When Jeremy first came out as non-binary, they trialed using they/them pronouns for just under a week before switching to zie/zir pronouns. I was pleased in one way because they’d chosen the same pronouns as my then best friend (now ex-boyfriend). The rest of me was disappointed because no one had ever heard of those pronouns before. If they weren’t mishearing zie for he and zir for her, I was getting “what did you just say?” and “how do you use that?” at the best and complete ignoring the pronouns at the worst. It tended to be me that got the comments simply because Jeremy doesn’t usually refer to themself in third person although they got an earful and a half at school.
Now, after two years of explaining to pretty much everyone what zie and zir are, how to use them, and why Jeremy’s using them in the first place (all of this with their permission), they’ve switched back to they and them. My first thought was ‘cool… easier pronouns’ and my second was ‘damn, I’ll need to reexplain to all my friends… but at least it’ll be easier’. Famous last words and all of that.
My Mom and sister’s first reactions were they is plural, which is true but not completely. The English language has plenty of wiggle room and people from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Austen have used singular they. It was fairly common in the 16th century too (according to the Oxford dictionary). And it’s not like the English language is static. You used to be only used as a plural pronoun, with thou as singular. I’m sure people can handle the transition to using singular they too.
Then I needed to talk to a mental health care professional. You know, someone who should have regular involvement with the LGBTQ community considering the depression statistics.
“My offspring’s name is Jeremy. They’re 19 years old,” I explained with Jeremy standing beside me.
The woman proceeded to glance, bewildered, around the room for an extra offspring. “They?” she asked hesitantly.
Because this isn’t 2016 and no one’s heard of singular they before. Although, considering she wasn’t the first or last person confused over this, maybe most people haven’t.
I think the weirdest and funniest thing is there seems to be a subset of people who think I’m forcing Jeremy to pretend to be trans for some unknown reason. I don’t get any money for this blog (or for spouting my mouth on Facebook for that matter) and Jeremy’s not meek and laid back; they are tenacious with strongly held views. To be fair, their mildest view, in one way, is regarding gender as they don’t particularly care what pronouns they’re called… as long as it’s not incessantly “he/him”. But that’s because Jeremy doesn’t hold firmly to any gender and think all genders should be abolished. And that’s *cough* a strongly held view on their part. I’ve explained to them multiple times that many other people like having a gender and identify strongly with their gender (myself included). It whooshes right over their head. According to them, gender is the root of societal evil and that’s that. Alrighty then.
If Jeremy was male, there would be no way anyone could miss it because they’d be telling everyone within ear shot that I’d lost my mind and couldn’t handle them being he. It would be their only topic and one everyone under the sun would know about. But they aren’t and they don’t. If the people who think I’m forcing them would try using female pronouns even once, and saw their smile, they’d know this for themselves.
I have one quirk regarding the pronoun and that’s treating singular they the same, grammatically, as plural they. “They’re going to the store” sounds so much better than “they’s going to the store” and it makes me sound so much less like I stumbled into a sitcom about the deep south (which would even more farther south than Oshawa or even Sarnia). If Jeremy felt strongly about grammar, I’d swallow my mild discomfort and singular they every contraction, but they don’t.
So, after two years of thinking they/them would be so much easier to explain, I’ve discovered it’s not. The good part is I’ve at least got Jane Austen on my side.