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Pronouns Seem Kinda Antiquated, Don’t They?

It’s a touch dusty around here. I know … I know … my stupid New Year’s Resolution is totally interfering with my “me time” (i.e. blog time). I need to put in an extra hour of walking in at night to be able to hit those 8,000 to 10,000 steps. And then afterwards, I have a spurt of adrenaline that is nice but not nice enough to provide me with any creative writing juice that will keep me up past my bed time. Yet once I get into bed, I end up feeling restless from this aforementioned adrenaline. And well, today I am feeling quite resentful about the whole thing as you can plainly read.

So I have decided to say f*ck it “too bad, so sad,” to my New Year’s Resolution for tonight and instead I am treating myself to some writing time before 10 pm. It may not go so well — not only is my body out of shape, but my blogging chops feel a bit that way too. But whatever. Let’s give it a go, shall we?


This 48-year-old Australian identifies as neuter and is the first person in the state of NSW to be neither man nor woman in the eyes of the government.

Photo credit: Wolter Peeters / Source

One of the most difficult things about learning the French language is to figure out when to use a feminine or masculine pronoun. For non-native French speakers, it is just plainly nonsensical that an inanimate object like a chair or a tree needs to be identified as masculine or feminine. But worse that the plain nonsensical nature is that you have to set these things to memory or you sound like a total amateur to a francophone. When I would feel frustrated in trying to learn this, my father (or a teacher? I can’t remember who told me, actually) would comfort me by telling me that to learn the German language, you need to know three types of pronouns — masculine, feminine, and neuter. This did not ease my frustration in the least.

One would think that this kind of frustration would be entirely non-existent in learning the English language. But lately, I’ve realized, that my four-year-old son is experiencing precisely the same thing. Just as I used to find that a gender was randomly attached to inanimate objects, he is finding that gender seems randomly attached to people too. You see, he is at a stage where he is supposed to be properly using “he” or “she.” And the means by which this is being explained to him is to use drawings or photos of children. If the child in question has long hair, he is supposed to identify that child as a “she.” Yet, in real life, our son knows many boys with long hair and many girls with long hair. Similarly, if the child is wearing a pink shirt, that child is a “she” and yet, he himself, enjoys wearing the colour pink. See his confusion?

In recognizing why he is confused and why this task of using “he” or “she” in proper context is frustrating, I started to wonder if pronouns were getting to be a touch antiquated. I started to wonder if one day we would simply dispense of them entirely. And then perhaps we could adopt a “neuter” pronoun, like in the German language — but for everything and everyone. The more I thought about it, the more I thought it was a fabulous idea.

But like most fabulous ideas, someone had already come up with it. You see, I came across an article on transgendered people in one of my magazines (Ryerson Review of Journalism, Winter 2013 issue). The crux of the article was that a growing number of transgendered people would like to be referred to as “they,” rather than “he” or “she.” I thought — bingo! There’s the answer! Everyone can be a “they” — straight, gay, transgendered … just everyone. Here’s a snippet:

“Elisha Lim, a well-known Canadian queer activist  graphic novelist and celebrated artist, hoped the transition into living as gender queer–an identity that rejects the limitations of the binary female and male, and trades “she” for “they” and “her” for “their”–would be relatively easy. The pronoun change was quickly becoming a contemporary trend in Lim’s community: many of their acquaintances were already using gender neutral pronouns.” — excerpt from “In Transition” by Alyssa Garrison

Further, I then happened to see a documentary on Friday night on people that are born intersex (born with sex organs that are not distinctly male or female). In this doc, I learned that when babies are born with ambiguous sex organs, parents are often advised to select a male or female gender and the doctors surgically modify the baby’s organs to match. Then life is intended to go on as normal, with no one knowing any differently. (Except of course, it doesn’t generally work out that way. But that’s a whole other blog post.) The point here is that we like to think of gender as a black and white thing, but really, it would seem that nature did not intend it to be so. Rather, it would seem that male and female are at the extreme ends of a rich continuum.

If this is the case, and our society becomes much more accepting of the notion of a gender continuum, then the use of “they” (as chosen by Lim’s community above) might just catch on, don’t you think? I certainly thought so. Until I read through the article and found it so confusing! I couldn’t tell who the pronoun “they” was referring to half the time, and whether it was intended to communicate a single individual or a group of people. So, I’m all for abolishing gendered pronouns, but we need to come up with something better than “they.”

If you’re on board, let’s make this happen quick, okay? I have a confused and frustrated little boy who thinks this whole she/he thing is just a whole lot-o-nonsense.


  1. Pam Dillon says:

    There’s a novel by Jeffrey Eugenides, called Middlesex, that deals with intersex. I certainly believe there is a continuum and sooner or later global culture and social interaction will better reflect that reality. Preferably sooner.

  2. Sarah McCormack says:

    Middlesex was a good book!

    what about “thee”… or perhaps that is too Shakespearean?

  3. Okay, I definitely need to read Middlesex now! I’ve heard of it, but haven’t picked it up yet.

  4. Brenda A. says:

    I have a good friend who identifies as queer. She is fine with the pronoun she. I have no hang ups with whatever a person wishes to call themselves and I hope more open attitudes will be embraced. Individuals are unique, that is why life is interesting.

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