When writing about people and not wanting to be gender specific, have you ever felt torn between which personal pronouns you should use? Should I go with he, him, and his, or she and her? Sometimes we awkwardly go with he or she, him or her, and his or her. In my experience, when this occurs over and over again throughout a book, I feel an interruption in the flow of the story or the book’s message. In our desperation of being politically correct, we sometimes resort to improper usage of the pronouns them and their. This practice also feels awkward to me. Some authors will give up on the use of pronouns altogether and fill their paragraphs with such phrases as “one thinks” and “one’s thoughts”. This can come across as very impersonal, possibly causing a loss of connection between these authors and their readers.
As an editor, I struggle with this dilemma myself. When non-specific pronouns have been necessary in an author’s work, I’ve found that switching back and forth between the different options sometimes creates the best flow in a manuscript. We can continue to work around this awkward characteristic of the English language; or we can consciously allow our language to evolve. Not only is this change needed to create better flow in our written works, I propose that as our culture is evolving so should our language.
Have you ever seen someone and been unable to determine whether the person is male or female? Some people are simply born with a seemingly equal balance of both male and feminine characteristics and energies. Recently, I found myself in the awkward position of not knowing whether to identify a new acquaintance as him or her. I could not tell which pronoun was befitting and I was concerned about offending this person. In this particular case, the individual was making a transition from one gender to the other; and I didn’t know which was which. There are others who identify with no particular gender. For some people, gender is simply not an important issue; and we quite possibly could be evolving into a society that places little importance on gender.
I would like to see us create respectful, non-gender specific, singular pronouns in order to solve this dilemma and create better flow in our manuscripts and our conversations. As a very feminine heterosexual woman, I would not be so presumptuous as to suggest pronouns that might lead to this evolution in the English language. Since I have no clue what possible pronouns might be regarded as respectful, I’m interested in the opinion of representatives from the LGBT community.
Have you ever been driving along, running late for an appointment, a job interview, or a job you have already attained, wishing all those annoying cars would just get out of your frickin’ way!?! First, we feel frustration taking over our senses. We begin to lose patience and we’ve probably all overreacted in varying degrees. Some of us may have simply shot glares of annoyance at the cars around us. Others may have called the offending drivers an atrocious name we would never utter in the presence of another human being. We may have, at times, gone so far as to throw some vulgar gesture towards our fellow travelers. Hopefully, none of us have reacted in ways more violent than these.
This isn’t easy to admit, but here I go. Years ago, as I was frantically trying to traverse rush hour traffic, in an attempt to beat the clock and make it to work on time, I lost my temper; and like an idiot, I began to beat my steering wheel while growling obscenities and shooting glaring glances at the cars around me. Then, I experienced a paradigm shifting epiphany. I finally snapped to the reality of my situation and I felt like an utter mean-spirited fool. A very important and significant realization finally dawned on me! “Oh my God! I’m not simply reacting to machines here! These are real living breathing flesh and blood human beings! People are controlling those machines on which I am unleashing my vicious wrath!!! I would never react to people the way I am reacting to those machines.” But, indeed, this is exactly what I had been doing; since those machines were being controlled by people. This was a most humbling revelation.
If my primary goal was to punish myself for failing to conquer my battle with tardiness, I was certainly doing a great job of it. For you see, with this ridiculous exhibition of frustration and anger, I was hurting no one more than myself. Still, regardless of how much punishment I might have felt I deserved, my fellow travelers did not deserve my wrathful vengeance. Today, if I feel the same reaction of frustration and anger welling up inside of me, I remind myself that I am actually dealing with real people, not just mindless and heartless machinery. In fact, when I approach another traveler who needs to gain entry into the flow of traffic, no matter how late I may be running, I let my fellow traveler in. I realize it is not his or her fault I’m running late; and if our positions were reversed, I would hope this person would do the same for me. I understand that anger towards truly offensive, thoughtless and dangerous drivers can be justified; but, in my experience, dwelling on that anger and expressing it in the way I expressed it in the past only adds to my own discontent.