writing

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

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

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!