On gender neutral pronouns.

I’m gonna start by telling you a story.

The morning sun streaked through a crack in the curtains, laying a line of bright light across the face of the person sleeping on the bed.  They twitched, pulled a pillow across their face, settled back into deep, rhythmic breathing. The cat at the end of the bed lifted its head and twitched an ear. A quick tongue licked the silky white fur of its tail and it curled back up in a satisfied pile of fluffy comfort. A banging filled the room and both cat and person jumped, upright, alert.

“Sam! You need to open the door! My hands are full!” yelled a voice brimming with excitement, seeming to sound just on the edge of hysteria. Sam climbed from the bed, shrugging the blanket across their shoulders as they moved and shuffled to the door. They pushed the hair out of their eyes, and twisted the door handle. Jo burst through the door, arms filled with packages and shiny wrapped boxes, bags dangling from finger tips. Sam raised an eyebrow, walked across the room and flopped back onto the bed.

“What are you doing here this early?” Sam groaned, pulling the blanket up over their head, letting one eye peek out.

“Mom said you needed to get up.  Its nearly time to head to grandpas, and you haven’t even had breakfast yet,” the words poured out of Jo like water over a dam, a light, bubbly tone, full of joy and enthusiasm. Sam rolled to the side of the bed, facing the wall. Reaching out a hand, they gently stroked the cats ears, wishing for just a few more minutes uninterrupted sleep.  Work had been hell last night, and heading out to Grandpa’s was not high on the list of things they wanted to do today. However, breakfast would definitely make it easier to get through. Turning back to look at Jo, Sam noticed the way Jo bounced up and down, nervous energy spilling out almost visibly.

“What has got you so excited this morning?  I know it is not going to Grandpas. but you look like you’re about ready to explode, kiddo.” Sam started pulling on a soft blue cotton shirt, which they thought would be super comfortable. Jo smiled and leaned forward, short dark hair shining, blue eyes sparkling. Sam looked into those eyes, the ones that had sat across the table from them every day for twenty years, since before either of them could speak properly, those eyes that had always seen Sam exactly as Sam always had been, exactly as they wanted to be seen. Jo was Sam’s biggest supporter, their staunchest ally. Jo never faltered, never missed an opportunity to stand next to Sam and hold their hand and love them.

“I am getting married!” Jo cried. “I am so damn excited. We will go choose rings later this week, but for right now, I have been going nuts shopping for wedding things! I got all these crazy knick knacks, and we are going to do a Harry Potter theme, and it is going to be so freaking amazing. And I want you to stand up with me. Cause I have never imagined it any other way.”

Sam wiped a sudden tear from Jo’s eye, and wrapped them in strong arms, so happy for this younger sibling who had met the perfect person to share their life with.  Sam was so happy for Jo, and for their whole family, who could only be made stronger by this union. Maybe it was worth being awake after all.

***

So.  Did you know who I was talking about in this story?  Could you identify the singular pronouns? Were you able to be excited for Jo, without knowing their gender or the gender of their partner? Was it impossible to know what was going on?

When someone asks you to use they/them pronouns, the common cry is that it is grammatically incorrect.  It isn’t.  It is just a little harder to use a different word and to not rely on gender to tell the story of a person. When we use gender, this whole story changes. Because, immediately, Jo becomes a bride or a groom, and is therefore asked really specific questions…. “How did you ask?” “What is the ring like?” Or the gender of their partner is assumed. Is Sam walking Jo down the aisle? Or standing next to them at the end of it? In a dress or a suit?

What is important about this story changes when you add gender. By removing gender from the equation, we open a door to a wider range of options. Wouldn’t it be great if gender wasn’t the thing that defined all our stories?

3 thoughts on “On gender neutral pronouns.

  1. imcbcd says:

    Valid… though… I’m pretty sure lots of words (like orange, lace, umpteen, diamond and erudite, for example) probably sounded clunky and awkward to start with. Some long established words like equality and equity still seem uncomfortable for many people…. (I’d do a winking emoji if I could!)

    Like

  2. Aidan O'Donnell says:

    I really enjoyed this post, and your discussion of gender. It certainly got me thinking.
    What troubles me are the made-up genderless pronouns, like “hir” or “zie”. To me they sound clunky and awkward. It may be that English needs such pronouns, but if people are going to change the language they should at least do it respectfully!

    Like

    • imcbcd says:

      Valid… though… I’m pretty sure lots of words (like orange, lace, umpteen, diamond and erudite, for example) probably sounded clunky and awkward to start with. Some long established words like equality and equity still seem uncomfortable for many people…. (I’d do a winking emoji if I could!)

      Like

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