As a non-binary trans* person, I have been very apologetic in my life about pronouns. That’s my own issue, thinking that non-binary pronouns are too difficult for cisgender or binary-identified trans people to understand. I didn’t give those people enough credit.
I have no personal pronoun preference as of this point in my life, as long as those pronouns are non-binary. (I have said that I prefer male pronouns over female pronouns, just to show that there is difference between my assigned gender and identity. Male pronouns are still a way lower preference from me than non-binary ones.)
For a while, I chose to use “they”, because I felt like that was easier for some people, because it was at least a word they’ve heard before. You should never feel pressured to choose a pronoun because it’s easier for others to use, but I did, especially because I felt like I had to, based upon my gender presentation.
I quickly realized that I was wrong; “they” is surprisingly difficult for people to use in the singular form, especially after they’ve seen someone. Something about our culture means that, unless there are visual “clues” that you don’t identify with the gender you were assigned at birth (or even if there are clues), you will be given a pronoun based on your appearance.
[Edit: of course there are issues with grammar, which is why I’ve included resources in that arena.]
But, until we see someone, or have been told other pronouns to use, “they” comes naturally (unless of course it’s involving a profession or otherwise where we use sexism to assume the male default).
I have to go to an internist about my blood work. I wonder what they will say. I need to have them send a letter to my endocrinologist, stating their opinion on my how my medications interact. I hope they’ll do that soon.
Congrats! You’ve just used “they” in the singular form!
Example 2 (courtesy of my friend, Ethan; this takes place behind the counter at a grocery store deli):
Mike answers the phone. It is his first day at work, so he passes the phone to Cameron: “I have a customer on the phone who would like to order a cake.” Cameron replies, “Okay, just ask her …(corrects self)… them what they would like on it.” Cameron corrected himself because he realized he doesn’t know the customer’s gender.
Cameron used “they” in the singular.
So why is it so difficult to use when people request it? Because you’ve seen them. That is beyond hurtful to non-binary identified people. When people request a pronoun, even if they give you another option, go with the one they prefer. Always. You can do it, with practice.
- Ann Bodine (1975). Androcentrism in prescriptive grammar: singular ‘they’, sex-indefinite ‘he’, and ‘he or she’. Language in Society, 4 , pp 129-146 doi:10.1017/S0047404500004607
- Motivated Grammar.