Month: April 2014

What does singular they mean to me?

Anonymous asked:

“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!


Tips on training yourself to change pronouns for someone you care about (or anyone really)

microsuedemouse asked:

“Somebody I love very, very much has made the change to ‘they’ pronouns in the last few months and I can’t seem to learn it fast enough. I’m finally learning to get it right when I write it down, but in casual conversation when I’m not thinking about it the wrong pronouns slip out constantly. I know it’s hurting them a lot and I desperately want to stop. Do you have any tips on learning to train oneself into using the right pronouns?”

Hi microsuedemouse!

Thank you for your brave question! First of all, I just want to say that your loved one is lucky to have someone who is willing to reach out to a stranger for advice, even if sometimes pronouns are hard.

I want to start off by sharing my wise friend’s observation the other day about how pronoun changes affect communities, friends and family members. Basically, we don’t spend much time talking about ourselves in the third person whereas others talk about us all the time. So a new pronoun may actually be more of a shift in practice for others than for a particular gender-neutral pronoun user. Of course, when we are public about our pronoun preference people might regard us differently or prejudicially (at best) but the basic everyday life changes might be felt more by others struggling with language. After all, to me I’m still Lee but I’m now ‘them’ to everyone else. All this is to say that I hear you, and that is one of the reasons why I started this blog.

Your situation is unique, so take what I say with a grain of salt. My tips are in the realm of practice and being mindful i.e., not getting caught up in the flow of a conversation when we can become automatic. This is where trouble lurks in the pronoun change department, and not only there. This is where innate or familiar assumptions unintentionally rule our speech and actions. Witty repartee? Uh oh. Careful one-on-one chat? Probably a better chance of not messing up. Here is what I suggest:

1) Meet up with a friend you share in common with your loved one and practice. Reminisce about times spent together and otherwise talk about them. Exposure makes things much easier.

2) It would also be helpful to practice pausing before you respond to someone else, in any conversation, regardless of why.

3) When you are around people who aren’t your loved one, practice. Use they to refer to a single person, or try to refer to people with names only, etc. You can strike up conversations at the bus stop or at a tea party or wherever you feel comfortable and make this a little project. How long can you go in a conversation without using or needing to use a gendered pronoun? Can you notice when other people use gendered pronouns? How do people react to singular they?

4) Once you have some conscious practice and experimentation under your belt, do a self-audit. When do you make mistakes, or what kinds of structures (questions, off-the-cuff remarks, descriptions) catch you up? How can you remind yourself to be mindful? What are some situations in your life where you need to refer consistently to your loved one in the third person when they’re around? Can you prepare for these in advance, or get ready to use the pausing or conscious listening you’ve practiced?

MOST IMPORTANTLY, try not to worry about seeming fake, preoccupied or overly self-conscious while you are still working on the pronoun change. I feel like your loved one, if they know and feel your support, can probably understand that you need to be a bit stilted or weird as you learn. I personally don’t believe we can expect people to be perfect overnight. That takes a particular set of skills, which we need to develop. Chances are you might have these already but haven’t thought about migrating them over to the gender side of things.

I hope that helps, and keep asking questions!


Singular they and verb conjugation

Anonymous asked:

“I’m having trouble conjugating verbs with they! I realize it’s a singular pronoun, like he or she, so would one say, “they has a car”? Or is it conjugated in the plural, like you, “they have a car”? Thank you so much for running this blog!”

You’re very welcome, and thanks for this important question! The answer is both. If someone uses singular they you do conjugate in the plural when referring to them directly: “they HAVE an appointment.” But when using their name to refer to them, you use the singular: “Lee HAS an appointment, so remind THEM that THEY have to call ahead to confirm.”

This kind of switcheroo requires extra attentiveness when writing. I’m working on the next draft of my PhD dissertation, and I insisted on using singular they to lend even greater anonymity to my research participants and for political reasons. My supervisor’s feedback was a good reminder that, when using singular they, one needs to be careful when referring to more than one person in the same paragraph (or page, etc.). Readers could interpret that you’re referring to everyone and not to the singular they user! So, using this pronoun requires more than substitution. It requires changing how we write, or at least being a bit more nit-picky!

Hope that helps, and sorry for the delayed response (see above re. dissertation revisions…)!


Do (non-transsexual) singular they users trivialize trans peoples’ struggles?

Anonymous asked:

“Hi, I’ve seen users on tumblr use pronouns other than him/her/zim/zer/singular they. I’ve seen these individuals receive a lot of backlash from members of the trans community who say by using these “made up” pronouns it trivializes their (as trans men/women) struggles. I’m sort of extremely confused by this because I was always told to respect people’s pronouns. Like I’m obviously going to refer to people by their preferred pronoun, but I was wondering what your take on this was? SorryifIoffend”

Hi Anonymous! I’m not offended at all – this is what this blog is for! Moreover, I’m so glad you asked because this is a significant and confusing issue.

Whenever the issue of ‘who has a right to use X pronoun’ comes up, my general answer is: anyone who feels more comfortable using a gender-neutral pronoun (whichever) has the right to use a gender-neutral pronoun, and it’s not for anyone else to decide whether that person’s discomfort is legitimate or justifies their choice. While I’m unfamiliar with the specific incidents you reference, I think it’s unrealistic to say that a handful of people using their own made-up pronouns are significantly diminishing or trivializing or otherwise harming the (generalized) struggles of transmen and transwomen in securing safety, respect and recognition for their gender. I think that pervasive normalized transphobia, transmisogyny, cissexism, genderism, homophobia and heterosexism (phew I’m tired now) take these things away well enough on their own without needing help from genderqueer (or other) folks who make up new pronouns for themselves.

That said, there are likely isolated experiences (which may become viral stories) of this connection being explicitly and harmfully drawn: where a person’s funny-sounding pronoun was used by a phobe to bash a transmen or transwoman by delegitimizing their gender. Given how awful the world can be for trans* people, I’m sure and sad to say that every bad thing we can think of has probably happened.

So, I believe that the thoughts and feelings that motivate the critique – that making up new pronouns trivializes transmen’s and transwomen’s struggles – are important and need to be heard and taken into consideration. I believe this is particularly true for people like me who use gender-neutral pronouns but are closer to the cis (non-transsexual) end of the gender spectrum (if such a thing exists…). There is incredible variability among the experiences of trans* people such that the phrase “trans* people” is sometimes meaningless. However, there are also life-threateningly similar patterns of violence and oppression experienced by transmen and transwomen – particularly transwomen of colour.

My life project, in my dissertation research and otherwise, seems to be figuring out what it looks like to ‘hear and take into consideration’ these critiques and experiences in a way that actually affects other peoples’ lives. While I don’t know for sure what this looks like in everyday life, I think it’s always helpful to really (like, obviously) affirm other peoples’ feelings and experiences while remembering that everyone moves about in a context that is unique, including you and me. This is a tough balancing act that will probably always be just that…tough.

Hope that is helpful, and keep asking questions! 🙂


PS – Sorry for the delay in getting back to you.