“Where is Susie Q?”
“They went to the store. They’re out of eggs. Their recipe calls for two eggs.”
Susie Q may be genderqueer, meaning they do not identify as strictly a man or a woman. They may be transgender or transitioning. Either way, it is appropriate to use the pronoun “they” when referring to this person because that is what Susie Q wants and is most comfortable with.
Just as it is appropriate to refer to, say, Caitlyn Jenner as “she” or Chaz Bono as “he,” it is appropriate to refer to a genderqueer person (who has specified that they do not fit the typical gender binary) as “they” when they so request.
“But that’s not grammatically correct.”
OK, let me give you an English lesson:
In the study of language, there is something called prescriptive linguistics. Prescriptive linguists focus on the grammatical rules of a language. So, if you say “I got some mad good cheese fries,” this is, prescriptively, incorrect. The correct (read: grammatical) way of saying this would be, “I have some delicious cheese fries.”
But what if you want to tell everyone that your cheese fries are “mad good”? That is descriptive linguistics, which focuses on how people actually communicate, whether in writing, by speaking, or by signing. Descriptive linguistics allows for colloquial language and components of language, like grammar. This is how slang can exist in our language. This is why you will understand me when I say “omg lmao ilysm.” This is why gender-neutral pronouns are perfectly appropriate.
I said that gender-neutral pronouns do not need to be grammatically correct because commonly-spoken English isn’t always grammatically correct.
In other words, there is no revolutionary difference between saying “My cheese fries is mad good” and “Susie-Q went to get their groceries.” Most of the time, meaning is not lost with discrepancies in grammar.
And guess what? You probably use gender-neutral pronouns to refer to people who aren’t necessarily genderqueer. You may say, “I need to e-mail them” when referring to one person whom you know or whom you do not know and do not know the gender of. So what is so weird about using these same pronouns with respect for the genderqueer community?
Gender is a complicated topic and one that should be treated with respect for individuals. Sometimes we can get so caught up in deciding if Susie Q is a man or a woman that we forget that, above all else, they are a human being. Susie Q is a person. Let them be “them.”
Denouncing gender-neutral pronouns on the basis of something as marginal as grammar (which is often overlooked anyway in daily communications) is not only disrespectful but distracts from the positive aspects of gender-neutral initiatives, like the introduction of gender-neutral bathrooms and the breakdown of unnecessarily gendered items, like toys and colors.
With the new wave of gender equality our society is experiencing today, grammar shouldn’t matter. Gender-neutral pronouns are mad cool.
Image via Celina Timmerman