DEAR MISS MANNERS: What pronouns would Miss Manners advise using when referring to people who do not identify as either male or female?
I work with many young people in a community where a good number identify themselves as “gender fluid.” Using “it” to refer to their friends in this category is seen as offensive, as it equates a person with an object, so my patients refer to such friends as “they,” even while talking about one person. As in, “Then Jordan told me they were going to visit their grandmother in Wisconsin.”
I want to be respectful of how people choose to refer to themselves, but the grammarian in me cannot tolerate using “they” or “them” to refer to a single person. Thus, I find myself sticking to the person’s name only, as in “How long will Jordan be in Wisconsin?” Does Miss Manners, in her sagacity, have any suggestions for a better gender-fluid pronoun?
GENTLE READER: You are kind to believe that Miss Manners can solve this problem, but this is a rare case in which she would like to appeal to her Gentle Readers for help.
You have stated the ground rules:
Be respectful of others. In this case, it means not using masculine or feminine pronouns for those who object.
Do not refer to a person as “it.”
Resist using plural pronouns when referring to a single person.
So far, the solution has been to go around the problem: Make the subject plural, when possible, to use “they” correctly, or use “he or she” with single nouns. But this is getting tedious and doesn’t cover everybody. What we need is something simple that can be easily learned, so that no one is confused or insulted.
So would someone please come up with a solution?