As a society, we’ve collectively made some great progress over the last decade when it comes to expanding civil rights for LGBTQ+ people. Granted, we’ve still got a ways to go, but events like the Supreme Court ruling in defense of same-sex marriage in 2015, along with greater queer representation in television and film, have represented important milestones in the path toward true equality.
Caption: I dare you not to shed a tear during Rosa Diaz’s coming-out episode.
The past few years in particular have seen an increased focus on the “T” and “+” aspects of the queer community, with debates raging over “Bathroom Bill” legislation and the acceptance of nonbinary gender pronouns.
These nonbinary pronouns (“they” being the most widely used) have particularly struck a chord in both popular and academic discourse. Supporters of using the singular “they” argue for its inherent inclusivity, while those against its usage often claim that the term degrades the English language and promotes excessive “political correctness,” among other arguments.
Setting all of the debate aside, we’re left not with a war on grammar or a fluffy political statement, but a simple question of respect.
We respect people’s gender identities through the pronouns we use to refer to them every day, often without even thinking. In fact, it would be just plain rude to refer to a woman as a “he” if that’s not how they identify or vice versa. Why then wouldn’t we as individuals want to extend equal respect to someone who identifies most comfortably with the singular “they”?
It’s actually not that hard!
For example, I once interviewed an old acquaintance of mine who identifies as nonbinary for a magazine story. At first, I was unsure about how to go about writing with respect for them in mind, but once I started, I realized it wasn’t a big deal at all. Check out a paragraph from my story to see how I incorporated the singular “they” in a seamless way:
“So far, Kayla has received a ton of positive attention for their work, and has been featured in Flawless Mag, Apple Pie: An American Art Show, and the Yellow Show. They’re just getting started, and stress that they’re still quite new and developing a coherent art style.”
Using a different pronoun than what you might be used to can certainly seem challenging at first, but with a little practice and patience, you’ll be just fine.
And guess what? Most of the nonbinary people I’ve met wouldn’t hate you if you did slip up—they’d just give you a gentle reminder and continue whatever conversation you were having.
If you’re still not convinced about using “they” as a singular pronoun, allow me to demonstrate (with a little help from I Heart the Singular They) why it’s the best choice when “she” and “he” just don’t cut it.
First and foremost, the singular “they” is nothing new, really.
“There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend”
“They” is much easier to keep track of.
Instead of using s/he, switching pronouns willy nilly, or, heaven forbid, using “it” to refer to a human being, simply using they/them/theirs keeps the confusion to a minimum when writing.
Lastly, the singular “they” is the most inclusive pronoun of all.
Think of “they” as a blanket pronoun that pretty much covers everybody. Plus, using they/them/theirs can help make people who don’t fit into the gender binary feel all the more seen, accepted, and respected—and who doesn’t want that?
At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like they belong. When it comes to showing love to those marginalized communities who are often left out of the conversation, simple things like honoring someone’s pronouns can go a long way.