robertogreco + they   2

Gender "pronoun war" is about freedom for sure, but not free speech - NOW Magazine
"In 2000, I started a new job, and on my first day of work I got up the nerve to ask my co-workers to try using the pronoun “they” to help me make the space I needed. And help they did.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, in a cluttered corner office at a community health centre in Winnipeg, an oddball team of sexual health educators did the unthinkable: they just listened. They just believed me that it mattered. They took my word for it that I was not deriving pleasure from imposing random meaningless limits on their linguistic freedom. They learned to adapt; I learned something, too. We didn’t realize it was so earth-shattering.

Did my new co-workers understand why I needed this? I really don’t know, but clearly they didn’t think that was the most important issue. We don’t need to understand something in order to sense the value it holds for others. In fact, the ability to treat experiences that we don’t understand with care, is a marker of the kind of society I want to live in.

What would have happened if, as a reply, my new co-workers had instead pulled out the organizational policies and said, “You can’t make me”? I’m grateful that I don’t know. They would simply never have behaved that way.

At that job, our task was to teach the sexual health curriculum in Manitoba’s high schools. The teens we worked with didn’t seem to notice that my co-presenters called me “they.” We came to their class, we talked about relationships and birth control, dating violence and HIV, racism and homophobia, we answered their urgent, timid, voice-cracking questions as honestly as we could, and we headed home.

But when we visited what were known as the “special needs” classrooms, I noticed something different. Here, for some reason, the students corrected one another without being prompted, they used “they” without explanation or fanfare.

Why were these kids, labelled with an “intellectual disability,” effortlessly able to do what others are unable or unwilling to? Maybe these kids intuitively understood something about respect, through its painful absence in their own lives. Maybe they had never been led to believe in the first place that their freedom trumped that of others."

"Just as the Black Lives Matter movement demands of white people, and as the Standing Rock protest demands of settlers, those who move easily through a gendered world that blocks and stops and harms others at every turn, are simply not “free” to ignore injustice.

Fortunately, while the internet argues on, most non-binary folks are not waiting around. They are miles ahead, busy creating space for themselves and others, building the society they want to live in. I hope, like me, they get to have moments of freedom when they can see that the society they long for is, sometimes, already here."

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gender  pronouns  they  2017  jakepyne  listening  understanding  experience  society  policy  disabilities  disability  freedom  justice  socialjustice 
november 2017 by robertogreco
Michigan Today » That’s what they say
"One of my colleagues and I get into heated debates in the hall about whether or not the pronoun “they” can be singular. I say it can, and he vehemently disagrees.

What we’re talking about here is often called the “singular generic pronoun question.” In English, we have the pronoun “he” for males, “she” for females, and “it” for inanimate objects; but what do you do when you’re referring to a person of unknown or unspecified gender?

We could take a sentence like, “A teacher should learn _____ students’ names.”

“His” suggests the teacher is male. “Her” suggests the teacher is female. “His or her” seems a bit cumbersome. So what do we do?

In the spoken language many of us would say, “A teacher should learn their students’ names.” We would use the singular “they.” Now some people will retort that “they” cannot be singular. Here’s my evidence that it can. Let’s imagine I say to you, “I was talking to a friend of mine and they said it’s a terrible movie.” For most people, that sentence would go unremarked. I was talking to “a” friend of mine and “they” said something about the movie. I’m clearly talking about one person. Perhaps I don’t want you to know whether that person is male or female, or it doesn’t matter, or the friend’s gender does not fit into a male-female binary. And so I say “they.” A singular “they.”

What about the argument that it’s impossible for a pronoun to be both singular and plural at the same time? Well, I would say we already have evidence in the language that it’s very possible. Let’s take the second-person pronoun “you.” The pronoun “you” can be singular: if I’m talking to one person, I would say, “You are very wonderful.” The pronoun “you” can be plural: if I’m talking to a whole group of people, I would (or could) say, “You are very wonderful.” (Of course, many varieties of English now include new second-person plural forms such as “y’all,” “yinz,” and “you guys.”) And standard varieties of English use the same verb “are” (i.e., “you are”) for both one person and many people.

“They” has done the same thing as “you” in terms of taking on both a singular and plural meaning. And it’s actually been doing that for centuries. Jane Austen used singular “they”; Shakespeare used singular “they.” I have found examples of singular “they” going back into the Middle English period (Chaucer’s era).

So English speakers solved the problem of how to refer to a person of unknown or unspecified gender a long time ago. It was the eighteenth century when grammarians told English speakers and writers that singular “they” was not a good idea, not “correct grammar,” and that we should use “he” as a generic instead. It was the 1970s with second-wave feminism that singular “he” was (accurately) identified as sexist, and many style guides recommended that we use “he or she” (or rewrite the sentence entirely to avoid the construction). And many of us may still use “he or she” or “s/he” when we write. But when we speak, we tend to use “they”; multiple studies have shown that the vast majority of the time most of us use singular “they.”

So it’s a problem that we as English speakers have already solved. The interesting question is, at what point will we be told that we’re allowed to write singular “they” down in more formal, edited contexts? And if you watch closely, you’ll see that singular “they” is becoming more and more common. You’ll now see singular “they” in newspapers and magazines, and sometimes even academic prose, as it slowly makes its way into more formal writing, out of the speech that we use every day."
annecurzan  language  english  gender  2012  they  pronouns 
november 2015 by robertogreco

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