‘Singular they’ on TV! Fabulous Elisha Lim talks pronouns on Global TV Halifax

“Elisha Lim is an award winning artist, activist and filmmaker who is in Halifax for the OUTeast Film Festival, and shares a story about how a simple word changed their life.”

I’d add that, in my books, Elisha Lim is a singular they superhero. They led a  petition against Xtra, Toronto’s LGBT weekly newspaper when the paper refused to use Elisha’s chosen pronoun (you can read the strangely pronoun-less story here). At the time of the petition’s resolution, the paper’s editorial policy was still not to standardize they (any updates would be appreciated) but to use last names instead, over and over again. Also, Airton said Airton really enjoyed viewing the segment because Airton appreciated how Lim addressed many of Airton’s own concerns. Ha.

Elisha’s petition and other efforts have made a major contribution to the visibility of singular they as an option, particularly in Toronto queer and trans communities. For more Elisha, visit their awesome website.


When to use single or plural verb forms with singular they

Anonymous asked:

“When one is using “they” as a singular pronoun, is it better to use singular or plural verb forms? I ask because while I usually hear it with plural verb forms in casual speech, I’m writing a story in which a character prefers “they,” and it has led to things like “Smith SAYS, ‘It’s all lies,’ as they TAKE the book from the shelf,” with a number switch between the two verbs. Is the plural verb form still correct when “they” is not used as an indefinite pronoun but for a specific person? Thanks!”

An excellent question! I’m sort of a writer too (academic) and I empathize.

Writing with plural they is hard and about more than grammar; in my experience sentence construction has to shift around in order to make things as smooth as they would be with a binary gender pronoun in use. This might also mean using more instances of the person’s name, or avoiding (in places) some more familiar forms of attribution (like the one in your example) until your reader can acclimatize (i.e., not on the first page, perhaps).

Grammatically, yes, your example is incorrect. However, I firmly believe that language is not only a set of written rules but a living, breathing organ that shifts with us. Chances are by this point in your story your readers will have had to do the work of acclimatizing to pronoun use and can handle it. And I’m afraid that, at this point in the ‘movement’, the fact that you use a gender-neutral pronoun will be a standout feature of your piece (I say ‘I’m afraid that’ because you might feel it distracting if that’s not the point).

In my own life, there are moments of glitch where I notice a grammatical error brought on in someone’s speech because they are referring to me and we have to make do. I find this to be funny, but I also think about humour as a teaching tool ( I’m in an educational field). In some ways, then, gender-neutral pronouns throw everything into relief, including how rule-bound we are without thinking (even they-people like me). I think that is nice.

I would love to read your story! 🙂 (no presh, however, and good luck)


TIMP in the media! J-Source article on singular they featuring Lee

Check out this piece in the online journalism trade publication J-Source about gender-neutral pronoun usage for writers and journalists, featuring Lee and TIMP.

Reproduced here are journalist Katie Toth’s compiled dos and don’ts, from the article:

Do: know your readership. If necessary, quickly inform your reader that the subject of your article prefers the gender-neutral singular pronoun.

Don’t: Undermine your sources’ authority. If you’re writing a piece about environmental science, explanations about a source’s sexual identity are sensationalist and off topic.

Similarly, a review that describes an artist’s chosen pronoun as ‘awkward’ may be funny to you, but it’s alienating for many readers. “I’d feel that the writer was invalidating their gender identity,” says trans woman Lucy Wallace. Wallace says she would be uncomfortable speaking to reporters or reading from outlets that had dealt insensitively with someone’s chosen pronoun in the past. “I’d feel that they don’t know enough about [trans and gender issues] to …write about it for a wider audience,” she says.

Do: Value accuracy. If someone identifies as ‘they,’ then ‘he’ and ‘she’ are the wrong pronouns. If you use them, you are not doing your job.

Don’t: Try to commiserate with your sources or bond over the challenges of pronoun use. It’s unprofessional and people who use ‘they’ as a singular pronoun have heard it all before. “If I tell you I use ‘they,’ practice not reacting as though that’s awful,” Airton said. “Stop complaining to me about how you have trouble with ‘they,’ please.”

Do: Come to your sources with some available options. Instead of gaping in wonder at this linguistic quagmire, Airton would prefer to see reporters suggesting some options that work for their paper. “The interaction styled as ‘this is a problem, let’s accommodate this problem,’ is always off the table,” Airton said. “Why not say, ‘Okay, would you be comfortable with me also referring to me by your position? By your name or last name? May I also do those things?”

Don’t: Neglect an extra copy-edit when using this pronoun. You may have to further simplify your language and shorten your sentences. Lesley Fraser, copy editor at Xtra! Canada, recommends using the plural form of the verb conjugation for ‘they:’ ‘They say,” for example, or “they note.” James McCarten of the Canadian Press has an alternate suggestion: keep use of the pronoun to a minimum, and write attributions for the story in the past tense: “they explained,” rather than “they explain.” Whatever you choose, be consistent.

Do: Bring up discussion around the use of the pronoun ‘they’ with your outlet’s style committee now, rather than later. Have some guidelines that allow reporters to better relay to their sources how they can expect to be portrayed.

Do: Ask your sources what pronoun they prefer, if you’re unsure. “Keep it open ended,” said Airton. “Not, ‘Do you prefer they’ or ‘Do you prefer he or she’, [but] ‘What is your preferred pronoun?’”