Gender Revolution Transforms Pronoun Use

Hello, my name is Randy. I use pronouns he/him.

That is a suggested new way to introduce myself. This lets everyone know what pronoun to refer to me as based on what gender identity I prefer to align with. Maybe I’ll add my pronoun the next time I wear a name tag.

Gender identity has taken on a new significance. For example, transgender people identify with a different gender than was assigned to them at birth (cisgender). Instead of using he/him, the person might use she/her, another gender or none at all. And that can lead to confusion in the use of pronouns.

Remember that pronouns are short words we use instead of other nouns to make our speech and writing faster and less repetitious. Look at these two sentences: “John is here. John drove John’s car.” We already know about John after the first sentence. So we can use pronouns for John in the second sentence: “He drove his car.”

If John identifies with a gender such as bi-gender (having two genders at the same time) you would say, “They dove their car.” This is the part that bothers me. It sounds wrong and Ip wouldn’t know when to use it unless I knew the person preferred it.

Let’s look at some common words we use to define people. Mister (Mr.) before a name tells us the person is a male adult. Using it implies respect. “Mr. Johnson” is respectful whereas “Johnson” used alone could be disrespectful (“Johnson!”). But Mister, Master or Mr. tells us nothing more about the person including if the male being referred to is married or not.

Now look at Miss and Mrs., both shortened versions of Mistress which originally referred to an adult woman. But Miss evolved to imply a single woman while Mrs. implies a married woman. The title Miss made some single women feel socially inferior and seen as sexual prey. Married women (Mrs.) were expected to just have kids and stay at home. 

So that’s where Ms. came to be. It was intended to be used like Mr. and not indicate marital status. Unfortunately, Ms. was mostly used to replace Miss and is not used much anymore. Mrs. endures but the reference “Mrs. Randy Johnson” only indicates that I have a wife. “Mrs. Catherine Johnson” says she is married but we don’t know to whom. Mr. has no such equivalents so remains indefinite.

With the many different gender designations that fit under the LGBTQ umbrella, we are seeing a plethora of gender types ranging from agender (does not identify with any gender) to omnigender (having or experiencing all genders). One list I saw had 72 gender definitions in addition to male and female. So, 74 total. You could look it up.

I’m OK with this and I expect the list to grow. Just don’t expect me to memorize them all or be able to discern which of the 74 someone is. Until now, the only issue for me was when a person’s looks and clothing do not reveal whether the person is male or female. And it’s no help if the person’s first name is Pat, Sam or Chris.

I’m cicgender because I use the gender assigned to me at birth (male). Since male is singular I don’t use they/them. I heard of parents who haven’t yet decided what gender their 11-year-old is.

It is suggested that we introduce ourselves with our pronouns in hopes that the other person will do the same. However, the person might be offended by this as a not-so-subtle way to determine someone’s sexual identity. It is also recommended that if your name could refer to either a male or female, you should disclose your gender in any correspondence.

It’s long been acceptable to use they or their when talking about someone we don’t know as in, “The postal carrier will deliver the mail and they will drive their assigned truck.” This is because we don’t always know if we’re talking about one or more persons and what gender the person is. Plus, our language does not have a convenient pronoun to use when we don’t know the person’s gender.

If we really wanted to keep the reference singular we could instead use “he or she” or “his or hers”, but that’s cumbersome and it doesn’t cover gender identifiers such as agender (no gender), non-binary (neither male nor female) or omnigender (all genders). So, we use plural pronouns.

Today, I might read the following in a newspaper: “The suspect, John Q. Public, has been charged with murder. They have turned themselves in.” In the past I would have considered this an incorrect use of pronouns since I know the subject is singular and very likely male (John). However, I have to wonder if the news source is telling me that the suspect doesn’t identify as male or female, or that they just made a mistake. 

So, should we create new pronouns for these instances? Well, they already exist and are called neopronouns (new pronouns). Instead of she/her/hers/herself or he/his/his/himself you could use ze/zir/zirs/zirself. There are many others and no standard has been established. At least none that I can figure out.

Ain’t our language great? If we can figure this out, maybe we can finally learn to use the metric system.

So, what’s your pronoun?

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