My friend changed their name from Patrick to Patricia. They said, “Call me Pat, but I’m happier with Patricia.”
I’m going to cut to the chase here. That pair of sentences sounds wrong to me, but I’ve been down this road before and I’m pretty sure we’re all going to get used to using “they” in place of he/she. “They” is going to happen.
The reason, of course, is that binary choices are not enough. There are more genders than two. At a more visceral level there are an expanding number of our kinfolk and friends who do not relate to “he or she” anymore. They will tell you that they might once have been happy as a he or she but transition is underway. During their cognitive evolution neither pronoun is right.
“I am multiple persons in one body,” one Trans speaker explained. This multiplicity cannot be expressed by using singular pronouns. That concept really helps me accept “they” as the pronoun that applies. I imagine Patricia would be pleased to have us refer to her as she. But I could be wrong. I should ask Patricia what pronoun to use.
“They” is the growing preference.
Earlier this year the American Dialect Society voted that “they” was the word of the decade 2010-2019. Merriam Webster chose “they” as the word of the year for 2019. English teachers will catch up to these linguists before long.
We English teachers know (or ought to know) that this metamorphosis of a pronoun has happened before. Not long ago, as cultures go, the second person pronoun had both singular and plural forms. Thee, ye and thou, you were once distinctly singular or plural, but that changed, as language usage does. Now all that’s left is “you”. What’s more, the form of the verb “to be” that’s used with you is always “are” no matter whether the referent is one or many. “Patricia, you are lovely!” sounds perfectly all right. “Patricia, you is lovely!” is wrong.
So there! We’ve done it before and we can do it again.
[Thanks to น้องเมย for this picture and the Photoshop version of what might have been. Can you guess which one is the original? I can tell you they are happy with whom they are and the other version is merely amusing.]
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.