BRIEF COMMENT: Trans People, Pronouns, and Choosing Between Social Justice and the Chicago Manual of Style

Post from Greta Christina: “Trans People, Pronouns, and Choosing Between Social Justice and the Chicago Manual of Style” 

[Edits for clarity, thanks Kasey!]

In the linked post, Greta tears apart a long grammar-stickler-rant on the pronoun “they” that basically amounts to: ‘”We can’t use “they” as a singular gender neutral pronoun because it will break the language, waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!”

I’m 100% in agreement with Greta that that is fucking horseshit.

We need a gender neutral 3rd person singular pronoun. “They” works. So do a number of other options, of course, and I’m glad to use those for a specific person if asked to do so. In terms of being able to refer to a hypothetical singular person, gender unknown, in my writing, however, it is useful to have a word that everyone already agrees is a word to replace either the clunky “he or she” or the totally-not-okay default-to-“he” (because men are clearly Default Humans, AMIRIGHT?). “They” fits that bill. Chicago Manual of Style can go fuck itself.

On a related note–I have to teach SAT/ACT grammar, and currently I have to teach my students that “they” can ONLY be plural. I handle this by explaining to them that this is currently a matter of debate and that they may see “they” used as a singular pronoun elsewhere, but for the purposes of the test they should consider it plural.

10 Comments

  1. I’m not sure from the way this post is framed, but it seems like you’re accusing Greta of claiming that using the singular “they” is bad because it’s ungrammatical. She’s actually claiming the exact opposite, responding to “but it breaks the language” concern-trolling, and making it very clear that of xourse finding ways to repectfully refer to people of all genders (or rather, not arguing with people that they are wrongly about what words apply to them) should be so obvioisly more important than what some arbitrary style guide says that it makes anyone’s attempts to bring grammar into conversations about people’s basix fucking humanity extremely disturbing.

    Or, more concisely: I just wanted tovmake sure that you realize that Greta agrees with you 100% on this point, and it seems like you definitely misread her pretty eloquent post.

  2. It would be really nice if the gender-neutral “zhe” and its conjugations became more mainstream, but I still feel weird using it in anything that isn’t a formal writing assignment. Mostly, I’ve gotten in the habit of changing my hypothetical “someone” into hypothetical “people” so that I can use “they” and still be grammatically-correct.

  3. Language is a funny thing. The strident claim that using “they/them/their” to describe a singular person of unspecified gender is grammatically incorrect seems to be an Americanism? What I’m trying to say is that we use “they” in the singular a lot over here in Britain. And our grammar isn’t broken! So there’s that. But then Greta made basically that argument already. 🙂

    Tnagentially, the singular “they” is also really very useful when not intending to out your own or somebody else’s non-hetero relationships/sexuality. “I met this new person at the weekend. They were awesome.” etc.

  4. In finnish grammar we only have one word, and that is non-gender-related. There is no gender for nouns either – things are not masculine or feminine. They just are. Maybe this is somehow related to the fact, that we also have had a woman as a president. Meaning the status of gender related equality, starting from the very basics. We do have a problem with these “firemen” and such professions though.

    So, my point is, that one word is enough. There is no need to make a difference whether one is talking about a woman or a man.

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