The English language is weird. So weird. Whenever I get corrected in casual conversations for my improper grammar or get one of those unnerving green squiggly lines on Microsoft Word, I’m reminded of the million different ways we can say things. Sometimes there are hard and fast rules about this sort of thing. Vocabulary, for instance, is not always flexible. There are synonyms, sure, but you don’t call a fish a dog for many reasons. One reason being I would be very upset if someone said they wanted to show me a dog and it turned out it wasn’t actually a dog. Very. Upset.
This is a very silly example of how language can be used incorrectly, and how it can truly have an impact on someone you’re speaking with. Take the simple example of your name. Has someone ever called you the wrong name, or mispronounced your name, and you felt weird about it? Because that’s not who you are. It’s not your identity.
Enter the singular “they”.
I have been introduced to using the singular they over the past couple of years, and I will admit, I did not understand it at first. Because of all of the SAT prep classes I was forced to take in high school, I was taught the use of singular vs. plural pronouns within the structure of a sentence was not to be done incorrectly. So when I learned that certain people used they/them/their pronouns, it didn’t make sense to me. Not that their identity was invalid, but because I was so concerned with being grammatically correct. What about the gender neutral terms ze/zir? The creation of these new pronouns made more sense to me because it seemed to solve the problem perfectly. But as a surprise to absolutely nobody, I was wrong.
The more I thought about, the more solid these conclusions became:
- I don’t have a say in someone else’s pronouns. If they tell me to use a certain pronoun, I need to use it out of respect for their identity. My understanding isn’t necessary in order for me to honor that. Do I want to understand? Absolutely. Does my lack of understanding have to interfere with respecting someone’s identity? Absolutely not.
- While there are plenty people who use ze/zir pronouns, it is not the only viable option. Why does there have to be one particular set of pronouns for people who may not identify with the gender binary? Whether it’s ze/zir, they/them/theirs, or any other pronouns, I can guarantee these people do not ask you to use them in order to confuse you. For that person, it’s what makes sense.
- Isn’t language constantly changing? Isn’t EVERYTHING constantly changing? Over the past couple of years, we’ve been introduced to new words such as selfie, bae, and fleek. (Side note: I just googled “recent slang” and have never felt more like a grandma. I kind of dig it. #GrandmaAesthetic). Why can’t we integrate new pronouns into this ever-changing language? Why can’t we change the plurality of a word and make it mean whatever we want?
- This may not be a directly related conclusion, but at the moment it seems necessary… Do any of you find it strange that people go up to a group of girls/women/etc. and say “HEY GUYS” when there isn’t a SINGLE GUY THERE? Am I the only one completely confused by this phrase? Sure, it’s become a part of our language, but once again, things can change. For example, once I learned about the power of the gender neutral “y’all”, I was enlightened. “Y’all” is a game changer, y’all. Let’s make it happen.
Full disclaimer: I am an outsider looking in at a community that I am not a part of. But I have the privilege to write this blog and share my opinions and maybe have some people listen. I am a firm believer in the fact that there is a lot we can do to make the world less shitty for the people around us. If all it takes for someone to feel respected is to use their proper pronouns, isn’t it worth it? You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to slip up. But make the effort. Apologize. Correct yourself. I think that’s the first step in a long line of efforts we can all make to ensure those around us are allotted the same respect for the folks who use he/him or she/her.
By the way, “folks” is another cool gender neutral term… BRB, gonna try to bring back “folks”.