By: Teri Truog, Lower School Teacher
That’s a common, but relatively new question we all hear these days.
As a middle-aged woman who considers herself open-minded and inclusive, I do admit I am not adept with pronouns - yet. I sometimes struggle, not only in being able to fully understand the meaning behind them, but mainly in wanting to be sure I honor and respect people’s gender identities and not offend anyone.
They has been the hardest for me to understand and use correctly. I attributed that to the grammar at first, since the concept of singular “they” was so foreign to me. However, fellow HA teacher Michael McConnell brought to my attention how the singular they has origins dating back to the 14th century, referring to an unnamed person in a poem titled William and the Werewolf. (Incidentally - as I type ‘they', my computer keeps underlining it, trying to tell me I am not in proper agreement. Even my Mac is not hip to the singular pronoun ‘they' yet!)
Michael also made an interesting analogy to marriage: Since we have a mostly female staff at Horizon, he has had to adjust to numerous marital name changes. Adapting to pronouns is not difficult to do; it merely reflects a desire to show respect towards others. I also had a recent classroom discussion with my students about the meaning of the title Ms. When explaining the various reasons why a woman would choose that title before her name, one student asked why every woman wouldn’t just use Ms. because it is easier? I later thought that my student’s question illustrated how young people today have such an easier time understanding gender and marital status fluidity.
I talk about pronouns with my 22-year-old daughter often, and our conversations have helped me immeasurably. The conversations have not always been comfortable, but it is precisely that discomfort that is necessary in order to truly grow. I know that many of my generation may roll their eyes or joke at these pronouns, but if the reason for these pronouns is ultimately for a good purpose, isn’t it worth stepping out of our comfort zone? What is a more benevolent purpose than to foster belonging and being one’s true self? Isn’t the goal, for us as parents, educators, and humans, to leave the world a better place for our children? As a woman raised in a cisgender-focused world, I am excited for the future. This generation will grow up truly realizing that they can be anything and anyone they want to be. Limitations by sex, race, sexual orientation, or gender will be antiquated memories of the past. Self-expression, inclusivity, and equality will be the norm in our country.
So they (singular pronoun) is welcome, and hopefully they (self-expression, inclusivity, and equality) are here to stay!