I will keep singing “Use My Fkn Pronouns” and here’s why
Allegra Hernandez released their debut album Gift Exchange and the music video “Use My Fkn Pronouns” and received more than a thousand attacks online. IPR asked them to write about the song and the internet backlash.
When I was 16 years old, I wrote a catchy, dissonant and power-chord-based guitar riff in the key of B minor, taking inspiration from influential rock artists I started listening to starting in middle school like Nirvana, Cranberries, Paramore, L7, Hole, Saosin, The Used and other 2000s alt music.
When I was 15 years old, I came out as nonbinary and queer and had taken the first steps to tell my friends and close family members my pronouns: they/them/their. I proudly embraced who I was and was one of the few openly queer students at my high school that I knew of.
At age 24, my life journey has taken me to points I never imagined I could reach, and I’m so glad I chose to pursue music. In 2021, after not playing that B minor guitar riff in years, I found a video of myself playing it. At the time, I was reflecting deeply on how difficult it always has been for people in my life to give me the basic respect of not only referring to me by my correct pronouns, but most importantly, seeing me for how I see myself.
I decided to write the song, “Use My Fkn Pronouns.” As I reflected on my past, I felt the need to cherish and shield my younger self from so many heavy experiences unique to queer youth: involving self-doubt, dysphoria, rage, religious trauma and an imploding family and home life. I wrote this song for me first and foremost, but I also hoped it would extend to other trans people who may feel similar, knowing that everyone has their own unique experience. One thing is certain though — I am not defined by these negative experiences in my life. I am defined by how I carry myself through the world, how I can positively impact others and how I choose to represent myself in an authentic way.
Flash forward to November 2022, I released Gift Exchange, an album with the recording process starting in March 2022. Some of these songs have been written for even longer than that. “Use My Fkn Pronouns” is the opening track. It’s hard for me to pick my favorite song from the album, and I feel proud of this release for my first LP. I spent hours upon hours writing guitar, bass and vocal parts for these songs, getting them to how I wanted. Most songs took me three months to finalize while others have been in the works for as long as five to seven years. My bandmates, Vimka Nochvay and Aaron Larimer, also spent hours practicing these songs with me, playing so many shows and improving our live performances.
With Gift Exchange as my first LP, the intent was to clearly introduce who I am as a musical artist by showcasing my songwriting styles and instrumental work on guitar and bass. Being an active artist in the Des Moines scene for fewer than two years, I have ambitions to expand elsewhere. I knew I needed to step up my release, which led me to do a music video.
It made so much sense for “Use My Fkn Pronouns” to be made into a music video because of the message it conveys and also, my band loves playing the song live. The music video was shot by The Primates, consisting of video production duo Jaydn Swailes and Bradford Johnson. They closely aligned with my vision of the song and were exceptional to work with. We filmed the video in August at Bomb Bar in Downtown Des Moines. After months of editing, the video was finally completed a couple of days before my November 18th release show and we debuted the video for the first time there. In the video, 21 amazing individuals participated in it, including my mom. I am so fortunate for their involvement and all names are listed in the credits. Every single person in the video inspired me so much, and I was able to highlight a lot of my friends and even some of my students who are LGBTQ. I wanted the video to be a celebration of identity, panning to individual shots and showcasing everyone. It was last minute since we couldn’t secure a location earlier on, and I only had a little over a week to invite people. I was beyond happy to see everyone who came out to the shoot.
"Use My Fkn Pronouns" music video
After the release show, I published the video on my YouTube channel and was excited about the response it would get. A lot of the responses were positive and supportive from my community. Ultimately, the love and support will stick with me in the long term.
It always loomed in the back of my head that I might receive hate comments containing transphobic remarks and was mentally preparing myself to receive a few, but not as many as I’ve gotten, specifically on Facebook and YouTube. They all started coming on Thanksgiving Day. The night before, I had a few “laugh reactions” to the video clip on Facebook and didn’t think much of it. When I woke up the next morning, I had over 200 laugh reactions and as of this writing, that number is now over 1.6k.
I received an onslaught of comments on both YouTube and Facebook from strangers about how I am promoting “youth mental illness,” referring to me as “it” or “he-she,” insulting my appearance, alluding to violence towards trans people, referencing my genitalia and mocking the song’s message. At the very least, I received lots of comments calling the song “cringe” and even that I was “ruining the legacy of other rock artists before me.” I also received a few comments that were racially driven, mocking my Hispanic surname, Hernandez, and one purposefully misnaming me with a traditionally male Latinx name, “Juan,” instead of Allegra. There were several comments from people saying that they will “never respect my pronouns.”
In the span of 24 hours, more than 1,000 people responded in a hateful way. I have taken measures to reduce hateful comments on both platforms so looking at it now, you can’t see as many of them.
Here’s my response to those comments:
I must have so much power over you. I must be making a substantial impact. When you see a person being so secure and authentic in themselves, does that bring you insecurity or envy, causing you to take time out of your day to harass and attack? It makes me wonder if you have your own void that needs to be filled. Oftentimes, your personal attacks are a reflection of your own shortcomings and experiences you project outward, which do not correlate with the queer individuals you are attacking but rather are a representation of you. Is it the best use of your time to tear me down rather than forge a meaningful path in your life with authenticity, confidence, empathy and love? As a music instructor who has worked with youth for the last six years, some of my students saw your comments. Ironically, I was called a “child predator” or “groomer” in the comments. Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric flippantly uses those terms to attack LGBTQ adults. If you are so worried about youth being influenced, what do you think your hateful comments are teaching them?
My hope for those attacking and mocking me is for you to find true fulfillment and purpose in your life because I can see you do not have that. And for that, I am truly sorry. Those who have a strong sense of self and fulfillment in their lives do not take the time to bring others down. The joy, love, individuality and divine courage that radiates from all transgender and gender nonconforming people will never allow you to win.
I will continue to focus on what matters most: the support I did receive and the impact the song has already made on my music community, trans people and music enthusiasts who just want to hear good songs. While some of the attacks in the comments came from other Iowans, the vast majority of people attacking me were trolls from out of state and even outside of the country. The vibrant Des Moines music community has supported me so much during this time and I see realistically that I can work here as a musician. Iowa needs LGBTQ artists. Despite Iowa being a “red state” and despite conservatives wanting to pass legislation to oppress trans people, I see the incredible work Iowa artists, musicians and activists do here and know that meaningful change outweighs the negatives. This makes me want to stay so I can make Iowa better.
LGBTQ artists and musicians in history have created some of the most groundbreaking songs we know that are loved by all. My hope for LGBTQ musicians of today is that you can always write what is in your heart, never feeling that your voice is held back or stifled. My hope for all LGBTQ artists is that you fulfill your dreams.