from those magical moments, I have to repeat that I'm not a woman, a lot, in order to be gendered correctly.
It can be exhausting! But it can also be hilarious, and on occasion, extraordinarily heartwarming. Here are some of my favorite conversations that have unfolded as the people I serve have acquainted themselves with their fuchsia-haired, openly bisexual, gender nonbinary librarian. Details have been edited to protect coherency; names have been changed to protect the absurd.
Pronouns at Storytime
Me: “Hi, everyone! I’m Mx. Aly, my favorite color is purple, and my pronouns are 'they' and 'them.' That means that whereas if you were talking about Ms. Cherry, you’d say, 'She is an excellent librarian,' if you’re talking about me, you’ll say, 'They are an excellent librarian.' Let’s all go around and you can tell me your name, your favorite color, and your pronouns!”
Tulip, who is femme-presenting: “My name is Tulip, my favorite color is green, and…uh.”
Me: “Tulip, do you like it when people call you 'she' and 'her'?”
Me: “Great! So your pronouns would be 'she' and 'her.' Nice to meet you, Tulip! Let’s keep going.”
Daffodil: “My name is Daffodil, and my favorite color is blue.”
Me: “Awesome! And what are your pronouns?”
Daffodil, also femme-presenting but much younger than her fellow storytimers: “Uh…”
Tulip and the other children, whispering helpfully to Daffodil from as far as ten feet away: “She!”
On the one hand, most of them now understand that “she” and “her” are gendered pronouns! On the other…I have a lot of work to do.
Friend, or Frrrieeennddddd?
Amethyst, a chatty caregiver: “So you live in town?”
Amethyst: “And do you have, like, a roommate, or, a friend?”
Me: “Yep, I live with my partner!”
Amethyst: “No, but I mean, do you live with, or do you split the rent with…someone?”
Me: “Yes, my partner J and I live together and share the rent.”
(Honestly, that moment when I shift from “Yep!” to “Yes.” is a damn crucial moment if you want to know when I’ve shifted from accommodating to defensive.)
Amethyst: “But are you, I mean, are you and your friend…?”
Me: “He and I are romantic partners, yes.”
Amethyst: “But is he…I mean…”
Me: “He’s a cisgender man, but I’m also bisexual.”
Amethyst: “Whoa, you don’t have to tell me that! That’s your business! I’m not asking that!”
People have the most interesting ways of not asking things.
Having It All
Bunyan, wide-eyed: "Some teachers are also moms!"
Me: "Yep! Some librarians, too!" I am delighted! My children know they can have it all!
Brunettie, Bunyan’s older sister: "Like you!"
Ohhh no. What’s a professional, appropriate, kid-friendly way to say, “No no, you can have it all, but parenting is not part of the ‘all’ I have chosen to have, at least not right now. You see, I have no money and my biggest priority right now as concerns my reproductive system is starting testosterone”?
Me: “Um, nope! But Ms. Cherry and Ms. Chinchilla are!”
Me, reading a Magic School Bus book: "Mx. Frizzle is a great teacher, but she's also a little strange."
Minnie Dragon: "Oh, like you."
I'LL TAKE IT.
Not A Girl
Amethyst: "Hey, girlfriend!"
Me, like unto Janet from The Good Place: "Not a girl!"
Amethyst: “Oh, right! Uh, 'female'!”
Amethyst: “You know, it’s just what I always say to Ms. Cherry.”
Me: “Well sure, because she is a woman.”
Me, smiling: “Sounds good. Hey, friend.”
Pronouns at Storytime, Take 2
At some point, I decided that at storytime, I'd be a unicorn-presenting unicorn. I rock a pink pixie cut wig that I customized with a felt horn and ears, and I never forget my magic wand. Other people probably used to look at it and just see a stick, but I brought it home and decked it out with rhinestones, so everyone can tell it's magic now.
When I'm in my library, the rest of the Look is Cozy Unicorn Couture: a lightweight onesie with pockets, decorated with unicorns and rainbows, that's easy to pull on over whatever I wore to work that day. But when I do outreach in classrooms or daycare centers, I go Full Unicorn Diva. There's a pink satin dress, a silver pair of boots, a fluffy lavender jacket, and a white boa that sheds "The Library Unicorn Was Here" feathers in my wake.
It's hard to say who loves it more: me, or the kids. They gasp and light up in a way I used to think you had to be Queen Elsa to elicit. They see the magic right away.
Me: "Hi, everyone! I'm Mx. Aly, the library unicorn from down the street. I like to be called Mx. instead of Mr. or Ms., because I'm not a boy or a girl, I'm something else."
Starkid: "YOU'RE A UNICORN!"
Exactly, my darlings. I'm a unicorn.