What is in a pronoun?

I would wager that I have had more discussions about the use of pronouns in the English language in the past year than most people have in their lives (outside English teachers, of course).

Most of the conversations are either with my sibling, or about my sibling, as they are trying to find the pronoun that is most comfortable for them.

The thing that is most interesting to me is the timeliness of other conversations I’m seeing on the web about pronouns, and rather than jumping into my personal opinions or experiences at this point, I would like to take the opportunity to point to some of these other articles and resources, and just remind my readers in general that there are people for whom the binary options of “he” and “she” pronouns are not the right fit. The best thing we can do is to respect them.

Pronouns and Familial Identifiers and Gender

My sibling, And, and I discuss gender and gender identity a lot since de has come out as genderqueer – that is, not identifying wholly as either male, or female. We discuss gender binary as a social construct, and how language enforces this.

Most recently (today in fact), And posted in dear blog about what gender pronouns de wanted us to use for de. As you can see from the post, de wants to road test different pronouns, and has enlisted family and friends reading the post to try out different pronouns when referring to de. I felt it would be easiest for me to use “they” and “their” pronouns, but when I got to the bottom, I saw dear preference was for a set of gender-neutral pronouns de had come up with for a story de is working on.

[cryout-pullquote align=”center” textalign=”left” width=”60%”]De/De/Dear/Dearself – I created these for a character in my current story, but I like them a lot. I would love being De and Dear. Used in a paragraph: De went to get dear backpack. De made it dearself. It belongs to de. It is dears.[/cryout-pullquote]

I had lunch with my sibling after reading the post, and I was psyched to try to use dear preferred pronouns – and I came to realize how little one uses pronouns to talk to/ about a person when they are sitting right there with you. I don’t think I needed a pronoun for And at all during lunch. So I am making the effort here to use dear preferred pronoun set. It feels like a way that I can express my affection and support for my sibling, no matter what, even if it means changing my speech patterns in way I find challenging.

The other thing that has occurred to me after gender language conversations with And is the lack of gender neutral identifiers for some familial relationships, where for others, suitable words exist. I can refer to And as my sibling, no problem, but how should our niece refer to de?

So, for my own edification, I have made the lists below of gendered and non-gendered familial identifiers.

  • Mother, Father
  • Sister, Brother
  • Daughter, Son
  • Grandmother, Grandfather
  • Granddaughter, Grandson
  • ….N/A
  • Aunt, Uncle
  • Niece, Nephew
  • Parent
  • Sibling
  • Child
  • Grandparent
  • Grandchild
  • Cousin
  • ….?
  • ….?

You get into awkward things like “My sibling’s child”, or “My parent’s sibling” when you start getting into family that is only just a little distant. I also find it interesting that cousin is the only commonly used familial term that fits into gender-neural language without even trying.

But I feel as more people come forward and stand up for what pronouns they feel comfortable with, we will gradually see the change reflected in our language.

*Post edited (twice) 8/21/14 due to my own misuse of my sibling’s gender neutral pronouns of choice. Definitely a learning process 🙂