Them/They: A Writer’s Nightmare

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The BBC has advised its staff to add their preferred pronouns after their name in, for example, an email signature. This is to make transgender and non-binary staff members feel more at home. Hence, someone who is non-binary (does not identify as male or female) might prefer to be referred to as them/they rather than he/him or she/her and would add the them/they pronoun set after their name.

The classes of gender classification are growing with more and more celebrities declaring themselves to be outside the fully-male fully-female specification. What started as LGBT in the 1980s has now expanded to LGBTTQQIAAP (see Wiki’s article to unravel this initialism) and I understand and have sympathy with those who do not want to be labelled by a simple gender-defining pronoun. But think of those of us who write blogs and books. What if I want to write a novel about an LGBT community and be politically correct in my use of pronouns? Let’s create a number of stereotypical LGBT characters but note I mean nothing offensive in the following descriptions. My sole purpose is to explore the confusion that can arise from a wider set of preferred pronouns. Here is my cast:

Steve: A cisgender heterosexual male (a male whose gender identity matches the sex assigned at birth – what we might call a ‘regular bloke’) who drinks beer, chases women, enjoys playing golf and watching football. Gender assignment at birth: male. Preferred pronouns: he/him.

Jill: a cisgender heterosexual female who enjoys shopping for clothes and shoes, trying out different makeup products, watching romantic movies, and projecting a sexy image. Gender assignment at birth: female. Preferred pronouns: she/her.

Pandora: a lesbian who identifies more on the male side of the spectrum, wears dark slinky clothing and keeps her hair short. Gender assignment at birth: female. Preferred pronouns: them/they.

Polly: a lesbian who identifies more on the female side of the spectrum, wears sexy clothes, lots of jewellery and has her hair and nails done every week. Gender assignment at birth: female. Preferred pronouns: she/her.

Marvin: a slim gay man who identifies with the female side of the spectrum, keeps fit, wears tight-fitting floral shirts open to the navel, and drinks mostly bottled water. Gender assignment at birth: male. Preferred pronouns: them/they.

Clint: a gay man who identifies with the male side of the spectrum, body builder, wears armless white T-shirts, used to smoke Malboro cigarettes. Gender assignment at birth: male. Preferred pronouns: he/him.

Tiko: a non-binary person who alternates between wearing cisgender male clothes and cisgender female clothes, and has a hairstyle that falls over and conceals one eye. Gender assignment at birth: female. Preferred pronouns: them/they.

binky (lower case b): a gender fluid person who, at times, wears clothes similar to Tiko but shuns anything coloured blue or pink, preferring gender-neutral colours such as yellow, brown and green. Gender assignment at birth: male. Preferred pronouns: them/they.

Kai: seemingly a non-binary dog who although assigned male at birth never learnt to cock his leg and displayed no interest in cisgender female dogs in heat. Preferred pronouns: them/they

Now here’s a short story involving my main characters.

A Story of Love, Friendship and Heartbreaks

Steve, Jill, Pandora, Polly, Marvin, Clint, Tiko and binky, each in their early twenties, had known each other ever since primary school. They were friends and often went around as a group, night-clubbing in town, catching the latest blockbuster in the cinema, or just socialising in their local pub. As they matured through their teenage years, occasionally members of the group would pair off and explore their emerging sexuality. Steve was initially attracted to Pandora – he liked them slinky clothes – and, for a while, Pandora reciprocated but then them decided that Marvin was more they type of partner. Marvin, however, rebuffed them advances, favouring binky, especially when them was dressed in them yellow Kill Bill outfit. But binky was confused. Them felt nothing for Marvin. Them was turned off by the smell of cigarettes on they shirts and them confided in Tiko that them preferred taking Kai on long walks where them could let them off the lead and let them run free until them was exhausted.

In the meantime, Jill set her sights on Clint, determined to help him understand and enjoy the full pleasures of dallying with a full-featured cisgender female in her prime. For a while, Clint enjoyed Jill’s overtures but then he discovered that, despite the entrancing aroma of Jill’s latest perfume, he found Polly to be more in keeping with his concept of a partner and he made a play for her. Polly, however, was desperately trying to entice Tiko into her boudoir but them was having none of it. Them had feelings for Steve on Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays and for Jill on Tuesdays, Thursday and Saturdays, neither of whom responded with anything other than friendship and deep meaningful conversations about life, the universe and the price of fish. Poor old Tiko. Them consoled themself by joining binky when them took Kai on them long walks.

In the end, it all sorted itself out. Steve and Jill became lifelong partners and raised three children – a boy, a girl and a transgender. Marvin and Clint entered into a civil partnership and began thinking about becoming a muddy (a cross between a mummy and a daddy) and dammy (a cross between a daddy and a mummy). Pandora and Polly lived together for a while but broke up when Polly discovered Pandora snored very loudly in bed and refused a palatal implant. Them said them could not tolerate plastic rods in them upper palate so she stormed out and was last seen on a flight to New York carrying three large multi-coloured check-in bags.

As for binky and Tiko, they paired up, bought a second-hand rainbow-coloured camper van and went on a 2-year European road trip. Kai went with them and discovered them had a fondness for pampered French lady poodles. binky and Tiko were over-joyed that them had found they orientation.

End of story.

Do you see the problem? There is no solution other than not to write novels populated by a community of LGBTTQQIAAP people. I wonder what Shakespeare would have made of all this?

Ben Bennetts, he/him.

(^_^)