Last week, a... (ahem)... lively discussion on nonbinary pronouns resulted in a lot of feelings from those of us who are actual living, breathing nonbinary people. This follow up is good, with some resources on the subject.
I’ve written on the subject of pronouns on my personal blog, and I believe I’ve expressed all I want to say on the topic here (on cis folks giving us “permission” to use singular they) and here (on singular they and being grammatically correct). At this point, we really should be well beyond quibbling over the use of singular they as a personal pronoun. The discussion has been going on for years, and frankly, I’m weary.
Instead, we need to be pushing the conversation forward. There are dozens of excellent discussions to be had about nonbinary characters. This is at least in part due to: 1) the myriad nonbinary identities that exist and 2) the fact that we are not a monolith.
For example, some of us feel we should also go beyond representing nonbinary identity with aliens, robots, or creatures. Others enjoy the freedom in exploring gender with nonhuman characters. People have pointed out the problematic trope of magical or science-based gender shifting, where the entire body changes to “match” the gender. Meanwhile, some readers still enjoy this and feel there are new ways to explore it. There are readers who prefer if no reference is made that would indicate a character’s birth-assigned gender, and there are readers who appreciate when a writer understands that birth-assigned gender affects how nonbinary people are perceived.
The thing is, this was never about pronouns. Most people genuinely have difficulty grasping what nonbinary genders are, let alone writing them effectively. A common mistake is the belief that all nonbinary people are entirely devoid of gender, are perceived as androgynous, or “cross-dress” to express ourselves. The truth is, while sometimes those things are true, they aren’t always and not all nonbinary people even want them to be.
If we really want to move beyond tired questions about pronouns, then we have to be willing to set them aside. We have to accept that singular they and neopronouns exist and stop fighting them. Then we can begin the hard work of grappling with bigger issues.
For anyone interested, here is a sample of my writing that includes use of singular they with multiple characters.