Serendipitydodah for Moms – Home of the Mama Bears is a private Facebook group for moms of lgbtq kids. This series will address common questions that often get asked by members of the group. For more information about the group email lizdyer55@
Someone recently mentioned to me that they were very uncomfortable using “they/them” pronouns for someone because there were sentences where it sounded weird to them. They asked if I thought it would be offensive to use the person’s name instead of using “they/them” in place of “he/him” or “she/her”
My response was that it is always okay to substitute someone’s name for pronouns. However, I warned them, if they consistently try to avoid using someone’s personal pronouns it is more likely they would end up making more mistakes. It is extremely difficult and awkward to avoid using pronouns and, therefore, fairly obvious when someone is trying to avoid doing so. That obvious avoidance can in itself be offensive to someone who has shared their personal pronouns.
Instead of saying:
“They are coming by for dinner. They asked to bring the salad. This is so them.”
You would have to say:
“Billy is coming by for dinner and asked if Billy could bring the salad. This is so Billy.”
More than likely you would probably end up saying:
“Billy is coming by for dinner and asked if he could bring the salad. This is so Billy.”
And that would mean that you used the wrong pronoun which would be offensive.
Therefore, my advice is: if one really wants to honor and respect a person they should use their correct personal pronouns.
If you make a mistake you can simply apologize and correct yourself. (i.e. “oops, I meant to say them”) and go on.
Here’s some more thoughts about personal pronouns:
In English, whether we realize it or not, people frequently refer to others by using pronouns.
Often, people make assumptions about the gender of another person based on the person’s appearance or name, but those assumptions are not always correct.
If someone shares their pronouns with you, it’s meant to disrupt the idea of making assumptions, and to provide you with the information you need in order to refer to them appropriately.
Using someone’s correct personal pronouns is a way to respect them and create an inclusive environment, just as using a person’s name can be a way to respect them.
Just as it can be offensive to call someone by the wrong name, it can be offensive to use the wrong pronouns for someone.
Actively refusing to use the pronouns someone has stated that they go by could imply the oppressive and offensive notion that intersex, transgender, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people do not or should not exist.
It is worth noting that a person who goes by “they” could actually be a man, a woman, both, neither, or something else entirely. However, people’s genders tend to be a private issue, therefore, the sharing of pronouns should not be taken as an invitation to ask for potentially private information about someone’s gender.
What about grammar?
There is nothing grammatically wrong with using “they” as a singular pronoun. In English, we already use singular “they” all the time when the gender of a person is unknown. Say you see some money on the ground and pick it up. You might say: “Oh, someone dropped their money here. I’ll set it aside for them, I bet they are looking everywhere!”
Using “he or she” and “his or hers” in this situation is awkward, so we use singular “they” instead.
When someone uses “they/them” pronouns, all you have to do is apply that same sentence construction:
“Oh, Desmond dropped their money here. I’ll set it aside for them, I bet they are looking everywhere!”
Major dictionaries have recognized singular “they” as grammatically correct for years. The word “they” has been used as a singular pronoun since at least the 16th century, and some argue it goes back even earlier. The AP Style Guide also allows the usage of singular “they” in cases where a subject doesn’t identify as male or female.
There are certainly ways to avoid using singular “they” and some people are still insistent on doing so. However, in the end it takes a lot more linguistic gymnastics to not use pronouns and that makes it much more likely that offensive mistakes will be made more often.
So, next time you are faced with using “they” in the singular, you don’t have to worry about proper grammar, because singular “they” is grammatically correct.
Last but certainly not least … Why is it important to get pronouns right?
Using the pronouns that someone has shared with you affirms the identity of the person. It can be a difficult step for someone to find it in themselves to acknowledge their identity. More than likely they’ve had to find the courage to share the fact that they don’t fit into the binary world and that can be very difficult because as a whole the world is not supportive of intersex, transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming people.
When you get an intersex, transgender, non-binary or gender non-conforming person’s pronouns right you bring much needed relief to their emotional and psychological well being. The simple act of using the correct pronouns may give them the courage to keep moving forward and living their life as their most authentic self.
Recent studies have even shown that correct pronoun usage can dramatically decrease the depression and suicidal tendencies that are so prevalent among LGBTQ youth.
Therefore, as I said earlier, if you really want to honor and respect a person use their correct personal pronouns. It is the kind, loving, respectful thing to do.
Serendipitydodah for Moms – Home of the Mama Bears is a private Facebook group for moms of lgbtq kids. Our official motto is “Better Together” and our nickname is “Mama Bears”
The group is private so only members can see who is in the group and what is posted in the group. It was started in June 2014 and as of July 2019 has more than 6,500 members. For more info about the private facebook group email lizdyer55@