(CNN)When it comes to filling out a form, I can write my name and address and birth date on autopilot without pause. But when I get to the gender question, a wave of anxiety washes over.
What's your gender? I prefer not to say
I am not transgender, nor have I ever felt like I was unhappy with the body I was born into (except for, say, the extra love handles or those wrinkles starting to form around the corners of my eyes). I am also not a proclaimed gender warrior who has taken up the cause to try to singlehandedly dismantle all the systems in place (bwa ha ha ha).
I have quietly, defeatedly checked the female box on forms for most of my life even though it never feels exactly right. It's like having to choose what vegetable you ate for dinner last night when the only choices are "carrot" or "broccoli," but you ate asparagus. You feel like you're being dishonest no matter what you choose.
I have always defaulted to female because it was the gender I was assigned at birth and how I have always identified myself to others, when others have required that I identify myself.
With the increase of people including their gender pronouns in their email signatures and social media profiles and round-robin intros in meetings and classrooms, it's great to know that we're becoming more aware that you can't just assume what someone's gender identity is. It's also true, though, that some people just don't fit into one of the commonly used pronouns, and others, like me, prefer not to share. So please, stop asking about my gender (or anyone else's, for that matter) when there is no good reason to know.
I have never really felt entirely male or female. I don't feel like I fit into any of the other many categories that have emerged more recently to describe people who don't fit into the binary. I am not nonbinary or gender nonconforming or two-spirit or gender queer or agender or any of the other 56 options that Facebook allows users to choose from. I don't really like labels. I am just me.
"Queer, trans, and cis people are all socialized from a very young age to make all of the same assumptions about themselves and others, and it's almost impossible not to internalize and project those assumptions on others to some extent," said Dulcinea Pitagora, a New York City-based psychotherapist and sex therapist.
"Because of that, it makes sense that queer and transgender and gender non-conforming people worry about people reading us the wrong way, because of how the majority often incorrectly reads our gender, or makes other assumptions based on the way our bodies are perceived," they said via email.
When I am working my way through a seemingly ordinary form for a conference or customer service feedback, I have a visceral reaction each time one asks for my gender, particularly if there are only two options available. For one, I feel for my transgender and nonbinary friends and acquaintances who may be rendered invisible or else forced to translate who they are against who they believe the form owners are and what their expectations are.
"When our bodies and presentation is perceived incorrectly by others, it can be painful to be lumped in with a group we don't identify with, and it can be even more painful to be excluded from a group that we do identify with," Pitagora said.
I also question just why a survey about toothpaste or registration for a webinar asks for my gender in the first place. I understand why you need my email address or maybe even my geographic region, but what information could you possibly be gleaning from my gender? Will you market to me differently moving forward because of my presumed genitalia? Does the box I checked magically reveal to you all of my likes and interests and consumer behaviors?
"Can you please add more options than just male and female?" I finally asked one owner of a form seeking feedback after an event I attended when I had finally had enough. I didn't think I'd hear back. The reply I received wasn't expected.
"You know, now that I think about it, I don't know why we were asking for gender at all. I will take it out," the person who administered the form wrote back to me.
It felt like a breath of fresh air.
Most people probably don't realize how loaded questions like gender might be on their forms or surveys. The forms probably include them by default just like they do name or address or ZIP code. These folks may not even think about why they're actually asking for someone's gender or if or how they will even use what they collect.
There are many reasons why someone might not be comfortable sharing pronouns.
Someone might feel like there are no pronouns that are a good fit, for instance, or that the assumptions that are made about their pronouns are not accurate for them, according to Jesse Kahn, a psychotherapist, sex therapist and director at The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center in New York City. Additionally, some people may feel "a lack of safety; that sharing their pronouns will out them in a way they don't want," Kahn said.
"Additionally, there's often a cultural pressure to pick one set of pronouns and stick with that, and that fixed approach to pronouns doesn't fit or work for everyone."