Merriam-Webster just announced that “they” has been added to the dictionary as a singular pronoun. To be clear, it was always a legitimate singular pronoun, but this official recognition is a win for gender non-conforming and non-binary folks because it is affirmation and support coming from people who literally wrote the book on the English language.
No longer can anyone scoff at the use of “they” in the singular form and claim it is grammatically incorrect.
Still, others will complain that it is ‘awkward’ or ‘unnatural’ to say. But what’s really awkward is the childish refusal to do something so simple to respect someone’s identity.
Now that it is dictionary-official, I hope more companies and institutions will get with it and update their language.
Inclusivity isn’t just a nice little perk to offer. In a country where you can still be fired because of your gender identity or sexual orientation, respect and recognition are critical.
There are a few cases where quick fixes can be implemented.
Every other job description I come across on Indeed says things like: “He or she will perform these tasks…”
‘They’ is much simpler and requires less typing, so really, there’s no reason not to start using it.
An issue I have noticed in school and work settings is that the discussion of pronouns only comes up on an as-needed basis. A student will refer to a nonbinary student (who has apparently informed the professor of their pronouns) with “he” or “she” and the professor will then correct the student.
Pronouns shouldn’t be brought up only when someone is misgendered. Educators and employers should be proactive in asking for everyone’s pronouns (instead of making assumptions about how anyone identifies and only asking the people who don’t have a stereotypical gender expression).
No one should be singled out. Asking for pronouns should be part of roll call, icebreakers, or even an introductory assignment in classrooms. (I know the semester started, but teachers, if you are out there, please make an effort to do this in your classes. It is better late than never).
In professional settings, pronouns should be included on nametags. Encourage people to include their pronouns in their social media bios and email signatures, even if you think it is unnecessary. You might be thinking, “Clearly I identify with a gender that exists in the binary. It would be pointless to clarify that.”
But why would it be okay for people to assume your gender identity and not that of others? That thinking is a result of the cis-heteronormative culture we live in where everyone is straight until proven otherwise (and binary until proven nonbinary).
In order to be more accepting, we need to dismantle that culture and stop making assumptions that put people into boxes and categorize some as “normal” and others as, well, “other.”
That’s why even cisgender people who present the way they are expected to based on gender norms should identify their pronouns. It shows solidarity and allyship.
“…the idea that the way to show support for trans or nonbinary people is to make a big fuss about being binary seems like maybe not the best practice. It actually seems rather purpose-defeating. After all, most straight people don’t go around announcing they’re straight in order to validate the existence of gay people.”
While I can see her point, I think gender identity is a little different than sexuality in terms of how it is labeled publicly. While someone can make their sexuality known based on the partners that they have, nonbinary folks have to explicitly state the fact that they are nonbinary in order for anyone to know.
Use of the nonbinary “they” and the practice of asking for pronouns shouldn’t be this “hip” “woke” thing that only “cool” organizations do. It should be common practice because respecting others is basic human decency.