We all have that one friend who refuses to use the right pronoun.
So it’s Pride Month and your social media is probably filled with colourful posts and gay memes. There’s an increased awareness around the use of pronouns, the gender spectrum, different sexualities and there’s so much to learn and discover. It’s all so new and exciting but there’s always that one friend who hates new things.
Why so many new terms? It’s not even in the dictionary! and the worst of them all — They/them pronouns are so weird, how can you refer to someone in the plural?
But really, can you refer to someone in the plural?
Yes, Tyler. I’m a swarm of bees. I’m plural. You have a problem?
On a more serious note, there is no grammatical error. Merriam-Webster has an easily accessible section on this where it’s stated that “they has been in consistent use as a singular pronoun since the late 1300s; that the development of singular they mirrors the development of the singular you from the plural you, yet we don’t complain that singular you is ungrammatical; and that regardless of what detractors say, nearly everyone uses the singular they in casual conversation and often in formal writing”.
If not a grammar Nazi, what’s the next excuse?
Just like beloved J.K.R. who can’t seem to digest new words like menstruators, some people can’t accept the fact that language evolves.
This is something that linguists always stress on — something can be an accepted word even if it’s not in the dictionary as long as it’s being used by a lot of people. Linguist and phonetician Whiso writes, “All languages change, all the time, and this includes things like slang, grammar changes, accent and pronunciation changes”.
And hey, it’s not like you should just pretend that nothing has changed when a lot of people start using new pronouns. You can acknowledge that things are evolving and that a lot of people are finding it difficult to fit into the long-established binaries of the English language. That fact alone explains why they/them pronouns are even “a thing”.
Being non-inclusive isn’t cute anymore.
As much as your friend would like to argue that they’re not being queerphobic by questioning pronouns, here’s a hard to swallow pill — it is. Even if they’re not knowingly taking part in the ever-existent hate against non-binary folks, refusing to refer to someone by their pronouns is extremely insensitive. Imagine being lactose intolerant and being invited to a party where everything served is dairy-based. That’s a gross belittlement of the subtle ways that lead to their larger invisibilisation.
While it’s ideal to use gender neutral pronouns till someone hasn’t specifically asked to use otherwise, you can always ask a person. A kind and inobtrusive way to go about this would be to say “Hi, I’m XYZ. My pronouns are so-and-so. What are yours?”.
Just like it’s weird and tiring to get used to a new language especially once you’re past childhood where language-learning is instinctual, it will be so to get used to new terms and pronouns that are becoming part of our lexicon. But the point is to get past the initial weirdness by using it more often. Why? Because it makes these people feel more comfortable and accepted. And if your friend still refuses to do so, they're just being a pain in the derrière.