They or Them are the appropriate pronouns to use for non-binary people or anyone who chooses these terms as their personal pronouns. I admit that I have found it difficult to adapt to what my mind considers plural terms. It’s not that I don’t want to adapt or refuse to acknowledge someone’s preferred pronouns. It is difficult because I need to rewire my thinking.
A few years ago, when introducing someone I referred to them as “she.” They corrected me for using the wrong pronoun and I apologized. Later that same evening, again I slipped in the term “she” when referring to them. Mortified, I strongly apologized to them again. It was never my intention to be disrespectful of their gender identity. I felt like the Earth should swallow me up, I am hopeless.
This is where I need some reprogramming. We are all accustomed to automatically assigning sex, it is subconscious. A person’s hairstyle, facial features, clothing, possibly having breasts, height, tone of voice, use of cosmetics, and other factors go into a split-second latent assessment. People become a “he” or a “she” in my head based on those impulsive judgments.
Blu del Barrio is an actor on Star Trek: Discovery. They play the first non-binary character in the Star Trek franchise. The show does a good job of always using they/them pronouns when referring to Blu’s character, “Adira Tal.” But the character’s name does not sound gender-neutral to my ear. In my head, I’ve perceived and assigned sex. I have to consciously practice using they/them pronouns to counteract my perceptions.
Dismantling assumptions that automatically assign sex is where I need practice. I need to add “they” to the “he” and “she” list in my head. Maybe it’s my age and life-long habit. Changing gender identities and adapting to gender-neutral pronouns seems easier for my young daughter and her friends. I need to habitually expand my recognition of someone’s sex beyond the binary.
In Genealogy Writing
Incorporating appropriate pronouns is also necessary for genealogical writing. Regardless of the sex a person was assigned at birth, their personal pronouns should be acknowledged and used in all writings. When writing a person’s biography ensure that “he,” “she,” and “they” are used as needed. This is more easily done if biographies are written by hand rather than relying on genealogical software outputs.
I tested my software of choice, RootsMagic 9, and found it lacking. First, the software only allows for Male, Female, or Unknown sex. For people in my tree who do not identify as male or female I am forced to use the unknown category. This is incorrect. Unknown can be used for a stillborn child whose sex was not listed on the birth or death certificates. It is inappropriate to use unknown for a non-binary person. Their sex is known, it is non-binary.
Second, the narrative report in RM9 substitutes the combined pronoun of “he/she” for people assigned the unknown sex category. I see this example, “He/she lived in Yonkers, NY between 1888-1902.” This sentence is unsuitable and wrong. It should read, “They lived in Yonkers…”
RM9 should allow for non-binary in the sex list and use they/them pronouns in reports.
I will continue practicing rewiring my head. I hope we all will continue to be consciously aware and embrace they/them pronouns in our thinking, speaking, and writing.
For other blogs on appropriate writing see the “Deadname” post.
Understanding Nonbinary People: How to Be Respectful and Supportive – National Center for Transgender Equality
10 ways to step up as an ally to non-binary people – from Stonewall
Featured Image: The non-binary gender symbol superimposed on five gender-identify flags – left to right, genderqueer, bigender, non-binary (background), genderfluid, agender.