We Need a New Pronoun
When it refers to a single individual, ‘they’ just isn’t working for me
The “Vows” section of this Sunday’s New York Times features the wedding of a nonbinary, polyamorous couple. Other individuals with whom the bride and groom have romantic relationships were in the bridal party, guests, and/or helpers. Here are three short paragraphs:
Their photographer was their witness, and they also had an assistant there to make sure things ran smoothly. However, Tortorella’s ex-boyfriend, Andrew Morrison, designed their outfits and was there to help them get ready.
(The couple does not use gender-specific honorifics, and each prefers the pronoun they.)
“Even if they were still dating, I would have wanted him to design our outfits,” Meyers said. Tortorella said that if Meyers had been in a meaningful relationship at the time, they would have wanted that person there.
Huh? The writer, Maggie Parker, obviously tried to be careful. In most of the story, it was clear who was who. But those paragraphs could hardly be more confusing. Who is (or are) ‘they?’ Nico Tortorella, the groom? Bethany Meyers, the bride? Both of them? Which of them, or both, would have wanted that person there?
I’ve attempted to read profiles of trans individuals in which the writer only used the pronouns ‘they’ and ‘them.’ When the article mentioned parents, spouses, friends, teachers — it was next to impossible to ascertain who was (or were) being referred to.
In my world, I meet and interact with LBGTQ and nonmonogamous people all the time. In the last year or so, at an increasing number of events, the leaders began requesting preferred pronouns. ‘They’ is always an option. And an increasing number of people are choosing it.
If you choose a pronoun other that she/her and he/him, more power to you! But when you write, please let us know who, and how many people, you are referring to. In order to do that, the English language needs a new, nongendered pronoun. (I’m wondering what going on in other languages, especially Romance languages, where even inanimate objects are gendered.)
With all creativity flourishing in the LBGTQ world, surely someone can devise, invent, or co-opt a workable, non-gendered, first-person singular pronoun, a new word that refers to an individual who chooses not to be ‘he’ or ‘him,’ ‘she’ or ‘her.’ I can’t begin to suggest what that word might be. But it would not be ‘they,’ which is third-person plural.
In general, don’t you find it annoying to live in a culture that’s divided into ‘his’ and ‘hers’? A culture in which most girls start their lives dressed in pink with frills and sparkles. And boys get blue — and active ‘boy’ patterns and motifs.
Some people are already starting to make my three-year-old grandson feel bad that he favors a ‘girly’’ color, purple. There is a huge choice in clothing; I’ve found purple shirts for boys at craft fairs and on Etsy. But there is little choice in alternative pronouns.
I could not be the only person who gets confused by ‘they.’ Is it a done deal, too late? Or is there still time for one or more of those creative individuals to come up with the word, promote it, and get it into wide circulation and acceptance?