Why would someone use a gender-neutral pronoun?

There are many reasons why someone might use a pronoun other than she or he. The people who you expect might use a gender-neutral pronoun are not the only ones who do, and may be quite happy with he or she.

Most of the time, users make this choice because there is something about she or he which makes us uncomfortable. This often has a lot to do with gender, and many users have a gender identity or expression which differs from male/masculine OR female/feminine. Once again, however, this is not universal. Some make this choice for political reasons, or to make space for gender-neutral pronouns. However, the vast majority of people whose pronouns are gender-neutral are nonbinary, whether using that term or another one that is kind of like it. I go into this in depth in my book.

Using a gender-neutral pronoun like singular they can be a way to signal to others that a user does not want to be automatically grouped along with people who use she or he – usually women/girls/ladies or men/boys/gentlemen – for activities or invitations, etc. It can be a request that one’s preferences or habits or dis/likes or comfort not be assumed based on one’s (perceived) assigned sex. It can also be a way of making one’s felt gender apparent in everyday life by bringing it into immediate language.

So, using singular they is about comfort and communication. It can also be about many other things, and if you have a differing opinion or experience please share either in a comments section or on TIMP’s Tumblr.

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5 comments

  1. Hi, I just have two questions: 1) what was your gender before you became gender queer, and 2) what led you to believe that you did not classify as the gender you were labelled at birth?

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    1. I used to identify as “she,her”, but using “they, them” has released myself and others’ expectations of how a person “should” act. I feel I am seen as more of a whole person if both male and female attributes are attributed to me. As most of my life I have liked “male” activities, it helps others to understand I am not one dimensional, but a complex person.

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  2. Do you think that cis-gender people should announce their pronoun preference? Cisgender people announcing their pronouns on an Instagram page, for instance.

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    1. What a great question! My friend Oliver and I just wrote something on this:

      View at Medium.com

      From: They Is My Pronoun Reply-To: Date: Wednesday, June 12, 2019 at 1:30 PM To: Subject: [They Is My Pronoun] Comment: “Why would someone use a gender-neutral pronoun?”

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      1. I am a cisgender woman who feels fine about she/her pronouns. I have found myself feeling uncomfortable in pronoun go-rounds, for some of the reasons discussed in the excellent essay linked above. I started to wonder if it would be appropriate for me to say that I would accept she/her or they/them as my pronouns, as a means of normalizing use of the singular they/them. I am of two minds (at least) on this idea. On the one hand, it might lessen the possible stigma of having just one person (or a minority of people) using they/them (or other non-she/he) pronouns. That is, they/them could theoretically be used for anyone. This thought is, I think, related to Manion’s argument about lumping people into cisgender/transgender boxes. BUT, I am also concerned that it might seem like I was performing transgender, or not taking it seriously. Also, someone might use “they” specifically to mean non-binary, which is not how I would be using it (more like “gender unspecified” or the difference between “Mrs” vs. “Miss” vs “Ms”). I would appreciate any insights, with my thanks. I have not found anything online that seems to address this issue, and my thoughts keep going round and round.

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All questions and comments are welcome. You can ask an anonymous question to TIMP at theyismypronoun.tumblr.com.

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