I’m “at” a writing conference this week. Or should I say, I’m “in” at a writers’ conference. It’s all virtual, mainly Zoom. The Zoom profile setup allows the users to display their preferred pronoun. This got me thinking about two thing: a discussion I had with Miss K about pronouns and why we care about preferences.
A lot of conference Zooming with pronoun preferences displayed got me thinking. Why do I care? I don’t need to know what’s in your pants, or what you feel in your heart should be there, or who you want to be with. You don’t need to know my preferences or how I identify. So why do we care?
I admit, I do care. And, I don’t know why.
I’m watching Home Before Dark. I’m ambiguous about one of the children. Are they a boy or a girl? I thought he was a boy. Now I’m pretty sure she’s a girl. Is she supposed to be a tomboy? Same thing on America’s Got Talent. Is that man with rounded hips transgender? No matter, they sure can belt out a tune. I never heard Tomorrow sung in such a moving way. Kudos. Let’s rewind and listen again.
That brings me to Miss K. She’ll be a senior in high school when all in-classroom learning returns in the fall. She has several friends that prefer they/them. She wishes to be respectful. She rolls her eyes at her mother’s lack of “wokeness” in a way that mirrors CeCe’s teenage years. I admit that makes me smile because, you know, what goes around comes around.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” I say to Miss K. “It can just be a bit confusing on how to refer to whom.”
“My friends have a little button they wear that says they/them.”
“But you’ll rarely refer to them that way when you’re actually with them.” (See how easily that was for me to adjust?)
And then I got to thinking about how that works with writing. What about verb/pronoun agreement? I mean, it seems weird to write, they is coming with me to the mall.
I’m a ponderer, so I pondered.
Wait a minute. We already have a pronoun that is singular and plural depending on the usage: You. You are coming with me to the mall. That can be one person or a whole gaggle of people. It can be any variety of sexual orientations or gender preferences.
Words are fluid. It’s already acceptable to use they as a singular pronoun when the gender is irrelevant. Remember when we all used he if the gender was unknown? That evolved to a politically correct and cumbersome s/he. Some writers balance he and she throughout their essays. (I personally find all of these conventions a bit jarring.)
I came up with a logical solution. Logic is my strong suite.
Let’s use They/Them the same way we use You/Your. Plural or singular, always with the plural verb. Yes, it will take some getting used to. Our language evolves all the time. After all, there was a time when donut was always spelled doughnut and plow was plough.
So I asked Miss K. “Why do we need to know?”
“Well,” she giggled. “What if you want to date them?”
“I suppose you can find if you’re interested in them in the same way you do now,” I said. “Ask questions.”
Writers can use the same logic when describing characters. There’s more than one way to convey preference and identity. When it matters.