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  • Writer's pictureKaren Levi

HE, SHE, THEY

Updated: Apr 12

Hey Boomers, it is time to stop being grammar nerds or stubborn older people. Pronouns are changing. If we do not accept "they" in its new usage, we will be left behind. According to a Gen Z'er, pronouns are everchanging into other forms, so we are already living in the past. Now, "they" has evolved into the binary, or opposite, of the traditional "he" and "she."




Binary or opposite is not how we want to think of gender identification. The important point of new pronoun usage is that gender identification is fluid. Young people are identifying states of gender identification that are specific and fluid. One can feel less feminine or male one day, year, or period in one's life. One can be a combination of both male and female. Transgender individuals feel a difference between the sex they were identified at birth and how they feel internally. I do not know or understand all of the possibilities. I do realize that people who have bravely revealed inner conflicts should be respected. The use of "they" is really not a big deal.



Fashion choices help me to understand the new concepts. Women wear blazers, slacks, and shirts. Those are female styles that are based on suits males have worn for several centuries. I identify as female. I like wearing neckties; I love suits. For a fancy occasion, I may wear a typically female dress. Some years my hair has been very short and boyish, other periods in my life I have had more femine hairstyles.


Men are not as lucky in their choice of styles. Heads still turn when men wear make-up, skirts, and dresses, not withstanding kilts in Scotland. These are superficial examples for human emotions that go deep into a persona. They skim the surface of the complexity of our feelings. Our society has not fully and honestly explored these ideas. They are counter to traditional definitions of male and female which underlie our society. Strong social forces counteract changes in these binary designations. The extreme reactions are evident when books are banned, which bathroom a student uses is a problem, and when certain words are forbidden to be uttered in classrooms.


Young children often experiment with different gender based roles, but this phenomenom must be changing as kids see policewomen and male nurses. So dress up may not be associated with gender switching anymore. Little boys play with dolls until they are told they should not do so. Now one sees boys wearing dresses to preschool and girls refusing to ever wear dresses throughout their entire childhood and adolescence. I used to squirm when I observed these choices. Now, I am beginning to understand the notion of trying on different genders or not being comfortable with your sex identified at birth.


English speakers have used "he" for a male and "she" for a female for centuries. Individuals whose gender identification does not match the sex they were assigned at birth are becoming self-advocates. They demand pronouns that match how they identify--either male, female, or non-binary. Non binary means that gender identification is not static but changeable. Gender identification can be a combination of both genders, neither one or the other, or different from what was historically attributed to that person. These individuals usually prefer the pronoun "they".


My parents' generation referred to married women with the title Mrs. + husband's first and last name. The use of Ms. which was a new title in the 1970's shocked people like "they" does today. Keeping one's surname at marriage, instead of one's husband's last name, or choosing a hypenated name were radical choices 50 years ago. When I got married, the person officiating at the ceremony announced, "Husband and wife" as opposed to "man and wife." Changes in language reflect shifts in social norms. Though equality between the genders is not complete, use of more egalatarian titles have been incorporated into mainstream English already.


Change is difficult for most of us. At first, we may be dismayed, perplexed, or angry about altering the meaning of words in our language, for example



gender related pronouns. A small change like using "they"--if that is what a person desires--may validate a person's choice and right to be who they want and should be.


©Karen Levi 2024



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