They/Them Who Ancestor Work

My use of they/them as gender pronouns invokes the legacy of those who engage in ancestor work, the knowing that when I am called or referenced, so are my people: many. So is much. My experience of gender is an unplaced multitude, untamed like the spread of salt upon the earth, as many as the people who walk with me; only a nonbinary pronoun is fitting. None of us will allow for containment.
Not our bones in the water, nor shouts in the air | | |

This is the first in a series of writings on the “many and much”.  I hope it is meaningful for you.
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I’m a Queer Black artist and Òrìsà practice devotee. I’m a descendant of slaves and Black Indian root workers; my ancestors are loudly present in my life. My awareness of their presences salient. My peoples’ traditions demand the acknowledgement that our blood, our Being is so because of and among the many who walked before.
To us, every hour of stone is in Divine collaboration;
we are called into time by our ancients,
our wise ones. | | |

We honor Òrìsà who change form and genders. We rely upon earth medicines that alter and condition themselves in the hands of studied medicine workers or dependent upon the needs of the body. Ours is the celebration, discovery, and mastery of transformation and transmogrification.

We are a people of the many and the much.
My gender pronouns are they/them/theirs; I’m gender nonconforming (gender queer and nonbinary) yet, with all of these words, I am unsure if this languaging is my landing place. Of all these matters, including that of who I am, I am a student and will be my life long, which is why I choose to embrace that languaging who I am is intelligently unfixed. For instance, I remain critical of the relationship they/them has to whiteness and western queer culture, requiring interrogation of what it means to use it. I choose to do so in company, out loud.

My use of they/them as gender pronouns invokes the legacy I was born to, of those who engage in ancestor work; the knowing that when I am called or referenced, so are my people: many. So is much.  My experience of gender is an unplaced multitude, untamed like the spread of salt upon the earth, as many as the people who walk with me; only a nonbinary pronoun is fitting. None of us will allow for containment.
Not our bones in the water, nor shouts in the air | | |

I mean for us to consider what is already invoked for a people, a Diaspora within which ancestor practice is a practice of living, and a living practice. For folks who understand that our people are not gone; they are whispers, molecules, fabric we are draped in and by whom our dreams are scaffolded.  They intervene. They conspire. They watch.
They walk with us.
We do not believe we are alone here | | |

When people call my name, when I inform them to use “they” in reference to me, I do so knowing they have been tasked with voicing that which is already true: this they rolls deep. I come from a legacy of the many and much, and accordingly, my use of they/them is not only a reflection of my gender nonconformity but an embodiment and invocation of all and who I am, who my people are. Ancestors, Transcestors, Walking Glories. We.
That I get. That languaging feels right.

A warning: Trans identities, gender nonconformity are real, lived experiences, not symbolisms for momentary experimental adornment. This is not an invitation for people outside of these Diasporic traditions and lived experiences (such as binary cis folk) to co-opt these ideas; not all people who use gender-neutral pronouns are doing ancestor work, know how to, or come from traditions where this is celebrated and taught. However, for those of us who do, and are struggling to find words in the colonial project that the English language can be and has become, it is our responsibility to our healing, our decoloniality to disrupt the violences within that language. This is not a static enterprise. We will have to do this again. And again.
Lifted by the wisdom of our many.

I have met myself more than once.
I’ll continue to be introduced, continue to wrestle. Divine willing, I’ll continue to be surprised (not with the knowing, but the growing into). Inarguable is that I won’t be alone and my people won’t be alarmed, for they have already met me and asked me here.
I’ll keep working to make good on the prayers.

©Ni’Ja Whitson

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