Standard Written English

Writing fiction with singular they

frostwetter asked:

Heyhey! I’m trying to write an intro for a genderqueer person in English (not my native language) and I was wondering – when I use their name in a sentence like “Kim is a professional wrestler and has a cat.” and then “They have a dog, too.” Do you switch between has/have depending on using their name or “they” as pronoun or do you always use “have”? I read about a discussion on using “they” simply as a singular pronoun, too and now I’m confused! Hope you get what I mean and can help me out! 🙂

Hi there frostwetter!

I’m excited to have a growing number of posts from writers! This must mean that people are exploring singular they in greater number, and I hope we’ll see more stories featuring non-binary, etc. characters.

I’m working on a writing guide, but in the mean time I’m going to offer this post on singular they and verb conjugation. As you can see, you always use ‘have’ with they (‘they have a dog’) but ‘has’ with a name (’Lee has a dog’). The trick is in how you construct your sentences. If you begin using ‘they have’ in a sentence, try not to switch to ‘Lee has’ in the same sentence. Also, be careful of referring to multiple people with ‘they’ – if you do this in one paragraph, try only referring to your character with name/has.

Writing with singular they, in my view, is its own art form. I hope that as more examples emerge it will become easier to do!

Hope that helps,

Lee

Themself?

Anonymous asked:

“Quick question: Is “themself” gramatically correct? I was just wondering, because “themselves” sounds wrong when someone says it to me.”

Great question, Anonymous! I have heard people use both themself and themselves in place of himself or herself for a singular they user.

My understanding is that themselves is grammatically correct, because for an unknown person we would use themselves, like “maybe the FedEx driver thought they should open the door themselves to leave the package” etc. When using singular they for a known person, it follows grammatically that we also would use themselves.

However, I’m more faithful to peoples’ feelings and needs than I am to Standard English grammar. So, what I think is happening is that people are trying to modify singular they usage to make it more apparent sometimes that they are speaking about a single person. So, ‘themself’ is emerging.

I like singular they for its seamlessness, and themself is aurally jarring, so I imagine I’ll continue to use themselves unless asked to do otherwise.

I’d love to hear from others about this!

All the best,

Lee

Are gender-neutral pronouns a white people thing?

Anonymous asked:

“I love my friends who use they/them pronouns. However I have noticed that they are all white. Sometimes I think claiming these pronouns is a white privilege. Or just only a thing in white culture. Are there any resources out there that talk about race and nb [non-binary] pronouns? I want to understand better how different cultures deal with non binary folks, and how they deal with pronouns. Thank you”

Hello Anonymous,

Thank you very much for this question, which gels with something I’ve also wondered. However, I know many people of colour who use singular they – including singular they superhero Elisha Lim – and a quick informal survey of my community (admittedly on Facebook) yielded similar observations: that no, singular they is not just a white people thing but in wide circulation among people of colour.

That being said, however, it’s true that singular they is an overwhelmingly Anglo-friendly if not Anglocentric way to recognize non-binary or genderqueer folks in everyday language, as this verb structure simply does not exist in many other languages. White/Anglo are so frequently tied together that this could be relevant to any conversation about the potential whiteness of singular they.

Another thought is that, as in all things, people stating and asking for their needs to be met will likely experience more success if they have privilege: if others perceive their needs as important, at all, to varying degrees. I’m a middle-class white person with a PhD who teaches in a university (on precarious contracts which means I have less job security than people without my education level, but still) so I have a high degree of privilege that I fall back on when asking for my preferred gender pronoun to be used. Other people automatically presume I’m an authority on my needs and know best about what works for me. This, to me, is primarily an effect of my whiteness and certainly affects how I experience others’ perception and use of my pronoun.

I’m still wondering whether there is something specific about whiteness/white privilege and gender-neutral pronouns, or if this is just another ‘fairly straightforward’ instance of white privilege. Food for thought!

In my informal survey I didn’t come up with any specific resources on gender-neutral or non-binary pronouns for people of colour, however, so please pass them along if you find some!

Warmly,

Lee

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…)!

Lee

A parent refuses to use they because it is ‘derogatory’

Anonymous asked:

“My dad is refusing to use “They” as my pronoun because he says it’s derogatory in the English language and won’t change his speech patterns. What should I do? I don’t want him referring to me as ‘She.'”

Hmm. There is both a short answer and a long answer, Anonymous.

The short answer is that your dad is completely incorrect. Singular they is not remotely derogatory and is in fact a longtime feature of literary English. This writing blog even conducted a poll showing 70% reader preference for singular they (as opposed to ‘he,’ or even ‘he or she’) in cases of unknown gender. Tom Chivers of the Telegraph newspaper concurs and writes that “One rule of grammar that has, apparently, been in constant use in Standard Written English is: “when the sex of the subject is unknown, it is permissible to use ‘they’ as a genderless singular pronoun”.” He goes on to add that “if someone tells you that singular “they” is wrong, you can firmly tell them to go to hell.” Although this is probably not a useful piece of advice, particularly if the someone is your parent, the short answer is that you could present the case to your dad that he is absolutely wrong using the many sources available on the internet. I’d be happy to help you gather some convincing ones. You could also tell him that someone (me) who is almost finished their PhD and indeed several of my colleagues who are university professors use singular they. Sometimes this move works with parents. You can also send him to me with any questions he has.

The long answer is more complicated. My gut tells me that using an argument based on reason (“you are factually incorrect, and here is the proof from reliable sources”) or authority (“all of these people with PhDs use singular they”) might not work (but might be worth a try). The fact is that people use all kinds of excuses – that sound entirely reasonable and related to things like grammar or rudeness, as in the case of your dad – to avoid doing something that is really just uncomfortable for them. This discomfort is entirely emotional but it sounds smart to make a phoney statement about grammar or politeness instead of saying ‘I don’t like that’ or ‘I can’t because it feels weird.’ Today when there is *generally* more acceptance and visibility for queer and trans people (who are more often they users), it’s also increasingly less okay or polite to openly talk about feeling uncomfortable with the kinds of changes needed in order to treat us respectfully. So people unfortunately say ‘it’s not grammatically correct’ or ‘it’s rude’ instead of saying ‘I just really don’t get it’ or ‘I don’t agree’ or ‘it’s wrong to feel like he or she don’t apply to you.’

The fact that your dad says singular they is derogatory might say more about his own feelings regarding the gender implications than a fear of being rude. He might feel it is derogatory because he isn’t comfortable or doesn’t agree with the kind of self-expression you are working towards with this request. For example, we think something is derogatory when we wouldn’t want it used to describe ourselves and most gender-normative (male/masculine or female/feminine) people would be deeply distressed if they thought that someone had to say ‘they went over there’ because their male- or femaleness wasn’t obvious enough to say ‘he went over there’ or ‘she went over there’. It is hard for most people to understand why we would want ‘they’ and even harder for parents sometimes. Asking for ‘they’ might make them feel like they don’t know us as well as they thought they did or that they have less of an idea what our lives are like or will be like in the future. These are all sources of discomfort and often take time and more conversations (providing these can happen safely).

I doubt that I’m saying anything you haven’t thought of, Anonymous. I just want to emphasize that your dad’s refusal might be an indirect (and unhelpful) way of saying that he needs time or support to sort through his thoughts and his feelings about your decision and what it means. My own parents are full of love and good intention, but took time to understand why I made this choice, what it meant and why it was important. They still struggle with everyday usage and have also expressed concerns about grammar, rudeness and social situations (“Do I have to tell Auntie and Uncle XYZ before we go over there for dinner?”).

Next steps for your dad might include accessing some resources or support that aren’t you in order to work through his feelings about your request and what it might mean. This could be other adults in your life who are supportive, online articles, this blog or even PFLAG meetings or similar – contact your local or regional LGBTQ community or resource centre if you can, and once again, I can help you.

Next steps for you could include talking to your dad on a practical level. You could ask him what else he might be comfortable with. Maybe he could just use your name instead of any pronoun at all. This can sound awkward, but you could let him know you’re ok with that. Do you need him to not refer to you as his daughter? How about kid instead? Work with him, if you can, to find alternatives. You could also talk with him about what is behind your request, as long as you feel safe and okay. I also encourage you to try and find spaces where your request is respected and your related needs are met. These could be in-person or online, but if your family life isn’t a place where you can be supported in this way, know that this support can be found elsewhere for as long as you need it.

Only you know whether my suggestions make sense for you and your situation, and whether any of them would make you unsafe. Trust your own judgment and listen to your gut.

I hope this helps, and feel free to write back,

Lee

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)

Lee

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?’”

Welcome to TIMP!

Welcome to They Is My Pronoun!

Whereas many blogs or news stories on singular they as a gender-neutral pronoun are invested in the debate as to whether ‘they’ as a singular pronoun is grammatically correct, TIMP is different.

Instead of focusing on grammar, TIMP focuses on actually using singular they in real life, and on enabling the choice to use gender-neutral pronouns for yourself or for others.

TIMP is dedicated to a few simple ideas:

1. You are not a bad person or homophobic or transphobic or ignorant just because using they stresses you out.

There are many reasons why using they as a singular pronoun is hard. TIMP is about recognizing this and exploring where resistance comes from. TIMP offers suggestions for working through difficulty, and not arguments about why it shouldn’t be difficult.

2. When people respect your choice of pronoun, this feels really good – good enough to make a big difference in someone’s quality of life and well-being.

Most people who have not had to ask others to use a particular pronoun do not realize how good it can feel when someone gets it right, or shows you they are trying. You can generate so much happiness, make such a large contribution to someone’s well-being, and even make someone feel better about being in a workplace or group or get-together, just by using the pronoun they ask for, and apologizing when you make a mistake. You can make someone want to come back to your office, clinic, store, house, or Facebook page. It is truly astonishing what a difference this can make.

3. Using they gets easier with practice and time, and it is worth it.

So, scroll on down and stay tuned to TIMP for answers to questions (which I accept, even anonymously, on my twin Tumblr site) from users, allies and curious questioners of all kinds, reflections and resources on singular they!