“Hi, I currently use the pronoun she/her and I have been thinking a lot about how it would feel for me to use the pronoun they. I feel like I don’t know what the pronoun they means, who belongs/who doesn’t, and how it works to describe gender. I was wondering what the pronoun they means to you and what associations you have with the pronoun they. Thanks!”
Why hello there!
I’ve made some comments below in response to others with similar concerns regarding who they belongs to and who has a right to use it. My general feeling is that, if using they makes you more comfortable, your comfort ought not to be judged valid or invalid by other people. I feel like the more people who use singular they and other gender-neutral pronouns – regardless of gender identity or expression – the easier usage will become.
As far as what it means to me, that is new blog territory. What do I want from people once they know my pronoun preference? Well…
What I want is a free pass from any and all assumptions about my ideas, work, play, hobbies, habits, life trajectory, plans, partners, underpants, decor preferences, beverages…you get the idea. I want an out from being over-determined by other people. It’s like “ok, so I don’t want to do girl things…but that also means that I might not want to do boy things either!” I want to be picky and choosy and difficult. In a perfect world – and I naively try to live like it’s already here – using ‘they’ would be a wake-up call to someone that gender will not help them relate to me, understand me, or make small talk with me at an awkward party. So let’s try something else, and also realize how even small things are almost always gendered male or female, as though everyone is entirely only one thing.
I associate ‘singular they’ with a space of freedom from having to contradict people or feel icky that they think they can tell me – even with questions – what or who I want, and what or who I like. If singular they can help someone do be freer from some of that stuff, and if being freer helps them to feel better or safer or happier, then I think using a gender-neutral pronoun might be a neat idea regardless of their gender identity or presentation. Of course, everyone will have varying degrees of success. But hopefully we will all have tiny oases where this freedom is actually found and nurtured.
Taking things further, I want everyone to have this freedom no matter which pronoun they use. Ideally, I’d like people to think about how our casual questioning of others – or reactions to things they say like ‘that’s a really big deal ’ or ‘that’s not a big deal at all’ – are so full of assumptions, even if it’s just “so…what do you do?” I mean…what if I don’t have a paying job? Am I supposed to, necessarily, in order to be someone you want to talk to? I really, really hope not. Singular they, then, is about gender for me but also about making language more open and friendly to…whatever is different from the norm.
Thanks for your question – it made me think!