Making a change: the fluid nature of gender and pronouns

April 27, 2023

When Emma Mansell changed their pronouns, it wasn’t a linear process, and it’s a fluid journey they are still on today. But, support is the key. Here, Emma shares their experience of gender diversity and what it’s been like making a change.

“I first started playing with the idea of gender identity when I acknowledged that I was gender fluid rather than cisgender. Previously, I floated between identifying as male and female, and how much I identified toward one gender might change by the day or even by the minute; I would feel a little more to one side and then I would switch back to the other.

This grew into a realisation that I never really stayed with either side. I never sat with one gender permanently, but I had found this lovely middle area, where I didn’t want to change my gender, I simply wanted to have more of a fluid identity. This is when I realised that I considered myself to be more on the gender neutral side.

From what I understand, there are three genders categorised under ‘gender neutral’. There’s ‘agender’ which is a person who does not identify with any gender, there’s ‘gender fluid’ where someone may switch between multiple gender identities, and then there’s bigender, which is where some people identify as a combination of any two genders.

When I think about where I sit, I don’t tend to think of myself as sort of any of them. I’m just in a space, in the middle. That’s me.

When it came to deciding what my actual pronouns would be, I was actually at a musical and everyone was just so fabulously different. I had this moment where I noticed that someone had a tattoo on their chest that said ‘gender’ – but it had a line through it. And that was it for me, that’s exactly where I recognised myself. This was a big moment in breaking boundaries for me. I was brought up conservative. You know, old school; where there are only two genders and no room for anything else.

Today, my pronouns are ‘they/them’, and for now this feels like the right fit.

I’m a mum to 3 wonderful girls, and my wife is cisgender. My experience of being pregnant was very different to hers. To be honest, I went through the majority of pregnancy identifying as she/her because it sat well with other people and made them more comfortable. I felt as though I had to play to that gender more during that time because it made everyone else feel better, but it just made me feel uncomfortable. It just wasn’t consistent with what was happening for me on the inside and wasn’t reflective of who I was. It was like I had to play a part. I grew my hair longer and wore more florals. And I got a lot better treatment for it too; people would literally get out of my way and let me sit down.

In my last pregnancy, I decided against doing that and it fit so much better for me. I’ve always struggled with the social pressure of trying to fit in and trying to look like everyone else. It was a little like I was trying to make myself invisible in the crowd rather than expressing who I truly am. Now that I’ve done it, and am affirming my pronouns, I’ve realised it’s not as scary as I thought it was going to be. Personally, I haven’t had as much discrimination as I thought I would. But I know that this is not everyone’s experience.

Since I changed my pronouns I’ve felt more relaxed, and a little more comfy on the inside. I’ve been wearing my badge to express my pronouns and doing so somehow makes it more visible for me on the inside. But it’s also so people can see and try to adapt to what I’m asking them to acknowledge.

People make mistakes sometimes and might use the wrong pronoun, but I personally don’t get offended. I don’t think I’ll ever feel really confronted by people using the wrong pronouns, but it’s all just a learning curve right now. It’s early days, and my gender expression is different depending on who I am with. For example, I haven’t pushed the pronouns much with my wider family yet, as I’m still finding where my comfort levels lie with different people. On the other hand, at work, I feel really confident that I can just come in and be me.

I always say when it comes to your gender identity, it’s OK to feel fluid rather than feeling as though ‘I have to be this person all the time’. When actually, you just have to ‘be’. I find that I just have to flow with how the feelings come and go. A lot of people do this with their clothes, hair or makeup because it’s a visible way of showing everyone what they’re feeling.

This is just my experience. I don’t speak for everyone else who is gender diverse. But, if this is something you are struggling with, from my experience the best thing to do is be true to yourself. And seek support.

If you can find a therapist who has a background in LGBTQIA or you can go to a facility like South Pacific Private where there is specific support, it enables you to go through the processes that are going to happen. Support is the key.

For me it was having a really solid family support too in my wife and kids. My kids always say, ‘yeah, my mum has short hair’. That is what it is. And my wife always says ‘I’m happy with you, however you are.’ And that support has just enabled me to flourish so much more. And at work too, it’s been incredible to be able to come here as me and not have to think about if I need to dampen it down and be someone I’m not, just to make others feel better.”

Emma Mansell is the Cultural Safety Officer at South Pacific Private Hospital, a Rainbow Tick Accredited treatment centre for addiction, anxiety and depression. If you or someone you know needs support, don’t do it alone. Speak with our team on 1800 063 332 to find out if our programs might be beneficial to you.

Online Self Assessments

Learn more about key indicators of addiction, trauma and mental health conditions by taking an assessment for yourself, or on behalf of a loved-one.

Recommended Reading


Newsletter Signup

Let’s Stay In Touch, Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Contact Us

If you would like more information for yourself or for a loved one, our client care team is available to take your call 7 days a week.

Call 1800 063 332

Our Address

A. 24 Beach Street

Curl Curl NSW 2096

P. 1800 063 332

F. 02 9905 9696

E. [email protected]