She and he don't work for everyone — binary pronouns leave a lot of people out, unable to explain who they really are. Which is why new pronouns are gaining currency: In a poem xe performed at the 2015 College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational, genderqueer student and social activist Justice Gaines explained why we need them.
In "Letters From Xem," Gaines paints a picture of what it means and what if feels like to be neither male nor female, especially with parents who don't understand. Addressing xyr mother, Gaines said xie isn't her daughter, xie isn't her son, "But I'm always the child you raised," xie wrote, "Your child."
Dear mom/ This is like shifting/ Going from gas, to solid to liquid/ I am steam, melting into ice/ I don't know what phase your child is today/ Mom this is not a phase/ Remember how we lost that Luther Vandross CD but we knew all the lyrics by heart/ This is me finding myself 20 years late/ But we always knew the song by heart/ We can blast it loud as we want now, if you'll sing with me
In short, Gaines — a member of Brown University's graduating class of 2016 — said, xie's the same person, just with different pronouns. "I will not call myself your daughter/ I will not ask you to stop calling me your son/ I am sorry I cannot give you a word/ All I have are three new pronouns/ They all start with X"
With "Letters From Xem," Gains perfectly describes the emotional necessity of being able to express oneself, of finding the right words and of being understood. "I crossed out the beginnings," xie wrote, "but I didn't erase them/ you just have to look a little harder/ to know what they said."