I hear something very similar from parents and other loved ones of transgender and nonbinary people who come into my office, “I can’t use they/them pronouns, it isn’t how I was taught and I can’t wrap my mind around it.”
Have you ever said or thought anything similar?
If so, it’s okay, you aren’t the first or last person to do so.
I’m here to say with the utmost confidence that even though it can be difficult, you already use the singular they/them language.
Using singular they/them
The fact is a singular use of they/them is already built into our culture's language. For instance when someone asks about your child in school you usually say something along the lines of, “they are doing great!” or “they are having some issues in math. Of course I can’t help them because I stink at math.”
It’s already apart of our language system so why do some people have so much issues with using they/them pronouns?
We are taught in school that they/them can’t be used in a singular way. However, the English Oxford Dictionaries says that using they/them in a singular way isn’t a new practice.
Some people object to this use on the grounds that it's ungrammatical. In fact, the use of plural pronouns to refer back to a singular subject isn't new: it represents a revival of a practice dating from the 16th century. It's increasingly common in current English and is now gaining wider acceptance in both writing and speech.
There is a lot of internalized issues we have in our society, especially around language. We all have internalized issues however how you continue to choose to react to them is the key.
A professor of mine from graduate school once said, “You aren’t responsible for your first thought. However, you are responsible for your second thought and first action.”
I want you to think of that saying for a moment.
Maybe more than a moment.
What does it mean to you?
In our society we are taught and internalize a lot of bad shit (pardon my language) like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and a lot more. All of us internalize this to a certain degree.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you are a bigot. It means that you listened and watched the society around you and when something “new” is presented to you (like using they/them pronouns) an intense reservation may spring up inside.
Not an Excuse
Knowing this isn’t an excuse to keep reacting this way without making an effort to change. When people are presented with feelings like this a couple of things can happen:
Yes, this is an oversimplification of possibilities.
A for Effort!
Now when you are consciously attempting to use they/them pronouns it can be difficult, but guess what? No one expects you to be perfect at the beginning. Most people, like youth, just want to see effort.
Being able to tell that you are trying and learning can be a huge sign of support for those around you.
This is my challenge to you. Start using they/them pronouns for everyone. Make it a part of your life to use gender neutral pronouns (AKA they/them) until someone identifies their pronouns for you. Stay neutral and let them guide you.
Doing this simple challenge will help you “rewire” your vocabulary and make it easier to use they/them like a pro(noun)!
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I love providing people with information. So in my blog you will find posts on topics such as: community resources, media suggestions, parenting questions, and informational posts.