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Of the See and Be Seen

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Hardison’s enjoying a chill Saturday, half an eye on the brewpub’s security feeds, mostly paying attention to the weather report for the weekend, when a handful of...buttons? clatter onto the benchtop in front of him, rolling in gentle, cyclic paths before landing face-up. “He/Him/His,” one reads, “They/Them/Theirs” another, “Please Ask My Pronouns!” and so on.

Hardison looks up to see Parker, a small frown of confusion across her brow, “What are these for?” she asks, arms crossed over her Keep Portland Weird! t-shirt. That explains where they came from, at least.

Portland Parker enjoys food trucks and getting up early on Saturdays to go to the farmers markets with Eliot. She pays for everything she takes, wears kitchy t-shirts, and even knows most of the vendors by name. 

“Well,” Hardison says, spluttering a bit while he tries to figure out where to start. “Sometimes people don’t...ah, the pronouns they want aren’t obvious, ‘cause they don’t...um their bodies aren’t-”

“I know trans people, Hardison,” Parker rolls her eyes, “Why are there pronouns on buttons, and what are these for?” She points to the various neo-pronoun options.

“Oh, well, when a trans person wants it to be clear what their pronouns are, a button can help remind people,” Hardison taps on the They button, “And gender...it’s not all cut and dry. Trans doesn't just have to be trans men and trans women. Sometimes they're not one or the other, maybe something in the middle, or something else entirely. Sometimes,” He taps the Please Ask, then a He/She , “It’s not consistent. People change, and sometimes that means how you feel about yourself and how you want people to... understand you changes. Non-binary, is how a lot of people call it, and I think sometimes people who call themselves non-binary don’t always call themselves trans.”

Okay, maybe it’s not the most delicate or eloquent explanation, but Hardison’s not exactly a queer studies scholar, alright? He exists on the internet, so he sees a lot of chatter, but he’s also aware he’s not all that up-to-snuff on how this topic really plays out in the real-world. 

But it seems good enough for Parker, “That's good. People are more complicated than two options. But why were some cis people wearing them? Or cis-passing?”

Hardison will never understand what facts do and don’t make it into Parker’s consciousness, like how she knows cis, trans, and passing, but not non-binary.

“Cause it can feel isolating, for a trans person to wear their pronouns. Maybe they pass, maybe they don’t, but they’re trying to make sure people treat them right. But then it’s also obvious that they’re trans. So if cis people wear them, make it more common, it feels more natural, less like a trans person can be singled out for wearing a pin and being trans.”

Parker smiles, face alight with understanding and ideas. “We should talk to the vendors at the market and get them to supply the brewpub. Give them to the staff if they want and sell them to customers."

 

Hardison doesn't realize that agreeing means that Parker is going to drag him to the market right that minute. "Now, Hardison, they'll only be there another hour!" But it is a good idea, so he snags his wallet and lets himself be tugged away.

They pass Eliot on the way out and Hardison holds the door while their partner grumbles about Parker not helping with the produce. Indeed, totes full of fresh greens and fruits are heavy on each of Eliot's shoulders but Parker merely pecks him on the cheek and tries to keep moving.

Hardison has his own priorities though, and makes her wait. "Morning, babe," he says, slipping around Eliot to ease one of the totes from his hold.

"Morning," Eliot replies, and Hardison savors the kiss that goes with it.

"Parker's wanting buttons for the brewpub," he explains, waving towards the ones left scattered on the counter. "We're going to talk to the vendor. You need us to get anything you missed?"

Eliot squints towards the buttons, brow furrowed in a mirror of Parker's earlier confusion as he tries to read the text halfway across the room, but he shakes his head. "Nah, we got enough for the week, 'specially if we're headed out for the job in Houston."

"Text if you think of anything." Hardison steals another kiss and hurries back to Parker, who links their arms and bustles them off to the market.

A chat with the vendors turns into a full tour of the market. Hardison has been on occasion; early Saturdays are really a Parker and Eliot thing but the dwindling number of mouth-watering pastries available tells him he should probably reconsider staying home on market days. Eventually, they turn towards home with a detour to the post office to ship a box of artisanal jams to Peggy who's "really interested in pairing jams and cheese for the brunches she caters", according to Parker.

Nearly two hours later, they finally return home bearing a tub of buttons and a stack of business cards, plus the scant remains from the baker's stall. Eliot has set to prepping the vegetables for the week, and merely hums in acknowledgment when Parker places a scone and a small jar of jalapeno-blackberry jam in easy reach.

And that's...Saturday. Hardison checks in with Amy, but she wields her power well as manager and there's not much for him to do. He and Parker go over the schedule for the job down in Houston, Eliot slips into the brewpub kitchen for the dinner rush, and life keeps on.

 

Life keeps on… with buttons. Amy loves them, grabs a She/Her/Hers without a moment's hesitation, and takes the basket and info sheet Hardison had printed to the register, waving down the waiters to spread the news before Hardison even knows what's happened. 

He looks down at the He/Him/His pinned to his chest, and reminds himself that it is a good thing, and after a while he'll forget he's even wearing it. That any awkwardness he feels wearing the button is worth the comfort it could bring to any trans person who sees it. That it’s worth the effort of reminding the world that queer is a possibility.

The staff take to the pins quickly, aprons adorned and smiles all-around. Other buttons follow: tiny, colorful flags fit to circles and squares and even D20s, short phrases in glittering enamel proclaiming Black Girl Magic, and support of a dozen social movements. Hardison had known most of their staff were... probably queer. Word of their employment policies and the rather vague relationship status of the owners had given the brewpub a reputation of being a safe place to work, but even he’s surprised at just how many of them are willing to share themselves with just one little nod from their management. 

 

Parker latches on to the buttons as something of a project. Each time one of the staff pins one on, Parker appears. She smiles at them, peers intently at the chosen button or buttons, and asks if there's anything the brewpub can do to be a more welcoming environment. For her own part, Parker rotates through pronouns. Ae/aers/aerself sticks for a whole two weeks wherein Parker tucks aer hair neatly into a cap each morning, and wears the clunkiest boots in aer closet. Hardison fumbles some, especially the following week, when Parker announces that en will be working the mark as a harried reporter, and the reporter's pronouns would be she/her/hers. 

"Someday,” en announced with a searing wisdom, “it might be right to use my pronouns on a con, but I haven't found the right ones yet. I don't want that to be part of a character, it would be disingenuous and leveraging trans-ness as a tool to make this guy uncomfortable. That's not okay."

And so, they don’t wear the buttons on the job, generally. Hardison will, when he’s Just Some Guy, but never when proclaiming his pronouns would center queerness as part of the play. Parker’s right; there might be a job where the mark noticing a pronoun pin might not mean anything, could just be a piece of a character, no more impactful than hair color. But they won't use genderqueerness to manipulate someone.

 

That’s them: Parker and Hardison. Hardison is happy with his he/him/his, and Parker eventually does settle into she and they (mostly), sometimes one or the other, but more often both. Eliot...Eliot is another story. He listens, patient, the evening after Parker’s discovery at the market as Parker delights in the vastness of the world. He never misses a beat when one of the staff pins on a new button, and always, always gets Parker’s right, even when they change halfway through the day and Parker can be found tucked into the tightest, darkest corner of the apartment, muttering in frustration about not understanding their own feelings.

But he doesn’t wear a button. Parker offers the whole array that first night, and turns to pout at Hardison when Eliot shrugs and walks off. Hardison thinks he understands, though. Eliot’s good at taking care of other people, but it’s hard to put a target on yourself, especially one that wouldn’t otherwise be recognizable. 

He and Eliot have to practically eat each other’s faces in public for people to recognize them as being “romantically involved”. And usually that’s cool with Hardison. Nobody needs to know his business, and he certainly doesn’t need every bigoted fool knowing he’s Black and queer, but sometimes, he’d like to be on a date with his boyfriend and know that people know.  The way people understand that he’s with Parker, when they take a flying leap onto his back on a busy sidewalk, or that people know Parker and Eliot are together when they’re just standing next to each other, heads turned just so to speak privately. It’s terrifying to think someone might see him, but sometimes Hardison yearns for people to know that Eliot is his.

Eliot’s like that too, wanting to be seen, but also knowing how much danger that invites. How much rage people can hold over otherness. And Eliot’s been running up against that every day of his life, leaning into it, pushing against it, and hiding from it in turns. Hardison feels it sometimes, when Eliot stays just a step too far away from him and Parker in public, when he kisses Parker on the cheek and claps Hardison on the shoulder. It hurts like rejection, even though Hardison knows it’s not. What hurts more is that Hardison knows it’s rooted in fear. Eliot’s fear that there’s a target on anyone close to him, that being in a relationship with two people, including a man, a Black man, is going to bring the world down around their ears in ways that have nothing to do with their jobs, that he’s not good enough for the other two.

So Hardison just shakes his head, tells Parker that Eliot will pick up a button or he won’t, but it’s not because he doesn’t care about why people wear them. Parker pouts some more, but wanders off to some perch, leaving Hardison to tidy up the living room.

 

It’s a while later, well after Parker has circled round to she/they, and Hardison wakes up alone, cold in the middle of the bed. He wanders out into the kitchen to find both of his partners. They’re mid-conversation, it appears, one of their silent ones that Hardison still doesn’t fully grasp all these years later. An extra mug is set out though, so he fills it with the cocoa still warm on the stove, and sits with them while they don’t speak. When their mugs are finally set aside, cold dregs left forgotten, Hardison kisses each of them tenderly and hauls them back to bed.

He’s not nearly as surprised as he thinks he should be when Eliot’s chef jacket sports a pair of buttons the next day: He/Him/His, and They/Them/Theirs. The aprons in their personal kitchen follow, and Hardison knows Eliot’s happy even when extra buttons mysteriously end up in their sock drawer, because more often than not, the buttons make an appearance pinned carefully to the deliberate folds of Eliot’s bandanas.  

Eliot’s just a little bit looser after that. A little more at ease, in a way Hardison is certain would be imperceptible to anyone outside of their family, but means everything to him. To know that both of his partners have found just a little bit more of themselves lights up Hardison’s whole world.