Tomorrow I am going away to meditate in the woods for a while and won’t be posting here until the third week of February. But no fear, here is plenty of reading to mull over in the meantime. You can also check out my links sidebar (on the right) and find other awesome feminist and queer blogs. I’m just sayin’…
“A couple of weeks ago I got an email from a young woman, a college student, who claimed that her professor had assigned her entire class a special little assignment, for extra credits, for students who could track down my legal name and bring it to class. This young woman had tried and tried, she said, to find it online, but couldn’t, and she really wanted those extra marks. Would I be so kind as to just tell her?”
Ivan Coyote, “They is me”
Reading this opening of Ivan Coyote’s latest story, I was pretty – well, not shocked, I guess, because I wasn’t surprised. But I was upset. Sometimes I forget what it must be like living on the borders of gender, carving your own path. As I said in my previous post, reminders like these make me want to be a better trans ally. To do my little bit. And then I got to thinking about the whole grammar thing of using “they” as a singular third-person pronoun, and I got a little bit obsessed. It turns out, there is a lot of historical precedent to using gender neutral pronouns in English and a tonne of research on the subject.
Although Ivan Coyote’s wife (jealous much? hell yes!), Zena Sharman, has already compiled an amazing ‘they’ as singular pronoun reading list, I wanted to share my own (far inferior) findings on the subject. So, here you go:
A Lipstick Terrorist’s Guide to Beating the ‘they’ Doubters:
1. First of all, If you are looking for a 2-minute ‘I told-you-so’ to show the ‘they’ doubters before you move onto reading about another subject, this is the place for you. As it is made by a dictionary, any grammar snobs will be super impressed by its air of authority. I can’t embed it here because WordPress is being stupid.
2. Historical usage. Did you know that Chaucer used they as a singular pronoun in the 16th century? Did you know that Shakespeare did it too? Hell, even Jane Austen and the King James Bible did it! Who was it that said God’s word was law? I have happily plagiarised most of this information from the following website. Please go check it out for extra geek points.
3. There’s also of course the ‘accepted usage’ argument. The Oxford Dictionary itself argues that the singular they is now common in English and “widely accepted both in speech and writing”. There, go stick that up your pipe and smoke it (oh idioms, how I love you).
4. And then there’s the fact that you’re being a big transphobic plonker if you don’t use the pronouns your friends and peers ask you to. For anyone who feels that they (yes, that’s the singular they in action folks! See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?) could learn more about trans etiquette and manners, go here. I know I certainly could. And this is another really helpful resource for people who are new to having trans folks in their life.
Lastly, for a little fun, here’s a little song the Canadian singer Rae Spoon wrote that we can all sing together: