Pronouns, Gender, and the Singular They

Pronouns.  Such little words that carry so much significance.

Most of us don’t think much about the pronouns used to describe ourselves.  Of course, most of us are fortunate enough to have a self-identity which aligns with the one society has assigned based on physical characteristics (specifically, genitalia).  For transgender people, pronouns are not taken for granted.

In daily life, we use pronouns to refer to a person at least as often as that person’s name – probably more! You probably don’t think much about the personal pronouns you choose when talking about someone.  “He lives across the street.” “She walks to the train station.”  But these little words, these pronouns, come with all the weight and implications of a specific gender.  Is it any wonder that pronouns play such an important role in self identify?

So when a trans person (or a cis person, for that matter) identifies as a certain gender, they should be referred to by the pronouns corresponding to their identity.  It is disrespectful to do otherwise. After all, how would you like to be constantly told that you’re not really who you think you are?

So what pronoun do we use to refer to indivduals who are agender or non-binary?

In standard English, there hasn’t been a generally accepted gender-neutral pronoun to refer to a person.  After all, it’s downright rude to refer to someone as “it” and it’s not grammatically correct to use “they” as singular.

But times they are a-changin’.

The American Dialect Society voted for they used as a gender-neutral singular pronoun as the Word of the Year for 2015.

“They” was recognized by the society for its emerging use as a pronoun to refer to a known person, often as a conscious choice by a person rejecting the traditional gender binary of “he” and “she”.

Americal Dialect Society

Even prior to being declared word of the year, the singular they had been officially adopted in the Washington Post style guide in 2015.  You’ll be seeing they used to describe individuals more often in times to come.

As I write in this blog, I refer to my child, Ari, using they/them/their pronouns.  This is their preference, and I try to honor that.  In real life, in daily conversations, I’m not nearly that good about it.  After all, it’s hard to break 17+ years of habit. Not wanting to unintentionally “out” them, I have asked Ari if I should use different pronouns when talking about them. The response: “I don’t expect you to. You’re my mom.”

Love my kid.

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