A bloke’s guide to pronouns

It is not now and never has been, but we have been conditioned to think of gender in binary terms since society was divided into hunters and gatherers. We pair off, we partner up, and we have all manner of gendered products to sell you. It’s such a stitch-up his and hers towels come with the pronouns embroidered in.

Trouble is, my brothers, there are people who don’t fit into one of those two boxes. They have always been with us, marginalised and subjugated, but lately non-binary people are finding their voices in greater numbers and demanding to be treated as equals. As human.

We have been conditioned to think of gender in binary terms.Credit:Tanya Lake

Because they are and we know it, don’t we, gentlemen?

The discrimination is real and serious. The true toll taken on those made to feel isolated and ostracised will never be known, but it is clear they have not only suffered higher rates of discrimination and persecution but greater levels of self-harm. We don’t have to look far to find heartbreaking examples of discrimination. We don’t even have to look at the past.

Part of treating people as equals, as humans, is respecting their choice of pronoun. And, fellow members of the Y chromosome club, I know some of you are having a hard time with this. I’ve seen the internet and read your messages. There are those of you who are struggling as hes and shes have become a matter of personal preference as people affirm their gender identity; what’s his today could be hers tomorrow or vice versa. Some opt for more than one, reflecting their fluidity.

“They” and “them” are causing particular grief for some of you, and there are more than a few of you who are lashing out in anger. There have been accusations of bad grammar, consternation over people’s pronouns and strange ad hominem attacks.


I have some sympathy. Like anything new, it takes some getting used to and it can sound ungrammatical. Language does devolve into unintelligible sounds and scribbles without rules; some people are still recovering from that time Captain Kirk boldly went and split an infinitive. Still, if it makes you stop and think, then that’s not a bad outcome, as there’s a person on the other end of those pronouns.

Even those who mean well will make mistakes, stumbling through conversations about various celebrities or sports stars assuming they are hes or shes. (I’m sure I owe Sam Smith an apology over something I’ve said about them.) It can be hard to keep up with who is what these days.

However, dudes, some of your responses to pronoun choices are frankly bigoted. They typically go along the lines of, “Oh, she chooses to be a they, does she? Well, I choose to identify as an apple or a falcon or a billionaire.” Others choose not to choose reality, but substitute hatred instead.

Guys, it’s a pretty dumb argument and to be blunt it’s not a great look for the rest of us. More importantly, it’s cruel and dehumanising. But you knew that, didn’t you, chaps? It was why you did it.

Being equals means we’re not special, and that’s a scary thought. The truth is we never have been. We’re no better than anyone else just because of how we were born. It’s a truth that hurts as it slowly sinks in.

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