One of the biggest communication dilemmas I face today, especially as a gay man, is knowing which pronouns to assign to individual members of the LGBTQ community. As the risk of sounding insensitive, I have to say it’s getting somewhat out of hand with everyone, defining and then micro-defining their identity with a series of terms that actually do far more to confuse than they do to clarify.
Even Time has taken notice of this trend, of which there seems no end. In a recently published piece entitled,
“People Have Invented More Than 200 Gender-Neutral Pronouns. Here’s Why ‘They’ Is Here to Stay,” the publication points out the impact on the English language in an era of extreme political correctness.
Don’t get me wrong. I fully support the transgender person wishing to be addressed as the gender of which he or she identifies. Then too, although I find it extraordinarily unnecessary and a bit annoying, I’m even willing to deal with the whole “cis-gender” thing. Yes, I tolerate it even though it seems silly to apply a new label to biologically born males and females just to clarify them as biologically born males and females.
Now, it seems we have moved into a place where the boundaries of language itself are challenged by modern characterizations such as non-binary, gender-fluid, or gender-neutral and the like. In these situations, a singular person rejects the concept of gender altogether as asks to be addressed as “they.”
This completely confused me the first time I encountered this. The pronoun “they” is or has been one used to indicate plurality. A colleague was telling me about their non-binary niece and how “they” were going off to art college soon and how he was going to miss “them,” so naturally, I said oh, who else is going with her. We both stood there in a silent vortex for what seemed like one solid minute though it was just a few seconds. He finally replied with a somewhat bitchy snap as if I had not been paying attention, “Just my niece!”
Despite my waning uneasiness with using “they” in a singular context, according to Time, language experts have long seen this coming, and many say the timing of its arrival is impeccable in the grand scheme of societal evolution,
All the while, singular “they” has been lurking in the background. And now it’s moving to the fore. A driving force has been the LGBTQ community, which has embraced singular they not only to include both men and women but also to refer to non-binary people who identify as neither. That has added social conservatives to the word’s detractors but has also given it steam. The new binary-busting usage made it the American Dialect Society’s “Word of the Year” in 2015 and then Merriam-Webster’s in 2019.”
Check out the fascinating full article at Time and get those pronouns right!