Her, his, they, it. Pick one. (No really, they insist).

I know someone who works in an environment that has adopted the practice of using pronouns. If you’re unfamiliar with this new trend, it means that people self-identify with the pronoun of their choosing and they expect others to use it as well when referring to them. In a meeting or other go-around-the-room-and-intoduce-yourself situation, participants might be asked to say their name and their pronoun(s). Theoretically, I’d say, “My name is Colette, her, hers, she” or something similar.

I am sympathetic to a point with people who don’t identify with the gender they had at birth; I’m not an insensitive clod stuck in the past unwilling to consider issues that have no personal relevance to me. And it has to be taxing not to be referred to by your chosen gender especially if you’ve gone to pains to be seen a particular way. I am irritated, though, by practices like the one I’ve described. If I was in that situation where my “pronouns” were requested (one I’ve thankfully yet to be in) I’d decline to offer any. If pressed I’d tell the person or people to figure it out for themselves or take their best guess. I might offer a smile as I said that, but I’d say it. If other people want to announce their pronouns I think it’s fine and not my business. I just don’t think the practice obligates me to play along.

When I’m unsure of someone’s gender I keep my mouth shut so far as applying pronouns till I pick up some clues, such as when someone else who appears to know the individual uses specific pronouns when mentioning them. Otherwise I can usually sidestep it and if not and I incorrectly use a pronoun, I expect someone will tell me. (There are dicier areas; supposing a child wants to be referred to by another gender, and perhaps their parents are going along with it. I recently saw a child on TV whose parents are allowing him to take drugs to hold off puberty while s/he considers what gender to be. Yes I was very taken aback. I hadn’t even known that was possible.)

The person I know who works in the place that has adopted the pronoun practice found herself in a weird situation. She had to relay information to a co-worker that she’d said to someone else regarding said co-worker. While repeating the essential parts of the conversation she used the pronoun “she” in referencing what she’d had said to the other person. The co-worker corrected her about using “she” and said the pronoun was “they.” You can see what part of the conversation mattered to the co-worker who focused on taking issue on pronouns used out of her – yes I’m calling her a her – earshot. The person telling me about the interaction told the co-worker words to the effect of “I’ll try to remember that” (which I consider a generous response).

I was galled by this story. The co-worker was attempting to control words used by other people in a private conversation. A conversation that was over no less. Further, the pronouns weren’t relevant to that conversation. IF the word “they” had been used it could really bungle up communication. Lets imagine it shall we? Person A: “Jane Smith wants to meet with you.” Person B: “Okay. Did she say when?” Person A: “They said Tuesday.” Person B: “I thought you said Jane wants to meet. Who else will be there?” Person A: “No one. It’s just them.” Person B: “Them? Who else other than Jane?” Person A: “They said only them” And on & on…

This all makes me think a bit of when people give themselves new names or nicknames and try to coax or strong-arm other people into using the new names, no matter how peculiar, ill-fitting, or otherwise cumbersome. (I just avoid using certain of these.๐Ÿ˜’)

It’s a fine line to walk anymore. Maybe, like me, you want to be considerate and not backward when it comes to change, while at the same time are finding some practices heavy-handed and even absurd. I don’t think all practices, however well-intended, should be indulged especially when they create at least as many problems as they solve. Maybe a day will come when this pronoun business is mainstream. Or maybe it will fall by the wayside.

12 thoughts on “Her, his, they, it. Pick one. (No really, they insist).

  1. Kate Crimmins

    We have a good friend with a transgender grandchild. They changed their designation when they were 14. It took me a long time (as it did for their grandmother) to get used to using a multiple non-designation pronoun. When I can I just use a name.

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  2. Ally Bean

    I try to use whichever pronoun another person wants me to use, but I’m a pragmatist so I’m concerned with the overall message/content of what is being said more than the pronouns. Often the wrong pronoun in no way makes the information incorrect. This pronoun issue seems like a tempest in a teapot to me, but maybe I don’t understand it thoroughly.

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    1. Colette Post author

      I’m trying to understand while still applying my innate skepticism/questions. I think if someone had a full beard and an Adam’s apple, say, and wanted to be called “she” I’d have trouble. You’re right, Ally, it’s content, message and intent that are the most important. But sometimes when people fixate on narrow aspects, those get muddied.

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  3. Sheila Moss

    I have a friend who insists on being gender-neutral and wants the plural pronoun “they” to be used as a singular as well. They becomes upset if someone uses he or she. I am okay with a gender-neutral designation if that is what they wants, but it is very hard to change a life-time of using singular pronouns as singular and plurals as plural.

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    1. Colette Post author

      Absolutely. You are a good friend to try. I have not been in the situation but I can imagine it ( I have a person or two in mind). I don’t know how I’d catch myself and think it’d be awkward a lot. Maybe in time it gets easier? Although I admit to being suspicious that someone insisting on this particular treatment might be difficult in other ways too. (I often choose difficult people to be in my life but they have to be worth it!)

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  4. JT Twissel

    I’ve worked with many transgender people (SF Bay Area) and have inadvertently insulted a few of them – especially if I knew them before the change. And to me, they gotta expect that people are going to be confused in the beginning and not make a big deal about it.

    Liked by 1 person

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    1. Colette Post author

      Yeah, especially when you know someone before they transition; I haven’t known anyone (before they changed) but I’m sure I’d slip. Thanks for commenting – your vantage from where you live is unique.

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