We live in the age of pronoun discussions: with the increased visibility of trans people and gender non-binary people, we find ourselves talking about what pronouns are appropriate. You’d think this was incredibly complicated to hear people talk about it, but really, it’s not. Use the ones people tell you to. Most of us are not trans and happily stick with the “he” or “she” we’ve been using since birth. Then there are trans people who who identify as male or female (but were not identified as such at birth) and want to be identified by the pronouns that match their experienced identify. We should all do this because not doing so is fucking rude. And then there are those who don’t identify with either gender and increasingly prefer “they.”
And oh my god, why is this so hard?
Suddenly, people who were comfortable with “gift” being used a verb and things make in factories being called “bespoke” and “artisanal” are saying “Wait! That’s not accurate!”
This piece by John McWhorter is a good read and makes the point that language changes over time and people need to just calm down. He talks about how he is using “they” more because he has more students requesting it (and clearly he’s not a dick like Jordan Peterson), and he finds it awkward and strange and uncomfortable, but he’s doing it. (I find it awkward and strange also!)
But all of us use certain corners of the language in distinctly unnatural ways all the time, and for reasons less coherent, in the grand view, than those justifying the new use of they. Social justice has a way of feeling, at least to some, unnatural—at least at first. That doesn’t mean it isn’t social justice.
Exactly. I will get used to “they” as a non-gender-specific first person pronoun. You will too. If I’m still breathing in 20 years, it will probably seem strange to me that we ever had trouble with it. (I mean, I remember finding it kind of shocking when GLBT people starting calling themselves “queer” and now that’s utterly unremarkable. Of course, I also remember when we introduced our partners as “lovers” and that always makes me think I should have a blow-dry cut and be at a disco now.)
And I vastly prefer it to made-up pronouns.
What’s really galling about all the debate, though, is that it’s a classic case of the privileged (which includes me on this topic) getting bent out of shape about having to make a minor accommodation for people who have been disenfranchised in the past. Seriously, you are going through life with the good fortune of getting the easy setting on gender identify, and you’re annoyed that you have to get used to a different construction in your speaking and writing? Boo hoo. It’s the trans equivalent of “Why’d they have to ruin a perfectly good word like ‘gay?'”
If you find “they” awkward, get over it. You’ll get used to it. And on the balance, it’s you adapting to changing language vs. giving people the dignity of self-identification. It’s not a tough choice.