Is It Easy To Remember A Person’s Pronouns? No, But Change Isn’t Easy
By Paula Schuck
Photo © kytawillets/Twenty20
Jun 29, 2021
Stick with me here. I swear I am just doing my best most days trying to keep up with the rapid-fire pace of change and I am on the steepest of learning curves as a parent of two teenagers.
Late last year both of my teenagers started saying: “Mom you should have your pronouns in your bio!”
So, I gave that some thought at first. I mean wasn’t it obvious to everyone that she and her were my pronouns? I thought it was assumed.
But everyone knows what they say about assumptions.
Anyway, as both teens sort of articulately stated: “It doesn’t really matter if you think that people know or assume your pronouns. It matters that you are also signalling that you recognize diversity and are an ally.”
So, I added them to my Instagram bio and placed them in a couple of other public spots and that was that. Then maybe two weeks later one of the teens came to me to state: “My pronouns are now they/them.”
To be super honest, I can’t recall what I said exactly. It might have been something to the effect of "OK." I believe my response at that time was nonchalant, dull, or completely unmemorable as I’d already felt something shifting with my youngest child.
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'I don’t really identify with she or her'
It was implementing the pronouns in day-to-day speech that was trickier for me.
Let’s be clear here, I am not looking for support, and have no time for your hate or negative reaction. This is just how it happened for us and where we're at. Most days, we are basically trying to survive, and occasionally thrive, while parenting teens who are growing at a rapid pace during an extremely unique period — a global pandemic — while trying to make sense of the MeToo and Black Lives Matter, movements, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and the horrors of mass graves found this year at numerous Indian Residential Schools in Canada. A number that will continue to grow.
But we're doing the work. And we're talking things through.
Figuring Out Who You Are
Exploring identity is a normal part of growing up as a teen. We all went through those sometimes gruelling years.
So ultimately, if pronouns matter to my child, then they matter to me. Period.
But it's a definite hurdle to work my way over, even just given my occupation. My background as a writer and my 50 years of life on Earth have taught me that they and them are plural pronouns to be used specifically in a certain context. My kids joke that I am a grammar nerd and I suppose that’s accurate, but even grammar nerds can learn to do better, slowly.
Even the tools I use as a writer are changing. Not that long ago Merriam Webster dictionary changed its written definition of ‘they.’ One of those definitions today is: “used to refer to a single person whose gender is intentionally not revealed.”
If dictionaries are changing and trying to figure pronouns out, then I can also. Here’s how we are trying and sometimes failing but doing our best to honour pronouns.
From the CBC Parents archives, Cory Silverberg writes about talking to kids about gender here.
My older daughter, 19, was the first one to recognize, adjust and change her language respecting her sibling’s wishes. For a few days, it felt extremely odd to hear "they are upstairs" and not "she is upstairs in her room." Sometimes I hear "they are upstairs" and I am genuinely puzzled. It gives me pause, but then I eventually figure out the intention behind the pronoun and my brain catches up to figure out the meaning. When I am having conversations with friends and I use they/them to refer to my teenager, a friend often reacts in a confused manner, but after explaining they usually try to adjust speech to reflect what they have learned. Because we're all learning, and it takes time for change to occur.
Throughout the day we each make mistakes, but then we typically pause and correct those and find the right pronoun again. In fact, I’ve heard my teen stumble on a friend’s pronouns from time to time too. We all do it.
While I’d like to be able to flip a switch and remember the right pronoun always, I am not there yet. To be honest, it doesn’t feel natural yet, but the more times I write they and them the easier it gets. Practice, I suppose, helps many of us remember.
Once, I heard my youngest telling a peer: “It's OK, everyone needs time to adjust.” I thought that was a graceful, honest response. While my child doesn’t always offer us as parents the same kind of patient reaction when we stumble, I hope they recognize we are trying our best because we love them more than words.
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