Blog / 2023 / On Being Pronout*

October 10, 2023

A few weeks ago, I introduced myself to a roomful of teens with my pronouns: she, they, or he.

I hadn’t planned on being so forthright. I’ve only ever talked publicly about my openness around pronouns here on my blog, where I didn’t have to see the faces of the people I told.

But these were queer kids and we were in a queer space, at the home base of an organization that provides inclusive sex education and LGBTQIA support for young people in my state. The words just tumbled out of me, along with an awkward explanation about how, in the outside world, I clip it down to just “she” and forgo the rest. “I’m old,” I added. My genderfree identity felt impossible when I was growing up and I don’t have the courage to present my complete self on a regular basis.

Following my spontaneous self-pronoutting I launched into the reason for me being there: a workshop to create surreal self-portraits, like the ones from Everything’s Fine. This was the first time I was doing the workshop, and I wanted to tell them about this piece.

[no audio]

It started with my love of water striders and my obsession with these insects living in a “neither here nor there” way. I painted them skimming the surface of space, because I wanted to turn up the tension that I feel every time I witness these magical bugs walking on water. This image is meant to capture the exquisite feeling of fragility that I think all sensitive humans experience now and again, while also revealing a truth about my queerness.

But what started as an ode to the tenuousness of life became something different. As I created Liminal, I realized that I could look at the image and see myself not only in the bugs but in space as well, leading to the questions:

Who are the space striders that skim across the surface of my enormity? When am I infinite and unimaginable and as old as time?

water striders skimming space, illustration about mental health
Gwenn Seemel
acrylic on panel
10 x 20 inches

I didn’t end up telling the teens about this image, partly because my heart was still thrumming in my ears from my unplanned self-pronoutting and partly because the vibe in the room was less “listen to the stranger natter on about surrealism” and more “dig into the art supplies to make a self-portrait.” Instead, I focused on paintings that were easier for me to talk about, before turning the participants loose on their own canvasses.

As we all tucked into the assignment, the students working on their ideas and me drawing out kids who were having trouble getting started, one of the other grown-ups in the room made an announcement about my art. She talked up my series quite a bit, finishing by saying:

“Come see their work on the second floor of the Princeton Public Library!”

Inviting everyone to enjoy my art in person was a sweet gesture and thoroughly appreciated, but, more importantly, it was the first time anyone had ever used “they” to refer to me. It made me feel infinite and unimaginable and as old as time.

water strider art painting
detail of Liminal

Support the next phase of this project!

Everything’s Fine is going to become a coloring book as well as a high school art curriculum. If you contribute to the Kickstarter before October 15th you could get your very own glitter kitter as well as pre-ordering the coloring book, buying a special edition poster, reserving an original drawing, or taking advantage an amazing deal on custom art!


See this series in person!

Princeton Public Library
65 Witherspoon
Princeton, NJ 08542

Open: through October 15th
Hours: every day, visit PPL site for times

The original water strider piece is for sale for $1500 plus shipping (and tax if you live in New Jersey)—please contact me if you’d like to buy the painting. For prints and pretty things with this image, go here in my print shop.

* As far as I know, I made up this word, combining “pronoun” with “out” (as in “coming out”). It’s definitely silly, and I don’t expect to see it in the dictionary any time soon, but I suspect I’m not the only person who’s gone through an experience like this, so it pleases me to name it.

Maybe this post made you think of something you want to share with me? Or perhaps you have a question about my art? I’d love to hear from you!


To receive an email every time I publish a new article or video, sign up for my special mailing list.


If you enjoyed this post, Ko-fi allows you to donate. Every dollar you give is worth a bajillion to me!