Okay, so, I don’t actually hate pronouns. Hate is an awfully strong emotion for a part of speech. Furthermore, I recognize that pronouns are near and dear to many people’s hearts, and I completely respect people’s rights to whatever pronouns they wish to use. I’ll even admit that pronouns are convenient. After all, I’d rather say or write a simple one-syllable word than repeat a long word over, and over, and over again.
Nevertheless, I’m not a big fan of pronouns. The real problem is that I can’t seem to find a pronoun that I like. Many people are really attached to a certain set of pronouns; I’m told they feel comfortable, and something just feels right about them. I wish those people all the best, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them.
I, however, don’t know that feeling. I’ve never found a pronoun that has felt like home. For most of my life, I simply used female pronouns because that’s what everyone had always used for me. Just about a year ago, though, someone actually asked me which pronouns I preferred. I was completely floored by the question. I had never thought about it before; I had never really, seriously entertained the notion of caring about which pronouns I used or of using other pronouns.
At the time, I answered that, while I generally used female pronouns, I didn’t actually care one way or the other. The more I thought about it, however, the more I began to care. And as I began to question my gender, I realized that all of a sudden, I had strong reactions to which pronouns people used for me.
It began with a slight discomfort with female pronouns that has gradually increased to the point where I now mentally cringe every time someone refers to me as “she” or “her.” I no longer identify as a woman, and every time I hear “she” or “her,” every time I am lumped in with the “ladies,” I am forcibly reminded that the most of the world still views me as a woman. I can go out in all “boys” clothes, lines as flat as I can achieve, with freshly cropped her, and still get called “Miss.” It’s about enough to make me scream. But I digress.
Once I realized that female pronouns no longer felt right, I knew I needed to have something else. After all, it’s easier to get people to switch which pronouns they use for me than to get them to completely eliminate pronoun usage for me. The obvious other choice–the only other standard pronoun choice that everyone recognizes–would be male pronouns, but those just don’t quite fit, either. Part of my uneasiness with male pronouns comes from the fact that I don’t identify as a man, and I know that for most people, male pronouns and men go hand-in-figurative-hand. People who hear male pronouns being used for me will likely make uncomfortable assumptions about my gender identity. So, male pronouns are out as well.
What does that leave? Well, I refuse to use “it” as a pronoun because I personally feel that it denies me my humanity, although I respect other people’s decision to use “it” for themselves. Unfortunately, the English language does not really have commonly recognized, gender-neutral, third-person singular pronouns. There is a movement to use “ze” or “sie” (or a number of other variations) instead of “he” or “she” and to use “hir” in place of “his” or “her.” However, although I support the movement for commonly recognized gender-neutral pronouns, those pronouns feel a bit too foreign for me to be personally comfortable with them.
I’ve also heard people use a variety of other words as pronouns, including “plant” and “monster*,” although that’s not something I want to do at this particular moment in time. Therefore, I find myself left with standard English third-person plural pronouns–they/them/their. I initially had to overcome a fair amount of resistance from the part of myself that is rather hung up on using proper grammar, but I eventually got over that. After all, process of elimination lead to me to they/them/their as the only options I could accept, and I decided that the discomfort of using grammatically incorrect pronouns was far more tolerable than using female pronouns.
So, there we have it: they, them, and their. “They” isn’t perfect, I’m not in love with “them,” and “their” don’t feel like home, but they are the best of a bad bunch, as the saying goes, and currently, that’s enough for me.
*In the essay “Monster Trans,” Boots Potential uses “monster” as a pronoun.
Boots Potential. “Monster Trans.” From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation: FTM and Beyond. San Francisco: Manic D Press, 2004. 32-39.