#NowTrending: “They” as a Singular Pronoun
They. They/them. They/them/theirs.
When I found my pronoun some three and a half years ago, it felt like I’d found the language I had been searching for for much of my life.
I’d struggled (and still do) to understand my gender identity in a society that demands and strictly reinforces a binary. “She” didn’t feel right to me, even as a child, and “he” didn’t entirely reflect how I felt either. It all felt so limiting.
Finding “they” as a singular gender pronoun felt like an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” in which I’d finally found what fit me perfectly. I started changing my email signatures and asked friends, family members and coworkers to respect the change as best they could.
It still remains a daily “coming out” process. People still assume I’m a “she” on a daily basis and I regularly correct people (when I have the energy to). But I’m not as bothered when people are doubtful or confused by my choice of pronouns. I know who I am and what my identity means to me.
One of the ways to respect folks’ pronouns is to ask what gender pronouns they use for themselves. It’s becoming more common in workplaces, universities and activist circles that strive to be more mindful and inclusive. When we ask for gender pronouns, it allows folks to determine what they would like to be called, rather than assuming based on appearance alone.
Asking for pronouns is a pretty common practice in many circles I’m a part of. And the singular pronoun “they” — which represents a wide diversity of gender identities — is also becoming more widely used and recognized.
As we go around in a circle and share our name and gender pronoun, I’ve noticed that more and more people are using “they,” or a combination: “I use ‘s/he’ and ‘they’ pronouns.” Some are people who’ve used they as a singular pronoun for as long as I’ve known them, while others previously used a binary pronoun.
I don’t know if recent pronoun discussions have given others their “Say Yes to the Dress” moments, if folks are using it because it’s trending, or both. Before four or five years ago, I definitely wasn’t aware of “they” as a pronoun.
But I wonder what — if any — are the implications of more and more folks choosing to use the pronoun, even if they are fine with other, binary pronouns in other spaces?
I don’t think “they/them” has to have the same meaning for everyone that uses it, but I’d also caution against the mindset that “pronouns don’t matter, you can call me anything!” Because for those of us who are gender non-conforming and transgender, the struggle daily to have our pronoun recognized is very important to us. It does, in fact, matter.
When someone calls me “she,” or a “lady,” it’s an alienating experience every time. It feels so limiting to who I know myself to be.
To hear folks who otherwise identify as cisgender adopt “they” as a pronoun when they use binary pronouns in other spaces leaves me feeling a little conflicted.
It’s one thing to use multiple pronouns (i.e. “she or they”); it’s another to go through the everyday experiences of what it means to have they as a singular pronoun.
How do you feel? What do you think? What does “they” as a singular pronoun mean to you?