Question: Gender Neutral Language Issues?

Syd asks…

I am just beginning to discover my gender identity and I’m leaning towards identifying as somewhere around gender fluid and using they/them pronouns for now (FAAB).
I requested that my closest friend use they/them pronouns for me and she swore up and down that those pronouns are plural and she can’t use them because it won’t make sense. Is there any way I can show her that my pronouns are in fact correct?

Also, I have a terrible habit of calling everyone “girl” all the time, and I have so many non binary friends that it’s becoming problematic. Not to mention that I need to provide my friends with an alternative so that they stop calling me “girl” as well.
But what can I replace it with? I’m 19, so I want to keep it young and very casual without being gender biased.

Any help would be so appreciated! x

Please post your response in the comments below.

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Posted by on June 7th, 2014 at 08:00 am

Category: questions 7 comments »

7 Responses to “Question: Gender Neutral Language Issues?”

  1. QWG

    Hi! Non-binary editor here (although I’m in Australia, which may make a difference – every brand of English has its own grammatical quirks and rules) whose preferred pronouns (and possessive adjectives) are the absolutely-correct singular they. I’m so sorry your friend is refusing to respect your words and your identity because of ignorant (and wrong) semantics about language.

    I broke down why this usage is correct (including quotations from the Style manual (the Australian equivalent to the Chicago Manual of Style) in a Tumblr post here. Please forgive the swearing that happens when I get passionate.

    So, yes. This usage is correct and/or is on the way to becoming so, and it has grammatical precedent in the use of singular ‘you’, as spoken by an editor and confirmed by the Australian editor’s bible.

    Being Aussie, I call everyone, regardless of gender, ‘mate’. (Hey, mate. How you doing, mate? Do you mates want to go to the city?) I also use ‘folk’ as a gender-non-specific group word (queer folk, we folk) or just settle on ‘person’ (which feels strange at first, given how much and often we’re taught to refer to people with gender-specific words). This may not be all that helpful, though, since I’m a good ten years older. I hope someone can find you words that speak to your age and location.

    Best of luck. I really hope your friend can start treating you with the respect you deserve – and that means doing something people do for everybody who is binary: using one’s preferred words.


  2. fluffy

    “You” used to be strictly-plural; the singular was “thou.”

    If “you” can become ambiguous, so can “they.” And guess what: it has been ever since the times of Shakespeare.


  3. Harley

    Like above, “they” is absolutely gramatically correct in the singular form. Beyond that, the sole purpose of language is communication. Your pronouns are meant to communicate who you are. Trying to use grammar to prevent someone from using the pronouns that best communicate their identity goes entirely against the purpose of language.
    As for non-binary terms, “dude” can be gender neutral, though it can have gender connotations. “Friend”, “comrade”, and “buddy” could also work. They could also make up awesome nicknames for you. Basically, the world is your oyster.


  4. Anonymous

    There is an entire write-up on exactly how and why the singular “they” is correct right here:

    So you don’t have to stress while explaining it yourself. Of course, the factual correctness of the word shouldn’t even matter here. It’s pretty bigoted to respond to someone’s request for pronoun usage with “well I won’t call you that because ~reasons~”. That’s something your friend should get through her head as well, along with the much-needed language lesson.
    (Sorry for the snark, but it always makes me so sad when this issue comes up, and it does come up a lot. The thing is, it’s not a language issue and hasn’t been for a good couple hundred of years. It is an issue of erasure.)


    anta replied:

    That write-up is very interesting, but it only addresses the use of “they” as a generic pronoun. I know of people who think that “they” is grammatically correct as a generic singular pronoun but still think that it shouldn’t be used as a gender-neutral pronoun for a known individual.


  5. Nel

    While I agree with all the above comments on the singular “they,” because of the issue over it I came up with my own: esh (e=ey like in they). It “sounds” like it should belong in the English language alongside they, he and she, at least to me.

    As for collectives, “you lot” works. “Hey, you lot, let’s go!” Singulars… well, I’m a bad person to ask, I use “guy” or “man” because my friends are almost exclusively masculine.


  6. Anonymous

    you’re young make up something new. Where would we be without people to invent new words like bodacious, cool, yolo, or twerking.
    You come up with a new gender neutral way to address everyone that doesn’t sound as corny as ya’ll, and we’ll all follow suit :P


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