The Singular They

There are more than a few of you who I consider friends, who I consider to be dear friends, wh ohave never heard me speak aloud. Aside from one video up on Youtube where Iw as off-the-cuffing all the answers to the questions I was being asked and trying to avoid filler-words and ‘um,’ I didn’t necessarily dedicate a ton of thought to what I said as much as how I said it. Really, that one video was the single thing I was the most proud of in the Hackagong experience.

Nonetheless: I’m something of a stickler for my manner of interpersonal communication. That’s a sentence I would say aloud, just to prove the point. I go through these articles and read them aloud to test if they convey the pace and rhyhtm of what it is I want to say, to make it easier to absorb my point. I was schooled in formal grammar – one of the only things that the ACE system did decently well, if not for the fact those ironclad grammatical rules are themselves, much more fluid and meaningless than the rules wanted me to think as if this clause isn’t enormously overstating my point – and this has informed my manner of speech.

The word ‘they’ is a word that my father, for example, will resist ever being used as a singular personal pronounce; this is because people like my father feel incomplete if their lives have to deal with ambiguity or nuance. I’ve been thinking about this in light of Holland, in the story I’ve been writing this year, and trying to avoid using the word ‘he’ or ‘she’ – or any other gendered pronouns. In the stories, I don’t use any pronouns to describe Holland, because Holland is meant to be one gender, transitioning from an assigned one, and I don’t know which of the two Holland is.

How’s that work when I talk about Holland to you know, people? I say ‘they.’ I say ‘they,’ and I have been saying it for about a year and not even realised I’ve been doing it.

Today, shit’s going down because someone said he, was told to say they, told someone else to fuck off, and decided then was the time to get picky about it. This was brought to my attention four times, with the fifth time coming up because someone, angry about the implications of He Vs They, decided the best way to improve technical word usage was to call someone a Nazi. I’m not going to tell programmers their way around language in code – they know how to make Pythons dance with the Rubies and Web Up The Code Cowboys or whatever. I can, however, as a seasoned asshole, offer these two pieces of advice about how not to be an asshole:

  • The word ‘they’ is easier to use; you already use it; and it’s more inclusive. So just, you know, use it.
  • Calling someone a Nazi only ever helps if the person is actually a self-identified Nazi.

Addendum: Let me add this. Just have some damn sense of perspective, for the love of fuck.

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