Students discuss the importance of accommodating non-binary pronouns in common language

Diana Fontanilla, Staff Writer

The LGBTQ+ community is an immense and diverse group. The ‘T’ refers to transgender, which, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is an umbrella term that categorizes all individuals whose gender differs from their gender designated at birth. This definition generally refers to transgender women and men but also applies to non-binary people. Non-binary refers to the idea of genders that exist outside of the gender binary of male and female. Many people struggle with the accommodation of non-binary people in society and common language.

One of the major ongoing discussions debates the singular usage of they and them pronouns.

“The main reason people might prefer they/them pronouns is because they don’t identify as specifically ‘male’ or ‘female,’ [but rather] have a non-binary gender,” senior Emily Herman, one of the vice presidents of the GSA, said. “[The] use of she/her or he/him implies that they are male or female exclusively, which they are not. They/them is more ambiguous, which makes non-binary people more comfortable.”

While there are many proposed alternative pronouns, they have not gained presence in everyday language.

“Over the past decades, there have been many proposed options including ne, ve, spivak, ze and hir,” psychology teacher Frances Coffey said. “Language constantly evolves, [and] recently, we’ve observed [a rise in the] emphasis on gender-neutral language. It’s reasonable to think that gender-neutral pronouns will also become more [of] a mainstream part of common language eventually.”

However, most people find these pronouns difficult to pronounce or remember, which has made the usage quite uncommon. But language is a constantly evolving system. People do not use the same words they did centuries ago.

As language continues to evolve, there is a question as to how non-binary pronouns will find their way into common language.

“People say they aren’t used to using [they/them pronouns] even though they use [they/them pronouns] on a regular day-to-day basis. [Singular usage of they/them] is the same as using those pronouns in a plural sense,” Herman said.

If one is referring to someone using they/them pronouns, one would say “they have to try,” not “they has to try.” For example, when referring to Emily, one would say “Emily is going to the store; they are going to pick up some food.” Most other pronouns work just like she and he pronouns. For instance, “Ari is quite typical. Ne likes to take long walks on the beach and kick nir best friend’s butt at video games.”

“I think that the easiest way [to normalize singular use of they/them pronouns] would be exposure,” junior Knockta Ott said. “People [should] educate themselves first and then talk to the people who want to identify with they/them pronouns and slowly ease into using [these pronouns] more often until it becomes normal.”

When meeting a new person, it is best to ask for their name and preferred pronouns, and then check back the first few times to make sure that the preferred pronouns are used correctly. Continual usage is very important in order to normalize this language.

For most non-binary and transgender people, notifying others of their preferred pronouns is often anxiety-inducing. Don’t be too nervous when asking people about their pronouns, as the goal is to normalize this type of conversation. If you mess up someone’s pronouns, correct yourself but don’t make a big deal in front of a group about how difficult it is. If you feel truly sorry, say so privately to the misgendered person, rather than cause panic in an otherwise calm situation.

Non-binary people exist and will continue to exist. It doesn’t take much to accommodate them, just an open mind and some practice.