If you’re here, you probably clicked on the link in my email signature or on my site next to the phrase, “They/them pronouns.” This means that when referring to me using personal pronouns you should use “they/them.” This is also known as “singular they.” For example, “Echo isn’t here, they’re busy fighting crime.”
I also use the pronouns “xhe/xer”, pronounced ex-he/ex-er. People can have more than one set of pronouns! In this case, I am okay with people using either set.
Why are you telling me this?
Most people are uncomfortable when someone refers to them with the wrong pronoun or address, and I’m no different. Not only that, but most people are embarrassed and upset if they misgender someone, since it’s considered rude. Since I have an unusual gender that isn’t immediately obvious, it’s easier for everyone if I tell people which pronoun I prefer.
Why singular they?
Gender Identity? You mean your sex?
Nope. Sex is a way of differentiating people biologically. Gender is a much more complicated beast that is usually defined by your society or culture. I don’t identify with, or feel like I belong to, either of the genders that English-speaking cultures generally allow (women and men).
But isn’t singular they bad grammar?
Actually, it isn’t. Singular they has been used as a nongendered pronoun pretty much forever. It fell out of favor for various reasons, but it never completely left the English language. You can see this in the works of Shakespeare, Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis, and many more highly respected authors across the centuries.
Using singular they to refer to you is difficult/confusing/annoying. Can I do something else?
I find several polite activities difficult, confusing, or annoying as well, so I can sympathize. But using anything other than ‘they’ to refer to me is going to make me uncomfortable.
Please, whether you understand my gender or not, do not refer to me using he/him.
My language doesn’t have singular they. What do I do?
Unfortunately, not all languages allow for non-binary identities. In this situation, I would prefer you err on the side of feminine pronouns. However, if you can, please use a non-gendered pronoun for me, and always use my correct pronouns when speaking about me in English.
Regardless of your language, please do not refer to me using he/him.
You sound/look like a man to me.
Well, our culture associates certain physical characteristics with certain genders, so that can happen. Also, that isn’t a question.
I mean, it’s hard to remember because you sound/look like a man. What if I mess up?
That’s okay! Everyone (and I do mean everyone, including my fellow nonbinary friends) takes time to learn and adjust. All I ask is that you try – and if you use the wrong pronoun, just say the sentence again correctly and go on. I know you aren’t being mean and just messed up. To err is human, after all.
Where should I go to learn more about this stuff?
I linked to a few things further up, but here’s some more resources:
Rooster Tails: Queer 101
A long, detailed, friendly comic guide to the basics of nonbinary sexuality, sex, and gender.
Robot Hugs: Pronoun Etiquette
A short comic guide to the basics of pronoun etiquette.
Wikipedia: Singular They — Usage
Lots of quotes from throughout the history of English literature with examples of singular they.
The Republic of Pemberley: singular “their” in Jane Austen and elsewhere: anti-pedantry page
Another lengthy list of examples of classic literature using singular they or their.