Make mine a word salad: ‘Chosen pronoun,’ ‘preferred pronoun,’ or just plain pronoun?

milknhoneey said:

i saw your post about the inclusion of pronouns in bios. i just wanted you to know that saying preferred pronouns is not correct. using the right pronouns is not optional, which is what preferred implies

Hello milknhoneey, and thanks for your comment.

My goal in the pronoun work that I do is to loosen up as many rigid rules as possible in order to call people in to doing the work using the tools they already have (e.g., how to apologize when you make a good-faith mistake). I think this is better than producing circumstances where people can give themselves an ‘out’ because they come to believe that gender-neutral pronoun users are on another planet and that meeting our needs requires a niche skillset, vocabulary and mastery of protocol.

I’ve thought long and hard about ‘my preferred pronoun’ versus ‘my chosen pronoun’ versus just ‘my pronoun’ etc. and I deliberately move around in my usage of these phrases, sometimes using all three. This is because, as above, I want inward-facing debates of this kind to yield to conversations about exactly how GNP users can go about getting our needs met by all the different constituencies in our lives. I want more skill-sharing and less debate. Also, as a teacher, I do a lot of work with my (mostly cis-gender) students to notice and name their own preferences in the gender department, and to own their own gendered intelligence and strategies for presenting and being read as the kind of (odds are) man or woman they identify as. I believe that the more this kind of expertise is situated as such, the more people can be called in. I know that many folks have bad experiences with ‘preference’ language, and my strategy there is to make more visible the preferences that cis-gender people also have but which are invisible as such.

I hope this provides some food for thought, and all the best,



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,



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,


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!



Toward a gender-neutral customer service experience for everyone

blucitrus asked:

I work at Starbucks and I’m always trying to find ways to connect with the customers but it is very difficult for me because I never know which pronouns to use. What gender neutral pronouns could I use instead of ma’am and sir and things of the sort? It’s been bugging me for quite some time. Help!

Thanks for your question blucitrus!

I (and other Starbucks-frequenting GNP users) truly appreciate that this is something you are concerned about. It shows that you’re committed to making your workplace somewhere that every client will want to come back to. And believe me – this is something that is noticed and communicated among GNP users and other trans* / non-binary folk: that your place is a good place for us.

As far as pronouns are concerned, if you have to refer to a client within their hearing range (e.g., to a co-worker), I suggest using singular they or ‘this/my customer’ or ‘this/my client.’ This takes practice, but can also be a fun daily challenge to yourself and a co-worker who’d also like to get on board. There many tips on this blog to help you out.

Regarding single-person address, avoiding the use of sir or ma’am is a great place to start but, as you say, it’s hard to know what to do next. Sir/ma’am are used to convey respect and welcome, but these can be conveyed to someone without using words. Think about how people use their body language, vocal pitch and intonation to convey respect and welcome. We incline our heads, make eye contact, listen intently, nod, smile and speak clearly in order to indicate that someone has our full attention. Of course, what ‘respect’ and ‘welcome’ look/sound like differ across contexts, but they can be performed. I’d argue that sir/ma’am are frequently used as shortcuts in busy customer service environments when these other more intentional strategies could do the job even better and more authentically, all without gendering.

Regarding plural address (i.e., to refer to groups of customers), avoid ladies, gentlemen, guys, girls, etc. and instead use terms like everyone or – if you are working in a casual customer service environment or with younger clientele – friends or folks. As above, I believe you can also welcome/show respect to groups of customers without using any of these terms at all. Think of a server saying “Good evening and welcome to our restaurant” while acknowledging each member of a group with brief eye contact and a warm smile. This is likely much more effective at conveying respect/welcome than a disinterested “Hello ladies.” Consider trying these strategies for a few minutes or a few customers every hour and seeing how they affect your (and their) experience of your interactions.

Other helpful gender-neutral phrases that convey respect (when paired with attentive body language, vocal pitch and intonation) include:

Can I help the next guest?

And for you?

What will you be having today?

Will you all be having dessert (etc.)?

These are not revolutionary or terribly insightful – just a starting place. With all of this being said, however, I have a caveat to share.

In the quest for gender-neutral public space and language practices, one casualty is affirmation for people who thrive on being (correctly) gendered by others. There are many people who enjoy being ma’am-ed or sir-ed; this is of course true of some cis-gender people but also of some transgender spectrum people. At times when I am identifying as more masculine and signalling this to the world with my grooming, clothing and behaviour, it is tremendously affirming to be seen and addressed appropriately as “sir.” However, I know many people with similarly masculine gender presentations who do not like this at all. There are also many transgender spectrum people who are in the process of or have completed a medical gender transition; for some (by no means all) of these folks, casual correct gendering by strangers can be a daily affirmation. Some years ago I heard a hilarious monologue by transsexual stand-up comedian Red Durkin in which she is yelled at by an irate cashier for moving too slowly in the check-out line: “MA’AM?? EXCUSE ME, MA’AM? HURRY UP!” Instead of being offended by this rudeness, Red replies with a swoon at the sound of this (to her) beautiful word: “Ma’am…you could scoop the honey out of that word with a bucket…”

Sometimes when I meet someone making a clear effort – e.g., with grooming, clothing, behaviour, etc. – to be readable/read as belonging in a particular gender category despite some physiological dissonance, I make a conscious choice to use the gendered title and pronoun that correspond with his or her deliberate gender presentation. However, this is an imperfect strategy to be used only with considerable caution and mindfulness, as well as humility if one makes a mistake (as are all of the things that I offer on TIMP).

So, I offer what I know to be true (for me and many others) with the caveat that these strategies won’t meet the needs of all people.

I hope this helps, blucitrus!






The Washington Post jumps on singular they

Fabulous news for all gender-neutral pronoun users! The NYTimes just used Mx. at the request of an informant, and now the WaPo has added singular they to its style guidelines!

Music to our ears:

It is usually possible, and preferable, to recast sentences as plural to avoid both the sexist and antiquated universal default to male pronouns and the awkward use of he or she, him or her and the like: All students must complete their homework, not Each student must complete his or her homework.

When such a rewrite is impossible or hopelessly awkward, however, what is known as “the singular they” is permissible: Everyone has their own opinion about the traditional grammar rule. The singular they is also useful in references to people who identify as neither male nor female.

Also, over three years ago in August 2012 when TIMP was just one month old, I was interviewed by prescient journalist Katie Toth for J-Source (the online magazine of The Canadian Journalism Project) about how the media should interface with and refer to non-binary, genderqueer or other folks who request gender-neutrality:

Lee Airton is the founder of gender-neutral pronoun blog, They Is My Pronoun, and a doctoral student at York University. Airton prefers to use the singular pronoun ‘they’. “My gender identity is very much queer, like it’s a very much in-between kind of thing,” they explained. “It would be very easy for people if people like me…said, ‘Yes, you can go ahead and call me ‘he.’ It’s a very different choice to say, ‘No, that also doesn’t feel good, I’m going to ask for you to work at it in the way that I work at being in this society.”

Airton is skeptical of writers’ insistence that ‘they’ poses a challenge for their readership: “I think it’s really interesting when writers presume a deficit in their audience.” At the same time, they said, using last names or descriptions of a person is a vastly better process than using a gendered pronoun that does not correspond with the source’s identity. “It’s a bit of a cop out…because [they] has to come into common usage.”

And now, more and more, this is happening. Onwards and upwards!

We are all they: On getting rid of all gendered pronouns, altogether

gardenspiderfeeling asked:

Hi! I am agender and the only correct pronoun to use for me is ‘they’. The more i think about gendered pronouns, the more they ALL seem unnecessary to me. a pronoun is a word used to refer to somebody without describing them in any way.(?) I’m all about knowing and acknowledging a person’s gender identity/experience/expression to the extent that they’d like me to,but i feel like pronouns are not the place to display anything about gender/race/personality. Can i rightfully call ALL people ‘they’?

Hello gardenspiderfeeling!

What an interesting question. Language is inadequate for almost everything, in my view (which is something I look at in my academic work on social justice education approaches). However, we need it, so why not just get rid of specificity and refer to everyone as they?

I have two lovely friends who have made the decision to use they pronouns for everyone they ever talk about (even, you know, their old mums and dads who are decidedly she, she, he and he). I think this is a lovely gesture because they have made the decision to privilege people who might be uncomfortable with she or he and NOT the status quo. They have completely reversed the equation: if someone wanted to be called she or he they would have to ask my friends to make the change, and my friends would have to work at it. Isn’t that something?

In the beginning, this resulted in some rather funny moments where I thought that someone my friends mentioned was ‘one of my people’ (e.g., ”I didn’t know THAT PERSON used they as their pronoun! OMG that’s so exciting!!!” I exclaimed) only to remember that, well, everyone is ‘they’ for these people. This happened about five times. Eventually I adapted and didn’t hear or care about anyone’s gender who they brought up in conversation. It was and continues to be rather nice!

Of course, I believe that people have a right to the gender (or gender-neutral) pronoun of their choice including he or she or hir or xim. Trans people who have struggled for acceptance as he or she could of course feel invalidated when ‘they’d’ by people with the best of gender-inclusive intentions. I definitely see where you are coming from, gardenspiderfeeling, but many people really do love their pronoun and do feel like it displays a lot about who they are (me too, I guess).

Absolutism of any kind has its risks, but that’s where we are today: where people who don’t want she or he have to do more work. Imagine if it was the other way around? What would change? What would be eerily similar?

Food for thought!

Thanks for writing, and be well,


TIMP in the media!

“We have to be willing to fail and have humility to be kind and be respectful when we are corrected and then move on,” Airton told Mashable. “That’s a very hard skill.”

TIMP has been featured in the big leagues of social media journalism! On Mashable!

In February I was contacted by a journalist from Mashable in connection with this blog. The interview and fact-checking process made me think a lot about being and presenting myself as a gender-neutral pronoun user and a trans spectrum person, particularly with regard to the media. It was interesting and the journalist was very respectful, but I have delayed sharing the article on TIMP until now because I feel ambivalent about being portrayed as someone who struggles with “dread and anxiety” or who “regularly navigates” a “complicated reality.” This is not untrue, but it’s hard to feel like one is commenting from a position as a long-time blogger and a scholar (in addition to writing TIMP, I’m an academic who researches and publishes on gender and sexual diversity issues) but is eventually represented as someone who’s authority only comes from their individual (and dreadful and anxious) existence. I think this references a trend in how LGBTQ people are portrayed, and also how we portray ourselves in order to make sure that we get money, space and time in places like schools to do the work we know is important. However, at this point my academic and TIMP selves are oddly merging and I must desist!

That said, however, TIMP appreciates the publicity and the willingness of Mashable to take up this important issue!

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!