Trans Alert!

Do you hear those sirens? That’s the alarm bells going off signaling it’s October. It’s one year since I came out.

I didn’t do it gracefully. I did it in fits and starts, changed my mind about doing it, backtracked, denied it, leaked it, annoyed people, came out some more, and made absolutely no one comfortable with the process. Except for me.

One year ago my novelette The Couvade was ready to be published. At the same time, my day job sent notice that all employees should add pronouns to their email signatures. I’d been exploring gender in my writing (The Couvade is pretty darn gay) and gravitating towards LGBTQ friends. I was realizing things. I’d been present at a work event where trainers started the meeting by asking everyone to state their name and pronouns. Every other person there stated the pronoun “she” after their name. The motto of the organization I worked for was: “We make the world a better place for women.” I said “she” when it was my turn because there seemed to be no other option. That’s what I was taught to say and respond to from birth.

I’m a feminist. I care deeply about equality and reproductive rights for people with a uterus. But when asked for my pronouns, saying “she” felt like a betrayal. I felt sick and embarrassed. I felt like a liar. I knew that “female” did not encompass my identity or describe my internal reality accurately. Back then I was unable to articulate this in a clear, concise manner, or to do so with any confidence. Especially surrounded by people calling themselves feminists and defaulting to “she” for every patient who walked through the door of the clinic. I’m not leaving the job because of their exclusionary tendencies, but it certainly was not a friendly work environment for a trans person.

I clumsily decided to correct my pronouns for my book release at the same time that I added pronouns to my work email. It was a big deal. I didn’t know how people would react. I blundered forth into this huge life-changing decision without a second thought because I knew deep in my bones it was right.

At first, nothing bad happened. No one at work seemed to notice. People online in the writing community messaged their support and advice about handling the frequent misgendering that occurred, and I connected with other trans people who generously shared their experiences with me privately.

A certain degree of confusion about my pronouns is understandable. Several online biographies of me contain outdated information. My profile pictures from that time appear distinctly feminine. My work has been published in fem-centric anthologies. In fact the paperback of the anthology Not All Monsters is due out this month! My contribution to that book, as well as my upcoming novella, The Wingspan of Severed Hands, are undeniably feminist works that draw on my life experience of playing a female role for half a century.

And you know what? I mess up my own pronouns sometimes. So if you make a mistake, you’re forgiven. Especially if you hardly know me. However, please note that I have helpfully placed my pronouns and nickname in full view for ease of reference, much like my email signature at my soon to be former job.

My job. Suddenly, there was a reaction to my pronouns about six months later. It may have been when I cut my hair short when I was first asked, “Do we need to send a memo?”

Since then I’ve been asked three times if “we” need a memo to “make sure you’re comfortable.” The last time was after a co-worker texted one of my bosses saying I’d changed my name to Joe. I didn’t change my name to Joe, and she didn’t ask me if I changed my name to Joe. Joe is my nickname. I’m not ruling out the possibility of a name change if my heart so desires one of these days, but let me make this clear: No one has the right to change my name except for me.

No one has the right to out another person without their permission. Doing so is an act of aggression. Luckily for me, I was already out on social media where all of my bosses (they are legion) had access to my information.

Furthermore, no one needs to worry about making me comfortable. I’m very comfortable with being trans. More comfortable than I’ve ever been. It seems to me that others feel uncomfortable about it and forget that boundaries exist. If you’re one of those people, consider this the memo you always wanted. I’m trans. So what?

Do you need someone to teach you all about gender identity and trans-ness? Oops, sorry: I am not that person. There are many other wonderful, patient, articulate writers and speakers on the topic. I am not one of them.

I am not a spokesperson for any group. I’m a spokesperson for me. A little thing like pronouns — such short words, and yet so ubiquitous — have much greater impact than I ever realized before I publicly corrected mine.

I committed to non-binary pronouns because it felt right. I had no better supporting logic. I didn’t even know I was trans. I just knew what felt right and I did it.

That rightness flows inward and outward. It catalyzes change. Not only change for me, but for others I interact with. I’m thrilled with the number of friends and acquaintances who have recently said I inspired them. I mean WTF, me?!? Okay…

This process of embracing rightness over conditioning seems so clear a year later, but if you’ve been part of my awkward pronoun and gender identity journey, you know how messy this whole thing has been. I hope you also know how much I love you for being true. True to me, to yourself, and to the value of personal truth over dictated cultural codes.

Next time we meet, we’ll talk about writing again. The Wingspan of Severed Hands will have a cover soon. Right now it’s in the hands of the fantastic artist Don Noble, and I’m dying to see what he does with the concept. Until then, you can pre-order the naked, coverless book right now if you’re so inclined. We’ll make sure your final product is clothed in gorgeous art before we send it out. Here’s the link:

Published by: Joe

Joe Koch writes literary horror and surrealist trash. A Shirley Jackson Award finalist, Joe is the author of The Wingspan of Severed Hands, The Couvade, and Convulsive. Their short fiction appears in publications such as Vastarien, Southwest Review, Pseudopod, and Children of the New Flesh. He’s been a flash fiction judge for Cemetery Gates Media as well as co-editing the art horror anthology Stories of the Eye from Weirdpunk Books. Find Joe (he/they) online at and on Twitter @horrorsong.

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