This is *another* old post from my old blog. I don’t know why I’m including it on here. I guess the better question is ‘why not?’
If you are unfamiliar with the fact that not everyone identifies with one of the binary genders, and therefore, not everyone is comfortable being referred to with he or she pronouns, I encourage you to educate yourself on that before reading this. Those of you who are aware of this concept are probably also aware that whenever the subject of gender neutral they/them pronouns arises, there’s always that one person who can’t refrain from unsheathing this tired, insipid excuse:
“But ‘they’ is a plural pronoun.”
Correct. ‘They’ is indeed a plural pronoun. ‘They’ can also be used in singular form though, and don’t try to tell me you didn’t know that, because you probably use singular ‘they’ all the time.
Example: you’re driving and someone is tailgating you. You might be annoyed by THEM. Chances are, you can’t tell what THEIR gender is, so in order to accommodate the possibility that THEY could be any gender, perhaps you would say, “Wow, who does this person behind me think THEY are? THEY sure drive like a jerk.”
Unless you are under the erroneous impression that more than one person is driving the vehicle behind you, it’s safe to assume that you have, in fact, just used singular they.
The pronoun ‘they’ is homonymous. There are homonyms all through the English language, yet I doubt you refuse to use the word ‘bark’ to describe the outer layer of a tree just because it can also be used in reference to the sound a dog makes. Ambiguity is everywhere and just because you’ve been conditioned from an early age to maintain a conveniently blind eye to its presence in less controversial contexts, doesn’t change that. So next time someone asks you to use they/them pronouns, you can choose to pedantically pontificate about grammar that you clearly lack an adequate understanding of, or you can take a more sagacious approach and kindly use the damn pronouns.
You would think that, after learning that singular they is grammatically correct after all, most people would see the merit in employing singular they pronouns. The disillusioning reality of the matter is that logic doesn’t pacify everyone. Because of this, there is often a follow-up excuse concerning the usage of them/them pronouns, and it usually looks something like this:
“I’m sorry. If there was an original gender neutral pronoun that wasn’t so confusing, I’d use it, but I just can’t get used to they/them pronouns.”
No. You are not sorry. You are desperately searching for a nonconfrontational way of admitting that you have no interest in being a respectful, socially responsible member of society. Unfortunately for you, there are, in fact, many original, gender neutral alternatives to singular they: Ze, xe, tey, ey, e, thon, fae, vae, ae, ne, xie, sie, zed, ce, co, ve, jee, lee, kye, per, hu, bun, to name a few. Problem solved, right?
“But those are too weird and obscure. No one will know what I’m talking about.”
But isn’t this what you just told me you wanted?
“Yeah, but it has to be a pronoun people are familiar with.”
Enter: singular they. You see the problem here? There are no valid excuses anymore. Singular they is not only grammatically correct, but has been a part of the English language for eons. There are plenty of gender neutral alternatives for people who are still too obstinate to yield to singular they, but as it turns out, these people aren’t actually looking for alternatives, they’re simply looking for an excuse to continue ignoring the existence of genders that don’t fall tidily into their comfy gender binary.