When I attended the 2015 HRC Time to Thrive Conference last February, I was puzzled to see a line below my name. I soon discovered that this was a place to write my preferred pronouns. I’ll be honest and say that asking someone’s preferred pronouns never occurred to me. It was just something I took for granted. As I listened to some of the Youth Ambassadors speak about their experiences as transgender and genderqueer, I came to understand the importance of it. Our gender experience is part of our identity, and having others recognize and respect it is essential to our emotional and mental well-being.
A new vocabulary term at the conference for me was gender binary. It’s the idea that there are two distinct and opposite genders. In the English language, our pronouns reflect the gender binary. Gender is now recognized as a continuum, as some people feel that their gender experience cannot be described in terms of male or female. In response, the new pronouns ze, hir, and hirs have emerged. Some people prefer to use they, their, and theirs.
I was raised in a household of English majors, librarians, and writers, so I’ll admit that I’ve had a hard time letting go of the grammar issue. Take this sentence, for example: Every child can choose any book they like. Technically, it should read: Every child can choose any book he/she likes. While it is grammatically correct, it does not reflect the gender spectrum. In my writing, I have begun to use the more inclusive they as opposed to he/she. But Kimmie, what will people think? They might think you don’t KNOW the RULE. Well, Inner Voice of Lack of Reason, that’s just too bad. And maybe, just maybe, they’ll think I’m…really respectful! What could be more respectful than calling someone what they want to be called? Besides, affirming someone’s identity is way more important than some archaic grammar rule.