how to get better at using a coworker’s nonbinary pronouns

The question earlier this month about how to get better at using a coworker’s nonbinary pronouns (they/them) attracted hundreds of suggestions in the comments. I’ve compiled some of them here for easy reference (and to share with others if you’d like).

While most of these suggestions are for nonbinary folks, some of them also apply to people switching from he/his/him to she/hers/her and vice versa.

♦  “What I do is I just practice a lot on my own out loud using the correct pronouns. A lot of times in the car or while I am walking the dog (‘This is Alex, they were telling me about the project XYZ”). I also would practice with my husband at home, maybe tell a couple more detailed stories about work than normal (‘Today I was working with Alex on this, and they told me a funny story…’). What helps me most is saying them out loud.”

♦  “It really helped me to read books/listen to podcasts about/by nonbinary people because part of the problem is, it feels ‘wrong’ as we learned not to use pronouns this way. The 57 Bus was one of the first books I read that inspired this, but I also came across this list, which I am working my way through.”

♦  “Look for opportunities to use gender neutral pronouns in reference to other people besides coworker. Like with a dog on the street, think to yourself, ‘Oh they’re so cute!’ ‘they’ve got a scruffy face’ ‘they’re wagging their tail at me!’ Or other people tweeting or other people commenting on places like here! ‘Oh, they’ve got a point.'”

♦  “Here’s what helped me the most: Think of a story/anecdote about you coworker or just something memorable about your coworker. It doesn’t have to be interesting. ‘Lee spilled their coffee today. They had a coffee stain on their sleeve for the rest of the afternoon.’ Act like you’re describing this person or telling a family member the anecdote. Be careful to use they/them pronouns the entire time, even if you have to pause to do so. Repeat it until it the right pronouns come out naturally.”

♦  There is one ‘trick’ I once read about that has always stayed with me. It was a little anecdote about a young person (let’s call them X) who had a good friend (Z) who began to use they/them pronouns, and X’s parent was struggling, at first, to accustom themselves to Z’s change in pronouns. All of a sudden, the parent was getting it right every time, so X asked them how they managed to move so suddenly from struggle to success.

The parent confessed that they used a ‘trick.’ Every time they thought of Z, they pictured them with a little pet mouse in their pocket. This helped the parent get over the stubborn residual associations they had between they/them pronouns and the plural.”

♦  “I’ve used they/them pronouns for several years, and a thing I’ve noticed is that the people who really understand the concept of ‘nonbinary person’ are much better at using the right pronouns for me, because they look at me and see a nonbinary person and then use the right pronoun for the person they see. That’s how gendered language use (and a lot of cultural stuff around gender) works on a subconscious level — we see people, we categorize them, and we speak to them and behave toward them in ways that match the category we’ve put them in. When someone who doesn’t have a ‘nonbinary person’ category sees me — even someone who knows me quite well and is intellectually aware that I’m nonbinary — they’ll categorize me wrong in their head, and then they’ll slip up on pronouns, group me together with people of the gender they think I am, forget that I need an ungendered bathroom, refer to me by gendered parent words when my child is mentioned, and so on. Pronoun use is an important part of respecting your nonbinary colleague, but it’s not the whole of it. You need to see them. You need to make an additional box in your head that says ‘nonbinary person,’ and when you look at your colleague you need to put them in that box. Then you can use the language and behaviors that follow on from being fully aware that you are interacting with a nonbinary person.

…You will also have to develop a lexicon of gender-appropriate behaviors, not just language, for nonbinary people and people whose genders you don’t know. Part of what’s so uncomfortable when you first encounter nonbinary people is that you run into all the ways you unconsciously treat people differently based on perceived gender. The best option in most cases is to lean toward inclusivity, as it benefits binary-gendered people as well. Instead of inviting women to knitting nights and men to golfing days, invite everyone to both, and Chad will knit you a sweater while Sally gives you putting tips. Send a company-wide email saying, ‘We’re going to order loose and fitted company t-shirts from S to 4X, please let me know which you’d like’ rather than assuming you know who will want ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s’ shirts. Hold doors for everyone. Pay everyone fairly! But don’t let inclusivity and generality erase the specific realness of nonbinary identities.

You were taught for a long time that we don’t exist. Retraining your brain is going to take work. But if you put in that work, it will help a ton with treating your colleague respectfully. Once you internalize that your company is a company where at least three genders of people work, you’ll become aware of places where your workplace habits assume only two genders, and you’ll fix them and help your colleague (and other nonbinary colleagues) be more comfortable. Nonbinary people go through life braced for constant, constant misgendering and microaggressions. The absence of those things is tangible, and so wonderful when we encounter it. Even a small inclusive gesture could make your colleague’s day.”

♦  As a nonbinary person, one thing I’ve found I appreciate is when people aren’t thinking about it as ‘just a pronoun,’ but instead are actively learning about what a nonbinary gender means. The way I tell folks is, ‘I use they/them pronouns because nothing else fits. It’s more important to me that you see me as nonbinary than it is to use any particular pronoun. That said, when messing up means you always use feminine pronouns, that tells me you aren’t seeing me as nonbinary.'”

And advice on if you make a mistake:

♦  “If you do make a mistake and someone corrects you, say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘I’m sorry.’ Because the ‘sorry’ will often make the other person feel like they have to respond with ‘It’s okay’ or ‘It’s no big deal’ even when they may not feel that way.”

♦  “A quick correction with a ‘sorry’ or ‘whoops, my mistake’ attached, goes over much better than a long dragged out apology. Basically, don’t make a big deal out of it – all that does is draw attention to the change and the whole point is to move past that change.”

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hi y’all. This isn’t the place for discussions of why the pronoun of choice for many non-binary people is “they.” I’ve removed a couple of threads that were coming across as “why can’t you come up with something that’s less work for me?” and ask that we not do that here. (There is, however, extensive discussion in the comments on the post that sparked this one.)

    1. Sapphire*

      Thank you for doing that. I’m nonbinary, and incredibly tired of being told how “hard” it is for people to extend basic courtesy to me. Put in the work, because you’re showing consideration and respect to people you ostensibly care about.

  2. Abigail*

    Thank you Alison for compiling these all in one place. I’ll be definitely coming back to this as a resource for years to come!

    1. EggEgg*

      My small child started using they/them a couple months ago, and one of their teachers was having a really hard time with it. After reading the one about the pocket mouse last week, I taught it to her. That was the first time I ever saw it “click” in her head. She still isn’t perfect at it, but she has the tools now in a way she didn’t before. So whoever shared that–thank you!

      1. Hornswoggler*

        It’s like the way everyone has a personal daemon in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. Though come to think of it, that’s a bit binary too, since female characters have a mail daemon, while male characters have a female one.

        1. ellex42*

          I think “mail daemons” are a bit more Terry Pratchett than Philip Pullman. Great typo, I needed the smile that gave me this morning!

        2. Newington*

          There’s a character who’s described as “one of the few people who have a daemon the same gender as himself”. A fan asked Pullman if that was meant to imply he was gay, and he said he hadn’t been thinking of that when he wrote it, but sure, why not. It’s still binary-centric, but daemon genders aren’t uniform. In my head an enby character could have an enby daemon.

          A mail daemon is a background process in Unix operating systems that checks for email. You can also meet one in the game Nethack :-)

        3. iglwif*

          I hang out in fandom circles, and “daemon AU” is a semi-popular subgenre in several of the fandoms where I read and write fic. A lot of writers have explored this aspect of daemon canon in various ways: giving queer people same-gender daemons, having daemons keep their gender or even their name secret as part of the character being closeted, daemons who come out as another gender than they were “supposed” to be and/or change their names as part of establishing their identity, how characters’ daemons relate to each other vs. how the characters themselves relate …

          Basically your daemon is the manifestation of your soul, which means you can do a ton of super interesting gender- and identity-adjacent stuff that goes waaaay beyond Pullman canon :D

  3. SometimesALurker*

    Thank you so much for doing this. As a nonbinary person who uses she/her, some of the comments by nonbinary people still really resonated with me even though they were about pronouns.

  4. Miss Muffet*

    really helpful to have this as a post (instead of just comments) – thanks to those, especially the nonbinary people, who contributed to this with their personal experiences!

  5. Edianter*

    In a previous job, I had a direct report who I read as (and addressed with) female pronouns. After a while, this report approached me and said that they preferred to use nonbinary pronouns and language. But, this being the very first nonbinary person I had ever known in real life, I continuously botched it and misgendered them. I often didn’t realize I had done so until later, and I clearly wasn’t making it safe for this person to correct me in the moment. So my mistakes went uncorrected and unapologized for.

    Now, approximately 3-4 years later, I feel absolutely horrible about it. And I’m much better educated on gender identity issues (though still definitely a work in progress). Would it be weird/inappropriate for me to reach out to this person now and apologize for being uneducated and, frankly, rude to them when they directly asked me to use nonbinary pronouns?

    1. TNT*

      I vote do it! In my experience (though not directly on point) – reaching out to sincerely apologize for past situations like this can really go far.

    2. TimeTravlR*

      May I correct you? This is the first non binary person that you knew that you knew. Also I vote yes… reach out and apologize.

      1. I coulda been a lawyer*

        Perhaps a thank you, instead of an apology? I’m thinking that you thank them for their patience and grace even as you weren’t able to grant them their correct pronouns due to lack of knowledge and understanding, and that they helped you grow.

        1. Snarl Trolley*

          I very, very strongly disagree. Gratitude is for things that people CHOOSE to do. This employee didn’t CHOOSE to undergo daily dehumanization as a way for their boss to learn how to respect other human beings’ basic sense of self. I’m glad the boss did learn eventually, but as a nonbinary person myself*, as someone who has had this happen far more than it should – I don’t want thanks, and I don’t want apologies. More than anything, I want people who once didn’t get it to vow to me now that they won’t ever treat someone else with such callous disregard ever again. That’s THEIR choice, and it’s incredibly more important to hear THAT than some attempt to thank me for weathering something I never should’ve had to in the first place.

        2. Filosofickle*

          Oh, that’s an interesting idea. I’m not convinced reaching out is the right thing, but if they wish to, this is a better way to go.

          I’ve really appreciated learning to say “thank you” instead of “sorry”. (Did I get that from a Captain Awkward thread, maybe?) It’s a powerful switch.

          1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            “Thank you” instead of “sorry” is useful when it’s a reflexive self-deprecating “sorry” (“I’m sorry I suck at doing the dishes”) and you can replace putting yourself down with putting the other person up (“Thank you for doing the dishes tonight”). It’s absolutely not a substitute for an I-messed-up apology. If a former supervisor thanked me for my grace in tolerating their inability to use the right pronouns for me, I would be pretty incandescently angry, because I don’t have a choice about being polite and tolerant in the workplace, especially to someone I report to.

            1. Snarl Trolley*

              You articulated this difference way better than I did above – thank you and absolutely, deeply agreed.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Owning our mistakes after we’ve become better educated is a great way to let people know that people do change. I would say reaching out would be welcome by many people. There’s always a small risk they won’t appreciate it but in the end, I think the possibility they’ll appreciate it far outweighs that risk.

    4. Jenny*

      I think it would be pretty weird, actually. Years have passed. They’ve probably forgotten all about it.

      1. Goliath Corp.*

        Ditto. Edianter’s intentions are good, but the effect is similar to the overwrought apology that will make the NB person feel like they have to say it was okay or otherwise assuage Edianter’s guilt.

        Put that energy into treating your current/future reports in the way that you wish you had done in the past, and into being an example for other cis-gendered people.

        1. OhNo*

          Agreed. It might be less of an issue if you happen to meet them in person and want to apologize as part of a longer catch-up conversation, but I think reaching out to someone you haven’t seen or spoken to in years would put too much pressure on them to respond when they may not want to.

    5. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

      As a nonbinary person, I’d appreciate it, however it’s important that if you do apologize, to 1) do it in a way so the other person doesn’t have to immediately manage your guilt and baggage (sending an email is better vs. a phone call) 2) just frankly own up to the mistake and the harm it caused 3) don’t deep dive into your own guilt or your growth.

      I know one of my anxieties is feeling that even when I’m out to people is whether I can really trust them. It’s a lasting impression that even if someone is superficially tolerant in the moment they deep down think I’m a weirdo or inconvenience, which can be reflected in repeated misgendering. So it’s nice to know if/when someone has learned better so my network of “people I can actually trust” can expand, especially for professional circles where determining true perceptions can be difficult to navigate under etiquette and has some very real consequences.

      I’d also say, if this direct report did solid work or left a good professional impression on you in some way, feel free to mention that too. My gender is important to me obviously, but I also don’t wanna be pigeon-holed as just “the nonbinary employee.”

      1. Theo*

        oh lord, as a nonbinary person I would HATE this. It puts the onus on me to be chill AGAIN about having been misgendered, and chill about being accepting/forgiving because I wouldn’t want to burn a professional bridge. Just do better going forward, and if you ever meet them again, use the correct pronouns. Educate other people. Advocate for us. But leave this poor tired employee alone.

        1. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

          And that’s fair too! I just wanted to detail why in this situation I’d see an apology as a positive, assuming it’s a well-written and executed one. It needs to carry explicit intention that an apology is not a barter for forgiveness or even a response, but at least an acknowledgement of harm. But that is a very tricky area to navigate and requires deft, care, and really putting aside your ego.

    6. Tinker*

      I’d feel a bit weird if someone I don’t have a current relationship with contacted me to apologize for misgendering me three years ago. Like… A lot of people misgendered me three years ago and either they stopped doing it or I stopped interacting with them for whatever reason, so bringing it up again years later… meh.

      On the other hand, you were their manager and I would say that your read on “noticed the continued error, didn’t feel safe to continue reminding” is probably pretty apt.

      Possibly: split the difference by contacting them again with more of a general professional networking opening, comment on their work, apologize for the misgendering, and maybe also confirm that you’d refer to them correctly if a reference came up — that latter is something I think of a lot lately as my managers at previous companies know me by pronouns and somewhat by a name that is now fairly eyebrow raising.

  6. Elizabeth West*

    Great post! Retweeted it. :)

    The mouse thing, haha. For many of us, especially over a certain age, it really was pounded into our heads that ‘they’ was not a singular pronoun, despite the historical precedent for its use ass uch.

    1. Liane*

      Oddly, “Silly Rabbit! They/Them are for plurals” is one of the few that isn’t on my Grammar Hills To Die On List. I’ve long used it in writing and don’t fuss when I see it while proofreading someone’s work.
      Now if I can just keep track of which of my (grown) younger child “Cyan’s” friends use which pronouns, so I can ask my kid about them once in a while. I am more likely to hear about these young people than to be in the same place as they are–although if I know I will be someplace I may run into some of their friends (e.g., a local con), I will ask Cyan ahead of time what to use for whom. (Several of these friends, like Cyan, are still figuring out–or just figured out–who they are, genderwise, so the preferred pronoun or name may have changed since I last saw them.)

      1. Dina*

        Plus, in my experience working with gender diverse young people, pronouns can be a moving target in that cohort ;)

    2. Witchy Human*

      It took me…such a long time to understand that the idea for that one was person+mouse=plural.

      1. Xavier89*

        Oh thanks! I didn’t get that I just thought picturing the mouse made them pause for a second and that was enough time for them to get their wording correct

      2. chocolate lover*

        I had to read it at least 3 times, because I thought there was a significance to it being a mouse that I was missing, I didn’t recognize the mouse as representing plural

    3. Serin*

      Yeah, I went to journalism school, and I spent literally hours re-wording sentences to avoid a singular ‘they.’ It was SUCH a taboo. When my kid told me they were agender, that was the hardest thing — apparently I’m not that attached to traditional gender roles, but I’m VERY attached to journalistic grammar standards.

      1. Your Friendly Neighborhood Enby*

        It can be so hard to change ingrained habits like that! But language is always changing, and there’s no point fighting it, most of the time. I used to be a prescriptivist with grammar and syntax, but I’ve given that up. Spoken English and Written/Academic English are very different, and when it comes to spoken English you gotta go with the flow. :)

        1. AnnE*

          It’s not just language that’s changing, though – it’s our fundamental understanding of the human person – of gender and sexuality – and this major shift generally gets brushed over in favor of focusing on language, despite it being really important, fertile ground for deeper discussion (probably because language is easier and more concrete to talk about).

          I was particularly intrigued by one of the quotes from Alison’s post, where the person was saying that people are more likely to use someone’s preferred nonbinary pronouns when they have a mental conception of more than 2 genders. In many ways it’s not much of a language issue at all (like you said, language is fluid!), but an issue of fundamentally what it means to be human and to have gender – and how we each view that. The language just follows naturally from that viewpoint.

          Related to that, one thing underlying this that I still don’t quite understand is why it’s assumed that pronouns are linked to gender specifically? Has this always been the case, or is this a more recent development? I had grown up assuming pronouns were linked to sex (make/female). I have always called someone “he” or “she” based on whether I perceive their sex to be male or female – and it had nothing to do with their gender, gender presentation (eg a very masculine looking woman vs a very fem woman), or their gender feelings/identity (which of course wouldn’t have been known to me unless they were to share it).

          Does anyone know when/how pronouns were linked to gender rather than sex? The linking to gender instead of sex feels deeply illogical to me so I would really like to understand it better so I can see the logic that underlies calling people by their chosen pronouns.

          Like the person with no conception of non-binary, it’s harder to remember someone’s pronoun preferences if I can’t wrap my brain around the underlying linked ideas…so, are there any answers or resources anyone can point me to on this? Thanks!

          1. Dana Lynne*

            The way languages use gender varies immensely. Some languages have gender for all words, and some that do have three genders, and some languages have no gender at all.

            The intersection of human biology and language is not at all consistent around the world.

          2. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

            I apologize, this is extremely long. I can’t say I know when/how but I think for a lot of people, assigned sex and perceived gender get lumped together.

            The way I would frame it is that pronouns are a very basic part of communication. In English, it’s very awkward and unwieldy to talk/write about someone else without using second person pronouns specifically. In other words, pronouns are a tool we use in social interactions first and foremost. Gendered pronouns indicate certain gendered information about a person.

            For example, when people say “she” in reference towards a person, they’re often referring to a woman or girl. This woman/girl may have XX chromosomes and certain sex characteristics that got her assigned female at birth, but while many people may implicitly assume that, that’s not necessarily accurate.

            Even when it comes to biological and physical characteristics, a woman may have visible facial hair, a square jaw, be tall, etc. and still be a woman. She may be misgendered because people assume those characteristics are indicative of a male sex and thus, a man, but that doesn’t make them correct. Very rarely in daily social interactions, especially professional ones, do we peek at each other’s genitalia or chromosomes to determine sex and therefore pronouns. We go by assumed cues and knowledge of what we constitute gender and sex (as linked).

            We also go by differing social contexts. For example, drag queens are often called she/her when doing drag but called he/him when not doing drag because many identify as men in their personal lives. Though not all of them, some of them are nonbinary, some are women (both trans and cis), but they all will still be referred to with she/her pronouns while performing drag, regardless.

            This is all to say, while many people do assume sex and then therefore pronouns, how we go about our lives doesn’t actually involve the nitty gritty of determining sex. Pronouns are very much about “doing” gender with each other, that we can be men, women, and nonbinary people, without necessarily invoking genitalia/sex consciously. (Another comparison might be marriage, a social institution, process, and status that invokes plain legal procedures but is much more than marriage certificates. There are also the underlying biases that make people assert marriage should only be between a man and woman, even though nothing about marriage inherently requires that. Even if you think marriage generally implies biological reproduction, we don’t instantly think about the sex lives and reproductive health of couples who announce their engagements or people with wedding rings.)

            (It’s also worth thinking about it in the reverse, in which babies with intersex conditions are often surgically “corrected” to either more distinctly male or female without consent. Unless there’s an imminent or serious medical ailment that needs remedying, having a more “ambiguous” sex in itself shouldn’t inherently be an issue. What social meaning is being embedded in the idea of sex? This is to say, sex is often binary but not inherently or perfectly so.)

            1. Sarah in Boston*

              But yet in other languages, like Farsi, there are no gendered pronouns. A coworker of mine, who speaks English so well he makes very subtle, hilarious wordplays in it, regularly uses the wrong English he/she for people. So clearly language doesn’t have to have such pronouns built in to work well.

          3. Roverandom*

            My understanding (and I welcome corrections) is that we often don’t know the sex of other people unless we check “under the hood”. We are just guessing what pronouns/boxes to put them in based on how we perceive them, as you say. But what we use to make those guesses are external things like gender presentation, what bathroom they use, what gender they say they are. So my judgment is that really pronouns are linked to gender, not sex–what their brain says they are, what they feel they are, what they display themselves to be. In that sense, you basically don’t need the concept of “sex” unless you plan to have it or you’re a doctor.

            I think where you’re getting tripped up is “I have always called someone “he” or “she” based on whether I perceive their sex to be male or female”–this only makes sense if sex and gender are synonyms. Everything you base your perceptions on is related to gender and gender presentation–what they tell and show you.

          4. Ella*

            I’d contend that pronouns have never actually been based on biological sex, because we simply don’t know the biological sex of the vast majority of people we interact with. It’s not like we look at each other’s genitals or demand a full workup of each other’s chromosomes before settling on what pronouns we’ll use for them, after all.

            I’d also argue that when you see someone who you’d describe as a “very masculine looking woman” there either *is* something about her gender presentation that made you decide to use she/her pronouns, or you actually did first assume she was a man and subsequently have to correct yourself.

            I’d also say that while, yes, contemporary society’s understanding of gender is shifting and evolving, non-binary or transgender people are hardly a new concept. There have been plenty of people and cultures throughout history who recognized agender, genderqueer, or transgender people and had their own terms and approaches to gender vs. sex vs. presentation, etc. It might be worth doing some research into trans and nonbinary people throughout history to help yourself contextualize that it’s not a new concept and that gender identity and presentation have long been a lot less strictly aligned than recent western societal norms would lead you to believe.

          5. Allya*

            This is actually a more complex question than it seems on the surface, because first you have to address – what is the actual difference between sex and gender, if there is one? I’m going to describe three major schools of thought on this, but there are probably others:

            1. The traditional cis-normative view says that sex and gender are the same, and you can tell what someone’s is by looking at their body
            2. Sex and gender are different – sex refers to someone’s body (in particular their genital configuration) while gender refers to how they feel and want to be perceived in society etc
            3. Gender defines sex – if a dress belongs to a man then it is a man’s dress, and in the same way, if a body belongs to a man then it is a man’s body, and genital configurations are irrelevant.

            Understanding paradigm #3 will probably be the most helpful in the long run to processing why you should use the pronouns people give you, but I can explain it using paradigm #2 as well.

            Under paradigm #2, where sex and gender are different things, sex describes someone’s physical form, while gender describes their internal experience and identity. Pronouns are probably the second most personal identifier you can use for someone, after their name, so it’s understandable that the pronouns people use to describe someone feel very personal to whoever is being described.

            Pronouns by default categorise people based on – well, something related to the intersection of sex/gender/body/social constructions/identity. Since pronouns kind of arose within paradigm #1, where all of those different concepts were considered to be the same thing, there isn’t a definitive answer to what pronouns actually mean and how they should be used once you start teasing those strands apart.

            If you’re starting over in defining what pronouns relate to, you have choices about what you’re going to use them to mean. You certainly can define them based on what you perceive someone’s sex to be. I’m not aware of any, like, historical/linguistic convention that would contravene. You could also define them as what you perceive the person’s gender to be, though, and this would be equally valid in terms of historical usage (aside from the history of sex defining gender, which I think is a tradition we can agree we’re good with defying).

            So let’s talk about logic, now. Do note that my logic includes empathy and kindness as important principles, because I think that trying to construct social rules with no thought for the emotions that govern social interactions makes no sense at all. With that in mind, here are some reasons I think it’s more logical to base pronouns on perceived identity rather than perceived sex:

            i. Basing pronouns on sex defines a person by how you see them, and basing pronouns on gender defines a person by how they see themselves. If it’s important to you to be respectful of a person’s identity, then you’ll need to use the language they use to describe that identity.
            ii. Some people experience dysphoria, which essentially means that being seen as or seeing themselves as the wrong gender feels really uncomfortable, even painful. One particular type of dysphoria is social dysphoria, and this relates to being put into the wrong social box – precise experiences differ between people, but it’s very common that being called by a pronoun that doesn’t fit your gender will trigger this kind of dysphoria. Conversely, some people experience gender euphoria, and being called by a pronoun that does fit will feel really good and right. In general, we want to make people feel good and validated and understood when we interact with them, and using the pronouns they tell us to is one way to do that.
            iii. You’re just as likely to make both correct and incorrect assumptions either way. Truly. While “passing” (being perceived as a cis member of a gender different to the one you were assigned at birth) isn’t possible or even a goal for many trans people, plenty of trans people DO pass, to the point that you might meet them and have no idea that they’re trans. Also, a trans person might have gender confirmation surgery and yet not pass. So what sex is someone who was assigned male at birth but now has at least some of the parts associated with cis women? What sex would you perceive them as if they didn’t tell you? That’s not even getting into gender nonconforming cis people or intersex people. Basically, sex is no less complicated than gender and basing pronouns around it will lead to just as many mistakes.
            iv. No one can read your thoughts or intentions, so they won’t know that you’re calling them the wrong pronoun because to you, pronouns have always meant sex rather than gender. They’ll just know that you’re calling them the wrong pronoun. They might assume that you’re someone who believes in paradigm #1. They’ll know for sure that you give more weight to how you think they should be described than how they want to be described. They’ll see you as an unsafe person. On the other hand, using pronouns based on gender signals that you /are/ a safe person who cares about their comfort and respects their identity.

            So that’s an incomplete list of reasons that it makes more sense to base pronouns on gender rather than sex, if you’re operating under paradigm #2.

            If you’re operating on paradigm #3 it’s much simpler. Paradigm #3 says that if you identify as a man then you’re a man, and your body is a male body, and your pronouns are male pronouns (although it gets complicated again, because just like your male body might have a uterus, your male pronouns might be she/her or they/them. But that’s getting into Advanced Trans Discourse and probably a little off topic). But I think the core of it is that the most important defining category is your identity and everything else flows from that, in ways that each person gets to define specifically for themselves. We should therefore use the language a person defines themselves with, because anything else is an incorrect label.

            I hope this helps; I realise it gets a bit conceptual at the end. Paradigm #3 resonates with me more on an emotional level and I’d say it’s what I really believe, but it’s also a lot to wrap your head around and in terms of the practicalities of discussing this stuff sometimes it helps to operate within paradigm #2.

            1. Allya*

              Actually, I realise my definition of passing isn’t a great one – I was trying to be concise and accurate and ended up being neither. Basically “passing” is when people perceive you as the gender you want to be perceived as, but specifically it usually means a trans person being perceived as a cis person of the gender they identify with. There are a lot of conversations to be had around the concept of passing – for example a lot of cis people assume that all trans people want to pass when that’s not necessarily true. As a nonbinary person, the closest I can really hope for when it comes to passing is that people look at me and go “wait, are you a guy or a girl?” which is a weird space to live in.

              Passing isn’t the gold standard of “succeeding” at being trans, but – to bring things back to pronouns – if you base someone’s pronouns on what you perceive their sex to be you’re basically saying that you’ll only use gender-congruent pronouns for someone once they pass. Which isn’t much fun for people who can’t or don’t want to pass.

  7. wayward*

    It’s tough because it was drilled into me in school that using “they” to refer to a single person was grammatically incorrect, and the default single person pronouns were “he/his” if you didn’t know the gender. Probably a lot of other GenX and older folks have also experienced this.

    1. A*

      I’m of a younger generation, and I had the same challenge when I first was faced with using they/them pronouns. I used a trick similar to the mouse! A close friend recommended visualizing them as always walking their dog/as a package deal – it was the most efficient solution and worked like a charm. Once I adjusted to the initial intro to my daily vocab, it wasn’t an issue. Now I draw on they/them when relevant no different than selecting between he/him & she/her.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I’m curious as to how this would work in a language where gender is baked into the words moreso than in English. Does anyone have any experience with this?

      1. LizB*

        Different languages with binary gender baked into the grammar are handling it in different ways, and I don’t know of any that has fully adopted a solution that’s being used by everyone. In some parts of the Spanish-speaking world, in written communication, people are variously trying out ending words in either x or @ as opposed to a or o: latino becomes latin@ or latinx. I don’t know what strategies are being used in verbal communication. In Hebrew, there have been a few different proposals/strategies floating around progressive communities. nonbinaryhebrew [dot] com is one project started by a friend of mine, but I think that again it’s mostly being used in writing so far or in limited contexts (individual congregations adapting their prayer language).

        1. Brett*

          Be really careful with the -x or -@ endings though, as these terms are also considered a strong example of linguistic imperialism, and often considered deeply offensive outside the United States. (The terms are almost solely used in the US and not in other spanish speaking countries.)
          The -e endings have originated in countries that are primarily spanish-speaking and do not carry the same negative connotations of linguistic imperialism that the -x or -@ endings have.
          (Also, -@ is a binary ending that represents the two binary genders rather than being non-gendered, so it has that issue as well.)

          1. Jedi Squirrel*

            Be really careful with the -x or -@ endings though, as these terms are also considered a strong example of linguistic imperialism, and often considered deeply offensive outside the United States.

            I was not aware of this. Do you have any links so I could learn more about this topic?

          2. Marie*

            As a former Latin student, I appreciate the -e for gender neutral. Presumably it’s -es for the plural, in keeping with the third declension? Do modern Romantic languages have that?

        2. Mr. Shark*

          How would you pronounce latin@ or latinx? I think the example people used below, using the e instead of the o or a makes more sense in that respect.

          1. neeko*

            I’ve heard Latin@ pronounced Latinow, Latino, and Latina. Latinx is “Latin-ex” and I tend to see it used more commonly than Latin@.

            1. Brett*

              Other pronunciations are la-TEEN-ex, ah-tinks (rhymes with sphinx), and the fairly rare la-TEEN-sha (though more common outside the US).
              I’m normally seen that latin@ should be pronounced like it is spelled latinao (i.e. latin-now).

        3. Dana Lynne*

          Actually, Latinx is an English language “solution.” In Spanish replacing the masculine O with X makes no sense at all.

          There ‘s been some interesting discussion on how this shift is happening among Spanish speakers… I will try to scare up the links of the discussions I recently saw.

      2. Olive Hornby*

        In Spanish, some people have begun using an “e” ending instead of “o” or “a,” both as a way to include nonbinary people and as a way to push back against the automatic masculinization of mixed-gender groups (like if you had seven daughters, you’d refer to them as “mis hijas,” but give birth to a son and you’d have to use the masculine “mis hijos” to refer to all eight children.) So, for example, you might say “todes mis amigues” (all my friends) instead of “todos mis amigos.” People also use an x sometimes (as in latinx, vs. latinos/latinas), but my impression (as a nonnative speaker) is that people are moving toward “e” for everyday speech because it’s hard to pronounce, e.g. “todxs mis amigxs.”

        Basically, each language has to come up with its own solution, but those solutions are often easier to come by than one might think!

        1. Maggie*

          For as flexible a language is, it blows my mind that we haven’t been able to just create a new singular pronoun, like the Swedish hen, and incorporate it. As an English teacher, I cannot bring myself to use ‘they’ with singular verbs and do mental gymnastics to rework sentences to avoid it. I almost always just use the person’s name instead. I will try the mouse mental trick (because I think it really will help me!), but I would endlessly prefer a new word being added to the lexicon. I feel like ‘they’ makes nonbinary people seem like they have multiple personalities or something when they do not.

          1. iantrovert (they/them)*

            Maggie, the English language has been using singular ‘they’ since the 1300s. Singular ‘you’ (rather than ‘thou’) is more recent.

            I will say that it’s pretty obvious when someone just uses my name alllll the time to avoid using pronouns. It’s awkward as hell for me too.

            1. Clorinda*

              “He or she.”
              Change the sentence around to avoid pronouns.
              I am an English teacher, and part of the required curriculum includes some grammar quizzes with pronoun agreement. I didn’t write the quizzes and am not allowed to change them, so I teach my students that this is the hypercorrect version and you should learn these rules as appropriate academic language, but don’t think of them as ‘right.’ It’s just a dialect.

              1. Ella*

                Your quizzes are out of sync with Webster’s dictionary and the AP style guide, among many other well-respected arbiters of formal language and grammar. At this point, your school is really doing your students a disservice by not teaching them the singular they as an acceptable option. Especially if you’re preparing students to be self-sufficient writers out in the real world. I work in marketing, and it would be a mark against someone applying to work at our firm if they were unable to correctly use the singular they.

                1. san junipero*

                  Quick question for you, since you’re up to date on the standards: I’ve been shifting all of my company’s external documentation over to they/them pronouns, but I keep going back and forth on themself/themselves. Since it’s still “they are” and not “they is,” it should be “themselves” and not “themself,” correct?

                2. iantrovert (they/them)*

                  san junipero,
                  You singular becomes yourself, you plural becomes yourselves. Both use the plural conjugation for verbs (as opposed to using the set that the OG 2nd person singular ‘thou’ would).
                  They singular vs plural follows the same pattern.
                  Hope this helps!

          2. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            we haven’t been able to just create a new singular pronoun and incorporate it

            We don’t have to create a new one; we’ve had singular they for several hundred years. Compulsive avoidance of singular they is the relative linguistic novelty. Try being more old-fashioned. :)

          3. Lyra Silvertongue*

            Hi Maggie, I’d urge you to reconsider using someone’s name all of the time and to just use the correct pronoun instead. It’s very obvious when people do this and it’s pretty pretty hurtful too. ‘They’ has been settled on as a pronoun in part because people have been incredibly resistant to the idea of a singular pronoun – people have been putting forward alternatives for many years, and they’re often shot down because of people’s prescriptivist ideas about grammar, and about gender. The two are intimately connected and it’s only through the concerted efforts of trans and nonbinary people and their allies that we’ve got to the point where ‘they’ has somewhat entered the mainstream. Please open up yourself to discomfort with your grammar rather than being comfortable misgendering others. (I also really do not love the quip about multiple personalities – please be aware that it kind of really sucks to draw even fleeting comparisons between mental illness and nonbinary and queer identities, given the history of conflating the two).

          4. Dee*

            As an English teacher, I cannot bring myself to use ‘they’ with singular verbs and do mental gymnastics to rework sentences to avoid it. I almost always just use the person’s name instead.

            By doing this, you are putting grammar rules ahead of people. Is that really what you want to do?

          5. Kaitlyn*

            As an English teacher, do some digging into the history of you and thou – in Ye Olden Times, “you” was a term used to refer to one’s “betters,” as it were: people above you in the social hierarchy, like landowners, priests, and royalty. You was considered a second-person plural – the royal “we,” but for referring to another. It was initially assigned to royalty, and then trickled down into the upper echelon.

            Thou was reserved for people of your own social station and below – your hired staff, your children, your poor neighbours. As society flattened and equalized, “you” became the norm, as people didn’t want to offend someone by calling them thou when it should be you, so we all started using you for everyone. I think of this OFTEN when someone tells me that “they” isn’t grammatically correct – we use language that isn’t grammatically correct all day long, because we want to respect the people around us. And when a singular they does that, then we should use it.

          6. WindmillArms*

            I’m not sure what you mean about using “‘they’ with singular verbs.” I still make the pronoun and verb agree when I’m talking about a single person with “they” pronouns. In telling a story about a nonbinary friend, I would say “they like sushi” and not “they likes sushi” (as I would with “he likes sushi” or “she like sushi.”) If that’s been the problem with “they” pronouns, never fear! You make the same pronoun/verb agreement whether “they” means multiple people or one person.

              1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

                Yes – and other languages also manage this without confusion. It’s rarely unclear in context, and in those cases we quickly clarify, just as we’d say, “hang on, which he? Herbert or his brother?” and Latin would laugh at us for not distinguishing between “former he” and “latter he”.

              2. Alton*

                It’s not really any different than how we use “you” to address both single individuals and groups sometimes. The verbs dont change.

          7. neeko*

            They as a singular pronoun is grammatically correct according to Merriam-Webster and it’s older than the singular you. Added bonus of respecting someone’s humanity.

          8. Arabella Flynn*

            Why are you trying to use it with singular verbs? English has already done this dance once, when we stopped using thou as the singular/informal second person pronoun and defaulted to using you in all cases. Singular they uses verbs conjugated the same way as plural they, but is understood from context to refer to a single person. Perhaps that will help your (and the odd student’s) brain?

          9. CatMom*

            As a non-binary person who used they/them, please just use my pronouns. It doesn’t really matter what it makes you feel.

          10. Nopetober*

            As a human being, this approach is terrible and you should reconsider. You are placing adherence to artificial and non-binding recently constructed “rules” ahead of kindness, respect and basic decency. That is not good in a teacher (or a human being).

          11. Yaraa*

            Your feelings about this are not the priority here. Because, shockingly enough, it’s not actually about you. Try just respecting the pronouns people tell you to use.

            1. JustaTech*

              I used to see that a lot online where people’s handles don’t necessarily denote gender (like a lot of folks here). I think the challenge in spoken language is how to pronounce them so it doesn’t end up sounding like “he”.

              Now that there’s more conversation about “they” as singular pronoun, I see that a lot more.
              One interesting spot I’ve noticed use of “they” rather than the lengthy “he or she” is the last segment on the radio show Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me!, where the three panelists have “60 seconds to answer as many fill in the blank questions as *they* can.” The host used to say “he or she”or sometimes just “he” or “she” depending on the makeup of the panel, but “they” really flows better.

          12. Elitist Semicolon*

            I await the day that Rufus Xavier Sasparilla and Rufus’s sister, Rafaella Gabriela Sarsaparilla, show up in your classroom and Rufus and Rafaella bring along Rufus’s kangaroo and Rafaella’s aardvark.

          13. EnbyWriter*

            I’m nonbinary myself and shifted an entire book from the third to the first person because I couldn’t figure out how to write with a main character who used they/them. I realised that if *I* had no clue if it was just X doing something or X and Y, then my readers would have no hope…

      3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        I’ve heard some talk that in Spanish, for example, where nouns and adjectives are also gendered, one of the proposed solutions has been to adopt -e as a gender-neutral suffix in addition to -o (masculine) and -a (feminine). So where a man would say he’s “cansado” (tired) and a woman would say “cansada”, a nonbinary person would say “cansade.” I don’t know how widespread this is, but it’s the one that stuck in my mind as seeming pretty simple and elegant.

      4. Lyra Silvertongue*

        There are actually lots and lots of efforts being made by trans and nonbinary people with first languages that are significantly gendered to guide people on how to deal with this! Both cis and non-cis people struggle with it. There’s actually a nonbinary wiki that goes into some detail if you’re interested. Basically it’s all a matter of adapting the language. E.g. some people will use Latinx over Latino/Latina in Spanish.

        I am queer and live in a bilingual English/French city, the pronoun ‘iel’ is becoming increasingly common (il = he, elle = she, for non-Francophones) and we’ll often use plural nouns that deliberately turn away from the “plural uses male form only” rule in French, e.g. “mes ami-e-s” instead of “mes amis.” There’s a blog post called ‘Liste de ressources pour un français non-binaire’ that I recommend for Francophones who are curious about this. But it is correct that it can be more difficult, and in French at least (where grammatical rules can feel quite rigid and a lot of people feel very passionately about “preserving” the language), it can trip people up a lot. The whole thing is a big collaborative project in progress!

        1. nnn*

          That is super useful, thank you!

          I’m a (rather sheltered) bilingual Canadian who’s only recently learned the importance of rendering my language all-inclusive rather than simply “he or she”, and I had no idea where to start with French!

          1. Lyra Silvertongue*

            No problem! I’m not fully bilingual but I’ve been learning French since I arrived in Montreal a few years back. I think the fact that I jumped into queer communities at the same time as learning the language probably exposed me to more of these resources than someone not in my specific position! Here’s that blog post (I didn’t know we could link stuff here) and the author is an all-round good egg who has a lot of super smart stuff to say on this topic and others:

      5. SC*

        Non-binary as a gender identity is as much of a social construct as the female and male genders. Identifying as non-binary means buying into the framework where, for instance, gender is different than sex, gender is something a person self-identifies as, etc. This isn’t a framework that’s very prevalent in a lot of cultures, so there are many languages where you simply cannot identify as non-binary since you simply wouldn’t identify as non-binary. Which is not to say that people don’t identify as neither male nor female, but these other genders have their own language rules. E.g hijras in India consider themselves as a third gender but use exclusively female pronouns.

    3. Holly*

      If it helps, many sources have come out establishing that yes, it is okay to use a singular they in this context e.g. Merriam Webster (attempting to link the article in my name field), so you can always point to that if there are any sticklers.

    4. Becky*

      Other grammar/language things I was taught in school that were not true:
      You shouldn’t use split infinitives
      You shouldn’t end sentences with pronouns
      You can’t start a sentence with a conjunction

      (The first one Star Trek breaks gleefully with “To boldly go where no one has gone before”, the second was pretty much a pet peeve of Robert Lowth’s that made its way into numerous grammar texts and, as wikipedia puts it “Lowth’s stylistic opinions acquired the force of law in the schoolroom”, the third one I was taught in kindergarden but immediately knew it was wrong because of Dr. Seuss’ “And to think I saw it on Mulberry Street”)

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        What’s the joke out there…

        “Where are you going to?”
        “Ah! Don’t end a sentence with a preposition!”
        “Okay, where are you going to, asshole?”

      2. Gumby*

        We were taught that you have to learn the grammar rules not so you can follow them 100% of the time, but so that on the (rare) occasions when you break them, you do it knowingly and for a *reason* rather than out of not-caring. The Star Trek phrase is memorable, in part, because it didn’t follow the rule.

        1. Phoenix*

          I wonder why this doesn’t work with people’s pronouns, then – people who have these really strict grammar rules in their heads should *really* remember the correct pronouns, if exceptions make things memorable.

        2. Observer*

          That’s pretty silly, though, because these are actually NOT rules that apply to appropriate use of language. It’s not just about the star trek motto.

      3. Jedi Squirrel*

        The entire thing about splitting infinitives came from a time when grammarians tried to make English follow Latin rules of grammar. In Latin, infinitives are always one word, so it would be either “boldly togo” or “togo boldly.” You literally couldn’t split the infinitive.

        All of this is nonsense, of course. English is English and has its own rules. When someone goes nuts about splitting infinitives, I tell them the source of this silly little rule.

        1. Drew*

          It’s not even true in Latin. The most common infinitives are single words, but there are plenty of phrasal infinitives as well.

          Source: former Latin teacher.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Also, the infinitive isn’t “to go”: “go” is. The “to” is part of something else in the sentence (e.g. “want to + INF” or “dare to + INF”).

            (You can test this by remembering that I did go, you must go, she can go, we might go, they will go.)

            Now, if Kirk had declared he would g-boldly-o, we could all agree he had split the infinitive!

        2. Becky*

          Funny story–my roommate sent me a meme the other day with the Star Trek intro translated into Latin. I surprised myself with how much I could still translate from my Latin classes approx. 20 years ago. Helps of course that I am familiar with the Star Trek intro.

    5. SometimesALurker*

      One thing that may be helpful (in addition to all the comments Alison collected!) is to remember that that drilling you received in school didn’t exist in a sociopolitical vacuum. Default single person pronouns were he/his because male-as-default was baked in nigh-everywhere. Second-wave feminism did a reasonable thing, in my opinion, by arguing for “he or she” as the default, because the movement was specifically reacting to male-as-default. At this point, though, the idea is tired and exclusionary, and “they” makes more sense when you don’t know the gender as well as when that’s a specific person’s pronoun. Hopefully, remembering that language *always* has a greater context, not just the pieces of language that you need to re-learn with changing context, makes it a little easier to change your habits.

    6. Rugby*

      Just curious, if you found a hat on the subway, would you turn to your friend and say, “Someone dropped his hat. He’s going to be cold today.” Or would you say, “Someone dropped their hat. They’re going to be cold today.” Using “they” just sounds much more natural to me so I’ve never understood this argument that “they” can’t be singular.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        What’s fascinating to me is that we’re happy to assume that a bobble hat is equally likely to have been dropped by a man or a woman (I agree “they dropped their hat”) but where there are socially conditioned gender expectations we are less comfortable not specifying – e.g. “when you go to the nurse for your shots she will ask you to roll up your sleeve” or “if the mechanic needs any parts, get him to call me.” Those are harder to reprogram (but worth it!).

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The thing is that we evolve and things change over time. Lots of people also grew up with things drilled into their heads regarding equality and acceptance as well, so it’s not just grammar. Our schools used to drill into our heads that boys will be boys too and that bullying isn’t an issue to be dealt with by the school administration.

      Yes, change is hard and takes effort, that’s true. But it’s still no excuse to not try to adjust how you do things when it means treating others better and increasing their quality of life.

      We were all taught what was the generally accepted at the time. Look at how language has evolved over the course of centuries to remind yourself that what you were taught can indeed change over time.

    8. Djuna*

      I’m GenX too, and I remember an experiment in one of our first English lectures at college where they brought in a prof from the Linguistics department and had a full-blown (fake) argument about pronouns. It started with the English prof asking “Who left his bag in the aisle?” and the Linguistics prof immediately taking issue with his use of “his” as the default. They went back and forth over “his”, “his or her”, and “their” before asking the room what made most sense and felt more natural to say. “Their” won, and our prize was a lecture on the history of singular pronouns. I’ve never felt the college I attended was particularly progressive, but I guess in this they really were ahead of their time (that lecture would have been in October 1990).
      I’ve had lots of reasons to be glad I was in that room in the years since then, and I always remember it fondly and hope they still give a version of it today.

    9. CoveredInBees*

      The oldest recorded use of a singular ‘they’ is from 1375. Your teachers were wrong. So were mine. They got very cranky at a singular they and I also left middle school certain you could spell the word ‘dilemma’ with an n (dilemna), along with many of my classmates.

  8. KG*

    Once wrinkle I’d like to hear more about: friends in the legal field tell me that this kind of thing can’t really happen… in official court documents (briefs? contracts? idk the lingo), at least, you have to use “he” or “she”. Do lawyers and the like nevertheless try to use preferred pronouns in correspondence and casual conversation? What would happen in a court situation if you used someone’s preferred “they”?

    1. The Tin Man*

      Is that the kind of case where they would establish at the start of “Cersei Lannister, to be referred to as Defendant” and then use Defendant instead of any pronouns? IANAL but know the legal field HATES ambiguity and I think they would not like how vague pronouns can be when describing a situation (e.g. if it isn’t 300% clear who “she” is in a sentence).

    2. Rachel in Non Profits*

      I have a close friend who works in the prison system and they have to write all reports without referring to the inmates gender. That is considered private information. I know that key and all of the government employees at the prison went through trainings on how to write official reports without including male or female pronouns.

      1. Old and Don’t Care*

        So your first sentence is an example of where “they” is confusing. Are you referring to your friend as “they”, or your friend and other prison employees? If it’s just your friend, the reader is left to wonder if the friend is non-binary, or if you refer to all people as “they”. (Obviously the stakes are different in an anonymous AAM comment; I am not really wondering if your friend is non-binary, just what you mean. A real life conversation would be different.)

        1. MayLou*

          It’s no more confusing than if she had said that she had to write reports that way. Which person is each she? Do I mean Rachel who posted the comment or do I mean the friend? Maybe both! Perhaps I’m wrong about both their genders! The comment was about report-writing policy in a prison, there’s no real need to be maximally precise about exactly who writes the report for the point to be made. I’ve only ever seen the argument about precision made as part of someone claiming that trans identities are “too confusing! Unfair on poor little me!” In other situations where pronouns might be ambiguous, people just ask for clarification and move on. It’s a dog whistle.

        2. Newington*

          O&DC, why is it ‘confusing’ that you don’t know the friend’s gender? It’s irrelevant, but if you needed to know you could just ask. And referring to people as ‘they’ when it doesn’t matter will make it easier to do so when it does.

        3. Laura*

          I took “they” to refer to the prison system. Also it does not matter what pronoun the poster’s friend uses, it’s not relevant in this context at all! This is quite the reach.

        4. san junipero*

          I assumed “they” referred to “all prison employees,” since it appears to be a prison rule. It’s really not that confusing. If I was confused, I could simply ask for clarification.

    3. LawBee*

      I’ve never had it come up as a hard and fast rule, but I don’t do contracts. I do try to avoid pronouns at all when possible, though, but that’s more because I’m trying to avoid ambiguity. I like using Defendant for that, and my client’s name or Plaintiff when possible.

    4. hbc*

      Having to use “he” or “she” doesn’t reduce much ambiguity though, so I’m guessing whatever they’re thinking of, there’s an easy way to address it that is lazily not used when there’s only a He and She involved in the procedings. I can imagine that a lot of divorce paperwork might have defaulted to gendered pronouns, for example. But She&She isn’t any less ambiguous They&They, and She&They is just ambiguous in a different way.

    5. staaaaaaaaaaaar*

      Odd. I do contracts and once we got sign off from the state, we were able to use “they” instead of he and she.

    6. Chase J*

      How would that work for people like me who are legally nonbinary? A good chunk of US states (and several countries worldwide) have nonbinary/third gender options. Also, if you know someone’s pronouns then you should use them. Include “My client uses they/them pronouns” to make it clear.

    7. LQ*

      I’ve been working with some contracts and none of them use “he” or “she” at all, it’s always “the State” or “Vendor” or “appelant” or etc…Specifically avoiding pronouns because all pronouns refer to something, so you say the something to be clearer. (It’s not, but whatever…)

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        And capitalising Vendor or Assignee or whoever so you know it’s an entity already defined in an earlier clause and not just any old vendor or assignee…

    8. Shad*

      At least in the area of law that I work in, we deal with a lot of state forms that have a sex/gender checkbox with only M or F as options. For these forms, we use whichever of the two options is aligned with the birth certificate, as the purpose of the identifying information on the forms is to match up to the correct person in other information.
      While I don’t think we’ve had a case with a non-binary party, we have had at least one binary trans party. In our state, it’s extremely difficult to change the sex identification on birth certificates/legal documentation. So for that individual, he was identified according to his birth certificate sex/gender on those checkbox forms, and by his preferred pronoun in writing. And, since the documentation we received was mixed regarding the pronouns used (partly misgendering, partly the fact that for some reason doctors’ records are just completely cavalier about pronouns all the time), I put a note on the file to make sure we got it right (for cis parties, it’s generally pretty easy to remember that the doc is messing up when they get it wrong, and it’s usually predominantly correct; the split with this plaintiff was much more even and was spread across documents that would normally be consistent$.

  9. Bunny*

    Just admit that it is difficult, one of my co-workers is trans and when I took my husband’s last name they called me by my old last name for weeks, they still do on occasion despite them being hyper-sensitive to the desire of people to be called my their chosen name.

    Do your best but it can be hard to break habits around name/pro-nouns.

    1. GGCR*

      It’s really not that difficult if you try and use the tips AMA suggested. Using your old last name compared to your married name is not at all the same. lol.

      1. name*

        People’s chosen names are very much a part of their identity, and I don’t see how laughing at people who request this helps anyone.

        1. LL*

          Very much true, but the issue that I think GGCR is responding to is that the comment above is comparing two things that are definitely not the same in a way that makes it seem like they are comparable enough. They are not.

          Placing equal weight on a (presumably) heteronormative surname change and trans people’s pronouns is frustrating, even when meant in an empathetic way. And for trans people who hear comments that even remotely suggest their pronouns are a choice, it can hurt more than help.

          Not saying that’s the case here, but I read the lol above as a very natural response to a microaggression that trans folk hear allllll the time.

          Do your best is still fine advice though

          1. Xandria*

            As a non-binary person who has changed my first name, my pronouns, and got married and taken my wife’s last name, I can tell you it’s VERY different.

            I can also tell you I’ve had my last name messed up perhaps 3 times? Not many, and it’s a cold day in hell when I’m not misgendered 10+ times. And it stings, and it hurts in ways that my last name getting messed up doesn’t at all.

            The two are very different, and people are FAR more receptive to last name changes, particularly when you’ve just gotten married, then they are to pronoun and first name changes.

            1. JSPA*

              People who’ve taken a name that people don’t associate with their birth ethnicity might be a somewhat closer parallel? A lot of people stumble on recognizing that a person of chinese ethnicity can be Mx. O’Malley, or the willowy blue eyed blonde can be a Singh or Nguyen. So that also works out to some flavor of microaggression / negation of their lived existence. (Not trying to debate your experience!!! I’m trying to toss out extra examples that can help people say, “OK, I may not have experienced that, but I totally get how it would feel gross.”)

              1. jamberoo*

                Raising my hand here.
                “Oh, YOU’RE Mrs. XYZ? You don’t LOOK like an XYZ.”
                I wish I could vomit on command sometimes.

              2. Xandria*

                I think it’s a very good comparison. My last names did stay with in the same language/ethnic world, and so that wasn’t something I dealt with. However I’m not androgynous by any stretch, and I don’t want to be, so I do get that ‘Ooooh you’re non-binary?’ With that little laugh like I’m faking.

                The thing to be careful with in this comparison is silencing trans/enby voices, yes it can be like taking a married name, but what trans people face on a daily basis is very different from what anyone with a last name change faces. And one of things we face a lot of is woman in particular silencing us in the name of equality, and because most often it’s women who take a new last name it’s very easy to fall off the walking the line to silencing our experiences.

                Really it boils down to respect everyone’s name picks and by existention them.

                1. Kelly Bennett*

                  I was going to add this. The differences here are the systemic oppression that leads to microaggressions like incorrect pronouns vs. someone inconveniencing you with carelessly using the wrong last name.

    2. Shiny Flygon*

      If there are short cuts to make the process quicker, why wouldn’t you use them? Yes it can be difficult, the whole point of this post is to help make it easier for everyone.

  10. Tammy*

    A comment on the “say thank you if someone corrects you” – there’s another reason to say thank you rather than to apologize if you’re corrected. If someone corrects you about their pronouns, they’re communicating an important message to you: “I value our relationship, and trust how you’ll respond, enough to feel safe correcting you.” And that’s a pretty important thing to acknowledge. If someone misgenders me, I do a very quick calculus in my head. If I don’t decide that I value the relationship enough, or I don’t think the person will respond well to the correction, I’m apt to not say anything, but I’ll definitely remember that I don’t fully trust that they’re a safe person.

    Constantly educating everyone in my world is exhausting, but I remember who cares about me enough to make an effort, and that impacts my willingness to trust and engage with them.

  11. High Score!*

    Switching from he to she, easy. Referring to a single person as they or them, ugh, I keep envisioning twins/triplets/multiples. Why don’t we have a singular non gendered pronoun? Zee, Zim, maybe?

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      There have been several proposals, going back surprisingly far, to craft a gender-neutral 3rd person singular pronoun in English. Unfortunately, we’re still in a competing standards period — there’s xe, zhe, ze, ey, e, per, on and on.

      Hopefully, we’ll settle on something sooner rather than later. ‘They’ seems to be mostly winning due to simple familiarity, but it’d be nice to have a dedicated 3rd person singular.

      1. NW Mossy*

        It wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that even if there does become common consensus on one of the options you listed, they/them still maintains a strong presence. The plural-as-singular captures a subtlety of experience that will likely continue to resonate with some as the closest match for their own view of their identity.

      2. Close Bracket*

        “it’d be nice to have a dedicated 3rd person singular”

        We don’t have a dedicated 2nd person singular, and the English speaking world has managed to make do.

          1. iantrovert (they/them)*

            Hang out with folks in the North West of England, or with Quakers! It’s still in use, just not widespread use.

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              Actually Quakers use “thee” for second person singular and “thou” for plural. (Or they used to. As far as I have been able to determine, this practice has become pretty rare, even for Quakers.)

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          It’s actually caused a bit of confusion, which is why people often qualify by saying “When I say ‘you,’ I mean all of you,” or just plain “you all” or “y’all.”

      3. SometimesALurker*

        I don’t know that we will settle on something, because different pronouns feel right to different people (when describing themselves, I mean, not just in terms of what they’d like to see become common).

      4. BWG*

        I’m not a big fan of “xe Zhe ze ye” because using a strange, totally fabricated word to describe someone’s gender seems like making it into a bigger deal than using “they” which is an existing non-gendered pronoun.

        1. Snarl Trolley*

          Just a note, a large draw of neopronouns like “xe/xir” is that they DON’T have (much) existing societal impetus yet, which means there are far fewer existing assumptions and associations wrapped up in them. For someone searching for that elusive pronoun that truly represents how they feel about their basic sense of self, that can be extremely appealing. It’s like a blank canvas. New words are created all the time – neopronouns are merely following the path to more thoroughly describe human experiences and identity that we’ve been on since languages began. :)

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            Also, (hi, xe/xir user) some of these neopronouns, specifically xe/xir (1973) and e/em (1890) have actually been around quite a bit longer than you think.

    2. LizB*

      There are people who use singular non gendered pronouns, usually called “neopronouns” because they’re not words that are already in English – the most common ones I see are zie/hir, xe/xer, and ey/eir (the form before the slash is the personal pronoun and the one after the slash is possessive, eg: she/her). There just hasn’t been widespread adoption of any set of them, and I’ve actually seen even more pushback against using them than against singular they.

    3. The Tin Man*

      See this is a matter of preference – I way more easily use ‘they’ as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun instead of forms of a word that I am not used to using at all such as ‘ze/zir’. Not that I’d object to using those pronouns if asked, it would just be harder for me to immediately snap into that usage.

      Interesting how people’s brains work!

      1. Sparrow*

        I feel similarly. Generally speaking, I think there are lots of good reasons to adopt the singular they/them in daily life, and it’s probably an easier transition than some might expect since you have lots of chances to practice it. “They” is faster and less clunky than “he and/or she,” you get into the habit of defaulting to something more inclusive instead of making assumptions, and the more you use it, the more natural and less “wrong” it feels.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        I agree with this. I understand that we are going into a world of more acceptance, which is definitely a good thing. I don’t think that everyone necessarily needs unique pronouns–a standard would be helpful. If it’s ‘they’ as a gender-neutral pronoun, I think that’s much easier to accommodate than if there is 5-6 different ones.

    4. Close Bracket*

      “They” has been used in the singular for centuries now, including by such luminaries as Jane Austen and William Shakespeare. The insistence on using it only for multiple people is much more recent.

      1. iantrovert (they/them)*


        Singular “they” is older than singular “you.” A person who doesn’t insist on using thou for second person singular has no leg to stand on when arguing against singular “they.”

        1. JSPA*

          for “gender unknown or undefined or open” rather than for “agender / non-binary,” I believe.

          That’s a slightly different usage, as a couple of the more awkward forms don’t really apply to “gender unknown or undefined or open,” but it’s close enough for the present purpose.

    5. Vermonter*

      If it’s taking some getting used to, remember 1) Merriam-Webster added the singular nonbinary “they” to the dictionary this year, and 2) “you” used to be plural, too.

    6. SierraSkiing*

      There’s a few reasons “they” is generally winning out- first, English has long used “they” for a person of unknown gender. For example, most people easily understand the sentence, “Someone left their backpack here. I’m sure they’ll be back for it!” You imagine that a single person of unknown gender left the backpack, right?
      Second, people complain a lot about introducing new pronouns- nonbinary people who try to use ze/zim/zir or other alt pronouns often deal with a lot of people complaining it’s “too weird” and “why are you trying to change the language so much?” Enbies often find they/them pronouns easier to defend because, as mentioned, the singular they/them is already part of the language.
      Finally, all pronouns have the possibility to be confusing! They’re not meant to be used all the time. If I’m talking about two women, I’ll use their names instead of she/her to be less confusing. Similarly, if I’m talking about my enby spouse and their church, I’m going to be careful about where I use they or a noun/name. The singular they/them is the same as every other pronoun that way.

    7. HRW2020*

      I actually find “they” to be particularly tricky in a work context, because when assigning tasks, say at a catering event or a construction site, it’s important to be able to distinguish between something that one person is doing and a group of people. I’m a big fan of “zhe” for that reason. Also, I always distinguish between “you” and “you all.”

      1. HRW2020*

        Actually we have a non-gendered third person pronoun. Whether it’s singular or plural depends on context.

    8. Ofotherworlds*

      If we had something akin to the French Academy for English that could make changes in the language by fiat that would be the best solution. But for English as it is, with absolutely no central authority, and a bunch of rules that don’t apply in every situation, I think the singular they is probably the route of least resistance because it’s a word that already exists, not a neologism.

      1. JustaTech*

        More evidence that English is a language that lures other languages down dark alleys, whacks them over the head and riffles through their pockets for loose grammar.

        See also: spelling in English.

        1. Not James*

          The correct quote and attribution is, “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and riffle their pockets for new vocabulary.” —James Davis Nicoll

    9. lobsterp0t*

      We do. “They/them.”

      Also, Zie, Xie and a range of other things that are totally up to the person whose pronoun it is.

    10. Claire*

      FYI: The singular ‘they’ has been in use since the 14th century. Obviously if someone wants you to use a different pronoun, you should follow their wishes, but really, using ‘they’ isn’t a hardship and it is grammatically correct.

  12. Close Bracket*

    “we see people, we categorize them, and we speak to them and behave toward them in ways that match the category we’ve put them in.”

    This is such an important point, not just for non-binary or ungendered folks, but for binary folks, especially binary trans folks, as well. This is why binary trans people change their manner of dress and sometimes their bodies when they transition — bc being *seen* as the correct gender makes people *treat* them as the correct gender. Part of treating people fairly includes understanding when they have gender-specific needs or perspectives. That applies to everyone, including cis folk!

  13. Zona the Great*

    How lovely. I just started dating a transgender person (not non-binary) and it has made me so much more aware of how I can be an ally. This is great.

  14. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Helping your trans & NB friends on the pronoun front is also a good way to demonstrate allyship. I’ve got a large friends group that I see intermittently — a half-dozen times a year or so. One of those friends has appointed herself as my helper with pronoun-related changes, and it’s been huge help in the way she’s gone about it — when there’s a gathering with people who haven’t seen me in a bit, or who have had some trouble with pronouns in the past, she’ll jump in at the start of the conversation and find a way to refer to me with correct pronouns early on, so that I don’t have to be the one constantly going “hey, it’s ‘he’ now, please.” She also makes it not a conversation about gender, just in there with whatever else is being talked about.

    “Hey, hey Wakeen, did you know that he,” *points at me* “hasn’t seen The Room? We should fix that before he leaves. I’ve made you all suffer through it, so he should too.”

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Caveat: clear it with said friends first, of course. I’m out to this group and she’s doing it in a way I like and appreciate.

      1. JSPA*

        I….may have used “she” for you (to accord with “countess” / gender of avatar name, not with any presumed gender of person behind the avatar). Retroactive apologies, if so.

        (Will your screen name become “Count Boochie Flagrante”? Swashbuckling!)

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          It’s cool! I’ve only changed up my pronouns since early this summer, and I’ve been using the screenname for a few years now, so no worries. Besides, on the internet we’re all whatever our names look like.

          (Tangentially, I half wonder if the commonality of online usernames with no immediate gender indication are helpful on the adoption of ‘they’ pronouns. It has always felt entirely natural to use ‘they’ with someone online whose username gives no hint to their gender.)

          And… hah, I’ve been giving it some thought. On the one hand, there are definitely high-dysphoria days where the feminine-ish name rankles… on the other, I did get it from an Anakin Skywalker meme, and if he can be the Countess, then so can I.

  15. Xavier89*

    until this post I never thought that mother/father might be inappropriate, luckily that’s an easy fix, if it ever comes up I’ll just say “parent”

    1. Vermonter*

      Working with kids, I always say “a grown-up at home” (unless there’s some need for it to be a legal guardian, in which case, “parent or guardian”). You just never know.

      1. Filosofickle*

        In a recent documentary about Mr Rogers, he explained how his language changed from referencing a “parent” to, eventually, a “grown-up”, because kids don’t always have parents, or parents they can trust with something important. It was a beautiful example of messaging and how every word matters.

    2. Anonymousaurus Rex*

      I really wish there were casual/familiar options that were non-binary though, and in any kind of common use. My partner and I are stumped as to what our kid will call her. I’m going to be “Mom”, but, although my wife identifies as female, she doesn’t identify as a “mother”, but as a “parent”. If anyone has suggestions, especially from non-binary folks, I’d love to hear them! I don’t want our kid to end up calling us “Mom” and “FirstName”, because it makes it seem like my wife isn’t the other parent.

      1. iantrovert (they/them)*

        Just google “nonbinary parent names” – there are a ton. I have no desire for kids myself but I’d probably default to the increasingly common ‘Renny’ (as a nickname for paRENt).

        1. tired anon*

          And I have a friend who uses “Pare” as in “PAREnt”, so even with just that one word you’ve got a few options!

      2. LawBee*

        How about a name that isn’t an obvious nickname for your partner and is only used by your kid? I’m thinking of the family I saw in the airport last week, where there was a “Mom” and a “Lulu”, but it was very clear through conversation (small terminal) that a) Lulu was the other parent, b) Lulu was not the other parent’s name (because everyone else called her Sharon).

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Is there an affectionate nickname that your partner is fond of that could be used? To keep that elevated bond that doesn’t get conveyed when you just call them by their every-day name? That is going to need to be probably something really personal.

        It kind of reminds me of the whole “multiple grandparents, what do we call each one?” that families have ran into forever.

        It reminds me of pet names for your kids as well. Yeah their name is Johnny but you call them “JoJo”, something that nobody else gets away with calling them.

      4. anon4this*

        Whats the difference between a “female parent” and a “mother”?
        And have ya’ll not watched “The L Word” (mama B and mama T)? It was so cute!

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Because “mother” comes with a different role in some minds that not all females feel they encompass.

          So “mama” just isn’t going to work in this scenario. It’s better to just accept that’s how her partner feels.

          It’s like “grandmothers” who don’t feel they’re “old enough” or “ready” to be “Grandma” so they come up with a different word that makes them feel okay.

      5. SbuxAddict*

        I’m not nonbinary but I never liked the term “Aunt” because everyone pronounces it like the bug. My nieces and nephews use a special nickname for me that is a mutation of my first name and a childhood nickname. It’s strange enough that it’s clear it’s not a nickname other people would call me which helps keep it feeling like a title and not a nickname/first name. Would that work?

        What about the word for parent but in another language? If you know your/her ancestry, you could pull something from there maybe? This happens more than just in nonbinary situations, my mom is Bubbie to all the grandkids because we’re Jewish and that’s Yiddish for grandma. It sounds nothing like grandma but people can still glean who she is to the kids when they’re out. The kids haven’t ever remarked that she should be grandma instead. Maybe this could work for your partner if they don’t want to use a nickname/title.

        I do like Renny, though. That’s a cool idea also.

        1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

          I asked my friend’s child to call me Avuncle and it makes me grin every time they do.

        2. Gaia*

          Funny story: my nephew refers to me as his “mother’s sister” and always has. It sounds weird and removed to a lot of people and they try to correct him but I think it is sweet and encourage it. He knows I am his “aunt” but we don’t use “aunt” and “uncle” titles in our family so this is his identifier for me.

      6. Director of Alpaca Exams*

        My nonbinary partner and I both use short forms of our names as parent names, inspired by our friend Veronica, whose godson calls her Ica. We picked the chunks of our names that have lots of vowels in them, so they don’t sound like typical nicknames and are easy for our kid to say. My mother doesn’t want to be Gramma because it makes her feel old, so she asked her grandkids to call her Kanga like the kangaroo mom in Winnie-the-Pooh. There are so many options.

      7. JSPA*

        My neighbors use Baba. It’s grandma in some traditions, dad in others, grandpa in others. If it’s too “grandmother,” there’s “Bab.” “Mom and Bab” flows nicely.

    3. Dahlia*

      I’ve always defaulted to “your person” honestly because a lot of the time kids aren’t with a parent, even. Maybe the person they’re with is their mom, maybe it’s an aunt, or a daycare provider or baby-sitter. “Your grownup” can work well too, but “your person” is slightly amusing and accurate.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I use “adult” in this way.

        It is piggybacking on the whole “adulting” idea. So when things go sideways at work, I just walk into my bosses office and say “I need an adult, you’re it.”

        So it indicates authority in that way. Since adults get to make decisions and take care of important/legal stuff.

      2. Princesa Zelda*

        I always use “your grown-up” when I need to ask a kid to grab their supervising adult. It works better on kids who are about 4ish or older; with toddlers I usually wind up having to run through various things they might call their adult until I land on a winner (maybe 20% of the time) or the adult comes of their own accord looking for the kid.

      3. Teach*

        I use the term “home humans” with teenagers a lot. It recognizes that they might be in the care of bio-parents, steps, fosters, grands, siblings, family friends, etc. and it’s funny. Plus they do not like acknowledging that they aren’t adults or that someone is a caregiver. ::eye roll::
        I can’t take credit – saw it on the Twitters.

  16. SierraSkiing*

    Also, another tip for being a good ally/coworker: please don’t try to discuss the “isn’t there a better nonbinary pronoun than [insert pronoun here]” question with nonbinary people in your life, especially casual acquaintances. Most nonbinary people I know get this a LOT, so it’s both a well-trod topic for them and sounds like you’re telling them that respecting their pronouns is too much work. Also, most nonbinary people have put a lot of thought into the pronouns they use, and it can be irritating when cisgender people who haven’t lived the experience of being nonbinary try to explain why nonbinary people should use different pronouns.

    Tldr; Asking “why they?” makes you sound like a judgy relative at Thanksgiving; ask allies on the internet if you really want to know why, but don’t ask your nonbinary coworker.

      1. Mr. Shark*

        I understand SierraSkiing’s point, but in this comment section, we are discussing pronouns, and how you choose pronouns and which ones should be used, so I’m not sure why it’s really gross. It’s not trying to disrespect anyone’s chosen pronouns, in this instance.

        1. Clarice Fitzpatrick*

          I know for me, it’s just kind of…..tiresome to read/hear. Obviously pronouns are very personal for everyone, but for most if not all nonbinary people, there’s practical consideration too. One of the reasons I chose they/them/their rather than Spivak pronouns, neopronouns, or other proposed nonbinary pronouns is that English speakers already know how to say they/them/their. Most people already do when talking about an unspecified person so the language shift is likely easier than incorporating a whole new word. There’s a whole set of introspective and logistical considerations that nonbinary people often dissect before publicly coming out, ESPECIALLY in professional contexts.

          So to hear “we need a new pronoun in English” or “why don’t nonbinary use [x] gender neutral pronoun” feels can feel patronizing and old hat at best, and bad faith cruelty at worst. It’s sort of like coming out as queer and hearing “Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE??” Like yes, I’m sure, yes, I know the choices I’m making for myself. Yes, I realize it’s not perfect and tidy, but we live in a society and I’m doing what I can to make myself happy while being open with others. I’ve spent MUCH longer thinking about it than the vast majority of cisgender people have.

          And to an extent, I understand because what’s old to me is quite new to others. That’s the whole idea of coming out and is just common when things spread out from marginalized communities to mainstream discussion. I truly do wanna be patient for people to catch up and learn. I also want cisgender people to feel like they can ask questions and think on these topics. It’s complicated! But this discussion is almost always brought up in response to someone coming out about using they/them/their pronouns and that doesn’t feel great, honestly.

          1. 1.0*

            the extra bonus is that mostly i hear cis people use neopronouns only to make fun of them and how weird and strange and confusing and stupid it is that anybody would use “ze” or “xem” or any of the other common options

            after a while, “they is confusing, xem isn’t a real word, lol this seems like a prime time to make an attack helicopter joke” stops sounding like genuine concern and starts sounding like, “wouldn’t it just be easier for me if you were cis?”

          2. Director of Alpaca Exams*

            Yes. Thank you.

            It’s especially hard to see on a “how to be an ally” post. Exactly the same discussion happened on the previous post, almost word for word, so… TBH, I feel like good allyship would have been Allison shutting it down on this one and telling people to go look at the other comment section if they want the exhaustive, exhausting dead-horse-beating of “but why can’t you people come up with something better that’s less work for me“.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              You’re right. My apologies. I don’t generally read all comments but should have moderated this post more closely. I’ve gone back and removed the two discussions I saw that fell in that category, and added a note to the top of the post. (I did leave one thread, though, where I thought the responses would be particularly helpful for other to read.)

        2. CatMom*

          It’s just that some of the comments here seem to be made by people unaware of the fact that there are real-life non binary people reading them! It’s very different to say “hey, can someone explain to me why one might choose ‘they’ over ‘yo/xe/etc’?” than to say “‘they’ sounds like you have multiple personalities” or “I’m sticking with he and she.”

          1. Kelly Bennett*

            Yeah, I’ve seen people suggesting neo-pronouns in the comments and I’m like…..y’all can’t handle the word they, which we already have, but you want me to try to convince you to use a totally new word? Nah.

  17. LawBee*

    I saw a post recently, I do not remember who said it originally, but the gist was that the pronouns aren’t really the preferred pronouns, they are the CORRECT pronouns. Flipping the mental switch from a preference (that can can be overridden) to correct vs incorrect seems to be helpful. No one likes to be wrong, but people don’t always respect a preference; it doesn’t have the weight.

    I “prefer” vanilla ice cream but it’s fine if you give me strawberry. Calling me by another pronoun than she/her is incorrect. Calling a nonbinary person a pronoun other than the one they chose is incorrect.

  18. SbuxAddict*

    Thanks for this list!

    One thing I’ve done as a gamer is to start using “They/Them” pronouns across the board with everyone I don’t know personally. For example, if I’m leading a group and one of the players goes afk to go to the bathroom I’ll make a point to say, “Gamertag took a bio break. They’ll be back soon.” It’s a little thing but I’ve been doing it for a couple of years and it’s gone a long way to getting “they/them” pronouns more ear-friendly to me. It’s natural now for me and I find myself doing it automatically. Since you usually don’t stop and ask people’s genders when you’re playing a video game (ok maybe some creepers do but I don’t), it really does make sense to use a gender neutral pronoun. Some people have responded with “I’m she/her/he/him” but many people don’t want to give away their gender in these game situations. If someone gives me their pronouns, I use the one they request but otherwise, everyone is gender neutral.

    Also, as a woman who plays MMOs, it’s nice to not have my pronouns splashed in a channel with random gamers who may or may not be gamergate/incel guys. I hope they/them becomes the default online but that’s another topic.

    1. SageMercurius*

      I had a similar experience as a gamer. I also used to moderate games forums for a living, so using they to refer to users became my norm. You really can’t assume anything from avatars and usernames after all!

      That did have the unintended side effect of me wanting to pepper my writing with emoticons to show tone – which, now that I work in libraries, I have gotten out of the habit of doing. But that’s a whole different conversation…

    2. san junipero*

      Yes, I’m trying to put this into practice too. I’m also trying to work on not assuming sexuality for anyone, even if they casually mention a boyfriend/girlfriend. Like, I made a new friend over the weekend who seems to present as monogamously heterosexual, but she could very well be poly and bi* — I won’t know unless she tells me.

      *As a monogamous bisexual I promise I’m not equating the two, I just couldn’t think of another comparison.

  19. Emily*

    These are very helpful, and clever!

    Thanks for publishing this, Alison. It will be so helpful to use in the future.

  20. Argh!*

    The hardest thing for me about pronouns is when other people mess up. If we’re talking in the 3rd person, by definition the person isn’t there. So I have to decide – do I derail the conversation? Or do I let it go and just model the pronoun until the person picks up on it?

    I don’t like being put into the role of having to explain someone’s differences in general. Using “his” or “hers” doesn’t have the same history behind it as using ethnic slurs, which I would definitely speak up about.

    Sometimes I say something, sometimes I don’t. But every time I think “Oh cripes this again. Why is this my job? I don’t want to deal with this. I want to talk about what we’re talking about.”

    I know I’m going to get flamed for that, but I’m too busy to check back in, so I’m just leaving it here for the more thoughtful and empathetic people to ponder.

    1. Clorinda*

      I think that that if we know the correct pronouns, we should both use them and remind others to use them. If people get reminded when the person is not in the room, they’re more likely to remember when the person is present.

    2. neeko*

      Definitely correct them in the moment and then continue the conversation. That’s what being an ally is.

    3. nnn*

      Imagine that the message you’re conveying is “BTW, Andrea pronounces their name “On-DRAY-uh”.

      It’s a quick heads-up so your interlocutor (who, after all, has only seen Andrea’s name in email) doesn’t make an ass of themselves in front of Andrea.

      Same thing, same tone and delivery, with “BTW, Andrea uses ‘they’ pronouns.”

    4. BWG*

      I have done it like this:
      “So she is going to call at 4-”
      “They. Cersei uses they.”
      “Right, so they are going to call at 4 and I will tell her-”
      “Them that they should…”

      I the same way I would if they were butchering their name. And my friends do it back to me when I get a friends pronouns wrong. I try not to be self-righteous, but when they aren’t around is the perfect time to call it out so that when they ARE around, they get it right.

    5. LQ*

      I just throw in “they” and then launch into whatever I’m going to say. I don’t think it needs more than that and creating much more space lets people talk about it. A correct and move on is way easier and better.

      “I don’t know why she doesn’t just do the paperwork.”
      “They. I don’t either, maybe they don’t know where it’s, I know I know, but would you please show then for the 8th time this week. I know it’s a pain, but take care of that by Friday, and this time document it.”

      (using an annoyed example because even if you are annoyed or don’t like someone they still should get the correct pronouns)

    6. Ryan*

      I don’t want to flame you, but this was a little frustrating to read. I empathize. A lot. This happens to me, to my face, and around me, multiple times a day — just like you, I don’t want to deal with this. I want to talk about what we’re talking about. But if I don’t correct someone who misgenders me, who will? This is where cis allies come in. Please, if you want the trust of trans / nonbinary people, *correct everyone who misgenders somebody when safety permits*. Every time. Like those who have commented below, it doesn’t have to be a Big Deal. If the speaker doesn’t know the correct pronoun to use, tell them. If they keep messing up, you don’t have to repeat the introduction, just correct them.

      If you get tired, imagine how exhausted we are. Please help us.

      1. Xandria*

        Please speak up. Even if you have to do it over and over. If someone was calling your colleague by the entirely wrong name you would speak up wouldn’t you? If someone kept calling Jerry, Tiffany not only would you correct them, you’d be confused, and so would others. If it helps think of it as keeping things from getting confusing, but really your helping people.

        And really, what Ryan said. You think you’re tired?! I have that interruption 50+ times a day, on a good day. I’m tired. You can be tired, but be tired with me please.

        1. MayLou*

          The difficulty is knowing whether or not someone is out to the group you’re correcting. I have a friend who uses they, but also accepts she, and I have seen/heard them use she in certain contexts. I presume that’s the result of the complex safety assessment that trans/nb people are constantly having to do, but it does mean I’m not sure whether to say “they” or “she” with a new group (we’re both involved in theatre and they just auditioned for a show with a group I’m already in, so I’m likely to be doing a lot of introductions). Obviously I will ask them what they want in that specific context, but as a more general rule I err on the side of not outing people, over correcting wrong pronouns, if I’m not sure.

          1. Phoenix*

            Yeah, not outing people is an important consideration – also, some nonbinary people (myself included) use multiple pronouns on purpose! I also use both ‘they’ and ‘she’.

          2. Xandria*

            For sure! Its always best to err on the side of not outing people, but I do see people lean on that as an excuse a lot. (Not saying you are of course!), I’m out and loud about it, and I still have people who say they weren’t sure if I wanted to be outed.

            Though, as a theatre person, if you’re not working with theaters where people can be out as non-binary I’m here to tell you there are better theaters out there.

  21. Ann Nonymous*

    I have one thing to say on this: “Send a company-wide email saying, ‘We’re going to order loose and fitted company t-shirts from S to 4X, please let me know which you’d like’ rather than assuming you know who will want ‘men’s’ or ‘women’s’ shirts. ” Manufacturers still make shirts in “men’s” and “women’s” styles and they are different, as is the sizing. Unfortunately “men’s” is the default (when I’m Queen I’ll change that) and ordering a small if you’re a woman might get you a men’s small which would be a women’s medium (and still not fit your hips).

    1. Xandria*

      Then just say ‘women’s cut or men’s cut’ or ‘feminine vs masculine cut’ say specifically ‘we’re ordering unisex shirts’, unisex is universally known.

    2. Dagny*

      You’re trying to be helpful, but this is wrong.

      “Unisex” cuts are men’s cuts. While a lot of places have gotten better about making women’s cut shirts, there are many that still do not, and it feels rather invalidating. If I read something that said “loose and fitted,” I would assume that you don’t have women’s cut shirts and would be rather irked.

      1. Xandria*

        I am trying to be helpful, and I’m not wrong. Isn’t the context of this post, about making non-binary people feel more welcome I’m telling you as a non-binary person, that a unisex shirt is going to feel more inclusive then a ‘men’s and women’s’.

        We all know unisex is cut the same way as men’s, but it’s about the language of it.

        1. Rabbit*

          Would you feel better if a company announced that all of it’s bathrooms were now gender neutral and it turned out they had urinals and no bins for menstrual product disposal?

        2. san junipero*

          But then how would I order the women’s/feminine/’fitted’ cut, which is always my preference?

            1. san junipero*

              I’m asking re: the ‘unisex’ idea. You can’t have ‘unisex’ and ‘feminine’/’unisex’ and ‘fitted’ when ‘unisex’ shirts are always cut for men.

              1. neeko*

                I truly do not understand why this is an issue. You can have unisex and fitted cut. Many websites already use this and provide sizing charts if needed. And it’s not like those sizings are universally the same anyway. I wear a large at some stores and an XL in others in the same cut.

      2. Ella*

        See, this is funny to me because I’m a cis woman and never order the women’s cut versions of things because they almost never carry my size in the women’s options, which often run small anyway. I’m not non-binary, but I’d still very much benefit more from having a fit description and accurate size chart outlining the shirt options rather than two vague “women’s and men’s cut” options. Would you still be irked if one of the options said “fitted, scoop neck shirt with these chest and waist measurements” rather than “women’s cut.” The former gives way more information and has the benefit of not gendering shirts.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The problem is that no all women fit into women sized clothing. Years ago a woman’s XL was a men’s small. So when you’re born to a family of giants and women’s “sizes” cap out at maybe XXL, just leave me here to suffer some more about body image issues.

      I’ve seen men struggle over the years too though, very slim men who happen to be taller or shorter. Argh. Clothes. AAAARGH

      So we just need better language in general. Let’s not get started on the “Women’s” section meaning “PLUS SIZE” these days. I cannot with that.

    4. nnn*

      In this case, it would be useful to include the manufacturer’s size charts – for each item of clothing, for “women’s” and “men’s” styles – and any catalogue images of how the clothing fits.

      And, if at all possible, getting samples into the office that people can try on.

      (I say this as a person who owns clothes in an XS that are a bit large on me, and clothes in an XL that are a bit snug on me)

      1. Dasein9*

        Given that the world is not yet as we would like it to be, a temporary solution might be to say, “Hey, the vendor we’re using offers the best deal around, but unfortunately still uses old-fashioned gendered language for its sizing. Here are the size charts; feel free to order whatever will fit you best!”

        I suspect there will still be some folks who squirm at the notion of using a product supposedly made for a gender they’re not but the t-shirt company might also get the message and change the words they use if clients take the lead.

    5. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

      I’ve seen this handled by calling the two styles “curvy cut” and “straight cut”, which at least gets at the information one might need when determining which shirt to order without explicitly assigning each type of shirt to a gender. I’d vastly prefer a loose shirt designed for someone with curves, so I’d possibly be confused by the loose/fitted distinction.

      I have about 8 other reasons why I hate trying to deal with group t-shirt orders given my body and preferred appearance, but that’s the one that’s at least fixable with a change in nomenclature rather than a change in cultural norms around garments.

    1. Zona the Great*

      That what didn’t come naturally to us? Who is “us”? I don’t think non-binary people owe heteronormies anything but basic kindness.

    2. Ryan*

      It took some effort to consistently gender nonbinary people correctly.

      There, I helped!

      –A nonbinary person

    3. Environmental Compliance*

      1. I’m not really sure in what way this would help anyone.

      2. I’m really not seeing anyone *not* acknowledge that there will be some mix ups at first as you get used to the new pronouns/names/etc. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that there will be a period of adjustment as you get your brain used to defaulting to a new set of pronouns for that person.

      3. Of course it takes work, but the important part here is that (generic) you puts in that bit of effort & do the best (generic) you can to get it correct. When it is continuously incorrect, it’s pretty obvious that even that little bit of effort it takes to get it right is too much work for whoever is getting it consistently wrong…. which then easily translates into that person, who is getting consistently mis-gendered, is not important enough to (generic) you to try to get it right. And that’s incredibly rude/demeaning/dismissive.

    4. Phoenix*

      I agree. The root of the issue is the ingrained binary way of thinking – as discussed in Alison’s post (“You were taught for a long time that we don’t exist. Retraining your brain is going to take work.”). This binary is deeply rooted and constantly reinforced – undoing its effects on my own brain takes a lot of work, even when it’s *myself* I’m thinking about.

  22. Filosofickle*

    I’m so eager to see this conversation evolve, and hopefully improve over time.

    Recently I was creating messaging for a school. I had a sentence with a singular they, as in “every child deserves their…”. The Head of School didn’t object to it personally but did not want to use it because a few loud parents would make a ruckus over “incorrect” grammar coming from the school. Which…I get. It’s a school, and parents pay a lot of money for it so they want to see evidence of the quality of the education. But there’s also a principle here, and the quality of the school includes its values. The admissions person went to bat for it, saying any family with a nonbinary child (or parent) would see that language as a signal that they were welcome at the school so to her this was actually an advantage. In the end, I just wrote around it and it was probably a better sentence that way. But I’m kind of sorry I backed down.

    Also had an awkward conversation with my SO’s parents recently. They identified me as the one person in their universe they thought could explain pronouns and language around trans and non-binary to them. (Insert eye roll.) I did my best to explain what I know (not an expert! just someone who cares and pays attention!) and they didn’t get it but they listened and tried to understand. What seemed to trip them up most was the idea that “they” could be confusing because it’s also a plural. It really seems like something that’s confusing when you talk about it and explain it, but in conversation it is usually pretty clear who “they” is. And there’s always a time where any non-specific pronoun is unhelpful and names should be used.

    The weird moment, though, came I told them about the school example, and they didn’t even understand it — they thought “every child…their” was correct grammatically! After a 15 minute conversation in which they argued they could not be correct grammar. Confusing.

    1. Observer*

      Well, “every child . . . their” actually IS grammatically correct. As others have noted, “they” has been used as a singular pronoun for centuries. ESPECIALLY in contexts like this when you actually are talking about a group, albeit a group of individuals.

      1. Filosofickle*

        But that’s why I was confused. This is an example of using they as a singular. If his parents believe this isn’t wrong, why can’t they see other ways to use they as a singular?

        However, I was taught in school that every child is singular. (Every child must take his or her seat vs. All children must take their seats.) It was a clear rule in my writing and English classes. Personally, I set aside rules like this because they are arbitrary and unhelpful, and in some cases wrong, but it’s definitely a rule in many books.

        1. Observer*

          It’s like some of the other “rules” that others have mentioned – they simply are not correct. The example you give makes it pretty clear why it’s not correct, too. It’s beyond clumsy.

        2. Koala dreams*

          I feel with the parents since I too would prefer “every” to be plural, like “all”. Sadly, it’s not, and I have to accept that.

    2. Close Bracket*

      “the idea that “they” could be confusing because it’s also a plural”

      Perhaps point out that “you” is both plural and singular.

  23. Bartimaeus*

    What’s your advice for handling it when a person has neopronouns? (That is, one of the more unusual nonbinary pronouns such as xe, ze, fe – rare but they do show up…) I don’t know how to pronounce this stuff as I usually see it in text, and it’s quite the struggle to prevent my head from saying ‘they/them’ instead (I’m completely chill with ‘they’) and calling the person they/them.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Ask the person who uses the pronouns how to pronounce them, and the rest applies the same way: practice in your head until you become comfortable.

    2. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      Some people who use neopronouns are okay with they/them as a fallback. Almost all will be happy to provide pronunciation guides.

      Many English neopronouns were developed in text rather than speech, so when we look at them, we can understand intellectually where they came from (“oh, ‘hir’ is a blend of ‘him’ and ‘her’, I get it”) but they don’t follow the same spelling rules that you would expect from something first spoken and later written down. In order to pronounce them correctly, spell them phonetically in your head.

      Try reading these aloud, ignoring meaning and just getting the sounds to work:

      “She invited me to her house on Friday.”
      “Zie invited me to hir house on Friday.”
      “Z invited me to ‘ir house on Friday.”

      At least for me, reading the third one aloud sounds almost as natural as the first, but if I’m reading the second one I get hung up. So I work on getting my internal spelling of the word I’m saying to be a spelling I can pronounce without thinking about it.

      I also think about how to elide them with the words that come before and after them, which is a big part of sounding natural in speech. I think it’s easy to focus so much on “am I saying this correctly” that we miss “am I saying this naturally” and so it ends up like “ZEEEEE invited me to HHHIIR house on Friday” and augh. Think about how you say similar words and extrapolate. I didn’t even realize that I say “I’ll see ‘er tomorrow” until I started trying to say “hir” and found that pronouncing the h felt artificial and stilted. “To ‘ir house” sounds like I’ve been saying it all my life as part of my native language.

      Specific tips:

      – Say “sie” like you’re calling the person by the letter C, and “xe” “xie” “ze” and “zie” like you’re calling them by (the American pronunciation of) the letter Z. Your mouth and brain know exactly how to say C and Z. (There’s a children’s book called Love, Z about a robot named Z, and reading it aloud to my child was amazing practice for talking about a friend who uses zie/hir pronouns.) You’re probably also pretty comfortable with calling some people by initials.

      – Pronounce “hir” as “hear” and “zir” as “zeer”.

      – If you usually drop some or all of the h in “her” or “him”, drop it for “hir” and other pronouns starting with h.

      – Reversing that, “e” is pronounced like “he” without the h, so if you usually say the h strongly in “he”, try putting on just a bit of an accent in which it’s dropped in order to say “e”. Your brain and mouth understand that ” ‘e” is a pronoun, and that’s a route to comfortably saying “e” as a pronoun.

      – “ey” “em” “eir” are pronounced like “they” “them” “their” without the th. Same as above: rope in just a little of an accent to replace the th with an apostrophe, and then work on dropping the tiny pause of the apostrophe.

      – The zh in “zhe” “zhir” is like the z in the word “azure”. If that’s not an easy sound for you to make, you can probably get away with “jee” “jeer”.

  24. Ruthie*

    I love the little mouse! I’m definitely using that. It reminds me of how I always remember data are plural when writing: I mentally replace “data” with “the cats.”

    1. Close Bracket*

      See, this is funny, bc the grammatically correct sentence would be:

      It reminds me of how I always remember “data” is plural when writing: I mentally replace “data” with “the cats.”

      I genuinely do find this amusing, as both an editor and a scientist. :)

  25. Vax is my disaster bicon*

    Thanks for compiling this, Alison! What a great resource to share with friends and coworkers. I’ll keep this in my back pocket for the next time I get questions about pronouns.

  26. Kendra*

    I went for a job interview, and the man at the front desk called me “sweetie.” I told him, “Hey, you know better than that — that’s not cool!” I asked him what he would call me if I were a man, and he said, “Dude” so I said, “OK, call me dude.” He said he wouldn’t do it because I was female. He settled on “ma’am.” I used to think people would only treat me based on the vibe I was putting out, but now it seems like people treat you however they treat you based on how they want or are accustomed to. People don’t even realize they’re being biased or sexist or putting you into a tiny box. They often think they’re being polite!

    1. Newington*

      Kendra: if you’re fine with it that’s fine, but I wouldn’t presume to call a woman ‘dude’ as it’s also gendered (to many people, anyway) and it’d be fair for her to have a problem with it.

      I also suspect the receptionist was bullshitting when he said he’d call a man ‘dude’, unless it was an SF techbro company or something, which doesn’t seem consistent with ‘sweetie’ either.

  27. cheddaronrye*

    Has anyone had an experience interacting with a person who uses no pronouns and how to adjust to that? One-on-one with the person it wasn’t hard, since when you’re talking to a person directly you don’t often need pronouns, but if two people were conversing about this student and trying to avoid pronouns, the conversation ended up sounding very strange and stilted. As in, “Today in class Sally was upset because Sally had forgotten Sally’s textbook.” “Sally came to see me for office hours because Sally felt that Sally’s interpretation of a passage of text wasn’t the same as Sally’s classmates.” (Obviously those sentences could be reworked: “Sally came to see me for office hours to discuss various interpretations of the text because the rest of the class interpreted the reading differently” but for a casual conversation we rely on pronouns much more than I realized.) I’m totally used to using they/them, but this was a new level of adjustment and I would like to figure out a way to handle this better in the future.

    1. rulesfor*

      No advice, but I will just agree that it’s tough. My spouse didn’t use pronouns for a while (we’re both nonbinary) and it was just a linguistic challenge that I understand most people aren’t always willing or able to take on in casual interactions. I guess much like with everything else, just check in with the person around how they’d ideally like to see people manage it, but I think there’s some unavoidable linguistic difficulty in that case.

    2. Starbuck*

      Didn’t know that no-pronouns was a thing, glad to learn something new and have a chance to think it through now.

  28. Chewy Mints*

    This is useful as I had not seen a list of suggestions like this before. Where it gets tricky, though, is on language diversity. In Portuguese, for example, there is no non-binary pronouns. Heck, almost every noun in Portuguese is either masculine or feminine. Sun/ocean are masculine while moon/sand are feminine nouns. My brain is hardcore wired to interpret the world as binary :S I constantly catch myself saying she or he to objects.

    “Is the door open? No, she is shut”. Ugh

    1. Filosofickle*

      I’ve read some interesting stuff on how language shapes culture. This is a great example of that!

    2. OhNo*

      There has been some push among Spanish-speakers to encourage the development of gender neutral terms (e.g.: Latino, Latina, Latine or Latinx). I wonder if there’s something similar for Portuguese?

      1. Bruno Barbosa*

        There is, but it is more complicated than that.

        Using your example, how would one pronounce “latinx”? Latincs? That’s what always comes to my mind when I see words written like that, but I don’t think it’s supposed to.

        As for “latine”, that *could* work… if we didn’t have nouns ending in E already, usually gendered towards masculine. So that would just add another layer of complexity.

        Ugh. This sucks.

        1. GyreFalcon*

          Usually Latinx is pronounced latin-ex. I’ve seen this applied to other nouns to gender-neutralize this too, and used on pronouns, like elx, delx, nelx, to avoid the gendered end to the pronoun. I’ve also seen the @ symbol used for the same purpose, el@, del@, nel@. It doesn’t seem like there is much consensus though, so best to just ask any non-binary people what they prefer when it comes to gendered languages.

  29. OyHiOh*

    I’m a writer by night. Some bits of poetry here and there but mainly, I write stage plays. One of the things I started doing about two years ago was writing a non binary character into every script. Two reasons: Characters become real to me over the course of writing and development so using non binary language for someone helps solidfy in my brain the normalcy of using that language in everyday life with people I know. Second, using that language within the character development of a script influences how actors develop their characters in relation to each other and that in turn affects how the audience sees the entire story.

    1. Xandria*

      This is amazing! Also because there is SO LITTLE non-binary representation in theater, so its always amazing to hear of some!

  30. Lilith*

    I’m oldish. When you use they as a singular, do you use a singular verb? IE, “is they following me?”

    1. NeonFireworks*

      Nope, just treat it like any other “they,” e.g. “Jaime’s in the kitchen and it sounds as if they’re making six or seven different things!” With their name, you can stick with “is.”

    2. Alton*

      Don’t overthink it too much. “You” can also be used to refer to an individual or a group, but we generally say “you are,” not “you is.”

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Generally not. I’ve occasionally encountered folks online who do use a singular conjugation with ‘they,’ but it’s an exception and ime a rare one.

      “They” takes plural verbs in the same way that “you” takes plural verbs, even if there’s only one “you” in the conversation.

    4. iantrovert (they/them)*

      Same rules as thou:you (singuler) for he/she/it:they (singular).
      You are, not you art; they are, not they is

  31. Thingotimes*

    I am very sick of having to explain my gender non-binary pronouns over and over again. People need to learn them, without having to put me through the emotional labor of “forgiving” “mistakes.” If you make a mistake about something this important to someone who is gender non-binary, it is no longer excusable to just apologize. That’s on you. I filed four complaints to HR in the last month about my different coworkers “accidentally” misgendering me, once when introducing me to a new contractor, and I will file another tomorrow if I have to. Be warned, our tolerance of microaggressions is at an end.

    1. BikeLover*

      Oh wow! I forget people’s names all the time. I literally forget who my co-workers ARE- important things like what department they work in (I get the blonde in IT mixed up with the brunette in facilities maintenance mixed up ALL THE TIME). I forget people’s family situations and discussions we’ve had in the recent past. I meet a TON of people in my job and I really have a poor memory for faces. If I get mixed up, I feel bad and apologize sincerely but if people reported me to HR every time I forgot something personal about them, my personal record would be on volume 4.

      1. Xandria*

        Theres a super big difference between misgendering someone and forgetting their name. When you forget someones name do you just call them something else, and then get mad if they correct you? Thats what happens with misgendering.

        People compare it to name forgetting a lot, but in reality it forgetting your coworkers genders, do you call everyone with he pronouns no matter who they are? Or forget that your boss’s secretary is he and call him she? Thats the problem, people don’t do that unless your trans, and then suddenly it’s seen as an easy mistake.

  32. Newington*

    Another trick: start using they/them for whatever-gendered people when you haven’t used a proper noun and their gender is irrelevant, e.g. “my doctor told me to come and see them.” People won’t generally notice, it’s good practice anyway as it avoids assuming genders, and nonbinary people won’t be singled out when you refer to them in the third person.

  33. Courtney*

    +1! Working the singular “they” into my regular vocabulary was the most helpful thing when training myself to use “they” for my nonbinary friends. When I tell someone about the cashier at the grocery store, that cashier is “they;” when I want to indicate someone on the street, I talk about “them;” when I have a brief interaction with a coworker in a completely different part of the building whose pronouns I don’t know, they’re they and them when I mention it later. The fact is, I can assume based on traditional gender presentation, but I don’t actually know any of these people’s genders or pronouns! So I’ve learned to default to gender-neutral unless proven otherwise.

    1. Courtney*

      Well this sure was intended to be a reply to the comment above mine but sometimes life is like that.

  34. Octopus*

    As a non-binary person, I really disagree with the advice “If you do make a mistake and someone corrects you, say ‘thank you’ instead of ‘I’m sorry.’ Because the ‘sorry’ will often make the other person feel like they have to respond with ‘It’s okay’ or ‘It’s no big deal’ even when they may not feel that way.” Someone saying “thank you” when I correct them makes me feel like the burden is entirely on me for educating people and being seen as myself, which is an exhausting burden I already carry. Say sorry. Let the person you’re talking to know that you recognize you slipped up and misgendered them. (And being misgendered can be painful. What do you say when you hurt someone? You say sorry.)

    Arguing that saying “sorry” makes people feel like they have to respond with “it’s okay” or “it’s no big deal” is an argument in favor of never apologizing in any circumstance. And I don’t see people spreading the word that you should never apologize, just that you shouldn’t apologize when you mess up treating someone as the gender they are, which is a sucky double-standard!

    I’m actually a big proponent of saying “thank you” in response *to* an apology. If you are apologized to and don’t want to say “it’s okay”, say “thank you”! It acknowledges the apology without having to make a statement on how you feel or if the apology fixed everything.

    Keep saying sorry when you make a mistake. Non-binary people deserve to be treated with that basic decency.

    1. Stuff*

      I dunno. I’m also nonbinary, and I’d much rather hear “thank you” than “I’m sorry”. Being apologized to is just awkward or uncomfortable. It makes me feel guilty, and I don’t want to feel like that. It’s a messy social situation, I’m nonconfrontational as hell, and it’s difficult and embarassing enough for me to correct somebody. Please don’t compound that discomfort.

      1. Rosie*

        Stuff, would it be easier if they said something like: ‘I apologise for my misunderstanding at the time and I want to thank you for being gracious about it and taking the trouble to inform me of X. I want to let you know that I’ve now understood X and will go forward with Y and Z; all best wishes for the future etc’? So they move on quickly from an apology to letting you know they’ve made an adjustment and expressing positive feeling/steps? Or would it still feel like too much of an emotional demand?

        1. Phoenix*

          The mistake plus the correction is probably like five words –

          “she -”
          “Actually, I use ‘they’.”

          Your script here is fifty-four words. That’s ten times the magnitude. I know that’s not any kind of objective measure for anything, but it really struck me.

          This is all to say, that’s way too long and would make me *incredibly* uncomfortable.

      2. ElreMaki*

        I prefer hearing both.
        “They, actually.”
        “Whoops, sorry. Thanks for the reminder.”
        -continue with conversation-

  35. iglwif*

    Thanks for this post, Alison, and especially thanks to all the people who contributed their personal experience!

  36. Moana*

    For those that speak Spanish, what do you use? Ellas and Ellos = they but are still feminine/masculine.

  37. Rosie*

    I work in a field related to language education, and I and a couple of others on my team have made a point of strengthening and normalising our use of they/them in our written materials whenever the gender of the person referred to is not known. This is accepted as correct usage in Merriam Webster, OED etc, and has the pleasing result of reducing linguistic sexism*. It’s then a quicker and easier step to using they/them for a specific individual if necessary, because you’re already in the habit of seeing they/them as legitimate singular pronouns (which they actually are). The key difference is you’ve expanded their use from ‘when the specific gender is not known’ to ‘when other genders aren’t appropriate’.

    It may help to remember that a similar sort of change happened in English with ‘you’ a couple of hundred years ago. We don’t have a problem feeling like we’re using the plural when we talk to an individual ‘you’, or say ‘you are’: we’re used to ‘you’ being singular as well as plural, and understand it contextually. Thou/you is gone, but tu/vous remains: some modern languages retain the distinction in the second person. Maybe it could help to imagine that using singular ‘they’ is a way of being extra polite, like using singular ‘vous’ in French.

    *My mother told an anecdote of challenging a lecturer on his use of the universal ‘he’ in her 1970s university days. He said “But ‘man’ embraces ‘woman’!” Normalising they/them pronouns can only assist our escape from that sort of tiresome smug shite.

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