Over the past few days I've been doing a lot of thinking and talking about they/them pronouns, singular they vs. plural they, and how best to present the they/them checkbox option on the annual survey.
(Following this blog post, mainly: https://gendercensus.tumblr.com/post/651198185451175937/on-plural-they-and-plural-inclusivity)
I've been working to get to the bottom of what other people mean and understand by particular grammatical terms, my own preconceptions and misconceptions, and which parts of it fit within the limited scope of the Gender Census.
My brain is very tired now. :D
When I first came out (about 10 years ago) and started learning about pronouns, I researched "singular they" pronouns a little bit - in part because lots of people were arguing that singular they wasn't a legit pronoun, so I wanted to understand more.
At that time, the "singular they isn't grammatically correct" and "singular they can't refer to a specific known person" arguments were very prevalent, and every trans person I encountered understood that singular they is defined as "they/them used to refer to one person."
Hand on heart, it honestly did not occur to me that a significant number of people might not know that's what "singular they" means. "Singular they" is the name that lexicographers and other people who study language collectively call "they/them when referring to one person."
It's a useful name, to refer to a pronoun set with a slightly different use case and, usually, spelling to match. And for some reason I thought that my experience from a decade ago, where understanding of this name was universal, would obviously still be relevant. (It is not.)
It's a sign of progress, since singular they for nonbinary people is so much more commonly accepted that every nonbinary person *doesn't* need to know the name "singular they" and what exactly the name means and how it is used differently from third-person regular/plural they.
If calling the set "singular they" on the annual survey doesn't add clarity and help people find their pronoun set, I will stop using that name, and switch to providing the meaning instead.
I'm thinking maybe something like:
Singular they - they/them/their/theirs/themself (plural verbs, i.e. "they are a writer")
They - they/them/their/theirs/themself (for referring to an individual, i.e. "they are a writer")
This all started because I've been asked by a few people to combine singular and plural they in the annual survey, and just call it "they" instead of "singular they", so that plural people can choose it.
I'm not going to combine two pronoun sets into one in the annual survey, because they are two pronoun sets that have different meanings and use cases, and (usually) different spellings.
I am considering adding plural they to the checkbox list, NOT as a way to include plural people (because arbitrary inclusion isn't a reason for adding any term that is written into textboxes by under 1% of people), but because it might be useful to compare with singular they.
Having said that, I am so far undecided, but leaning towards *not* including plural they. The "comparison" words that are on the list despite being chosen by under 1% of participants (binary, cisgender, etc) are gender-related words. Plural they is unrelated to gender.
Anyway, thanks for listening to this late-night ramble. I really enjoy the way this research and participants' feedback challenges me and forces me to reconsider concepts and shift my understanding of language, gender, and other related and unrelated ideas.
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