“It” is now a pronoun

October 2, 2022 • 12:00 pm

I always imagined that whatever pronouns people chose for themselves, they’d never include “it”.  “It” refers to an object, not a person (of course, many new pronouns are simply confected words), and it would seem demeaning to people to refer to them as “it.” That is, I couldn’t imagine that a child in school would want another child to say something like ” look, teacher, it is raising its hand.”

I was wrong.  Here’s an article in the conservative City Journal that says that “it” is not only okay, but was once used as a pejorative pronoun against African-Americans, who are reclaiming it by claiming that they want to be called “it.” (I can’t recall an instance of African-American called “it”, but I’ll take their word for it.)

An excerpt. Let me hasten to say that I’ve always favored using whatever pronoun a person wishes, as a sign of civility and respect. It’s just that “it” is so, well, impersonal. It would seem to me that it strip a person of dignity, even if “reclaimed.” From the article:

San Francisco Unified School District has released a guidebook for teachers to facilitate secret child sexual transitions and to let students use the pronoun “it” at school.

According to documents obtained from a whistleblower, in 2021 the district celebrated “International Pronouns Day,” teaching students that they can adopt a wide range of genders and sexual identities. In elementary school, the district tells students that they may not “feel like a boy OR a girl” and can identify as “non-binary” and use “they” pronouns. For secondary students, the district teaches that they can be part of the “bisexual umbrella” and identify as “fluid,” “pansexual,” “omnisexual,” “hetero-, homo-, lesbi-curious,” “hetero-, homo-, lesbi-flexible,” and “queer.”

The district also released a guide on students who use “it” pronouns, explaining to teachers that “we are increasingly seeing students using the pronoun ‘it’” at school. The guidebook explains that using “it” as a pronoun “has a long history being used as a slur to dehumanize trans and gender non-conforming folks” but functions as a gender-identity version of the “n-word,” which was “reclaimed” by African-Americans. The guidebook recommends that teachers discuss “it” pronoun usage with their students but ultimately recommends that teachers “affirm their right to use whatever pronoun feels right to them.”

If you go to the documents link above, or click below, you’ll discuss the use of “it” as a pronoun. It’s definitely cited as a slur for many, and people should be careful of using it.  If you go to pp. 53 and 54 of this link, you’ll see the discussion, which I’ve put below the fold. Here’s just one except, which ultimately says it’s ok, but also that the student who wants to be referred to as “it” must be informed of its history:

Things you can do as a trusted adult

One on One Dialogue

If you have students who want to use the pronoun ‘it’ opening a dialogue with them about the fact that ‘it’ has a history as a slur and thus some folks might have a negative response. Affirm their right to use whatever pronoun feels right to them and also offer to discuss or connect them to someone else to discuss other neopronouns if they want. This can give you insight into not only their own understanding of ‘it’s history and use, but also what they are hoping to communicate by using ‘it’. Make sure to frame this conversation as a desire to better understand and affirm their gender identity.

Collective Processing

If the student feels that the best language to reflect who they are is to use ‘it/its’ pronouns. Dedicating a space (GSA, QGroup, Advisory) to discuss identity formation and identity conveying language could be a way to help both this student and those most likely to be impacted by their use of ‘it’ come to a space of understanding and mitigate possible avenues of harm. This can likewise build a collective p. 54 understanding about what place/time/space considerations could be important around the use of potentially loaded language, reclaimed or not.

Now how would one use “it” is as a pronoun?  Clearly you can refer to someone as “it” in the third person, as noted above. And you can refer to it as a possessive, as “I found its cellphone.” I presume that someone with this pronoun, writing in the first person, could also say something like “It is going to get a snack after school.”  For direct address, I suppose one would simply say something like “I’m giving you extra homework tonight.” Didn’t Gollum, in Lord of the Rings, sometimes refer to himself as “it”?

As I said, I am happy to use someone’s pronoun so long as I know it. (I haven’t gotten to the stage of asking someone I meet what their pronouns are, which I suppose makes me unenlightened. But if they told me I’d respect their choice.) However, I would have some difficulty referring to another human being as an “it”.  “It”s are objects, not people.

Click “continue reading” to see the whole explanation:

p. 53-54 here

It’ as Neopronoun

A few folks have started to use the pronoun ‘it’ as their personal pronoun claiming that it is a neopronoun. This is a practice that is highly controversial for a number of reasons.

A rough analogy here is the n-word. Not everyone who is a member of the African diaspora is comfortable with the use of the word — hard r or not whether used by another Black person or not but it definitely becomes a much larger issue when used by a non-Black person. But everyone recognizes it as a word that has very clear rules of use, and very real consequences for misuse as well. While the n-word — depending upon ending a vs. er — has this maybe kinda sometimes agreed upon use, ‘it’ does not.

1) ‘It’ is not technically a neopronoun. ‘It’ has existed within the English language since the Middle Ages. It is actually a simplification from the original ‘hit’. Even then, the pronoun was not used to describe any living thing, only objects.

2) The pronoun ‘it’ has a long history being used as a slur to dehumanize trans and gender non- conforming folks. Because of this history it cannot be thought of or considered to be the same as any other pronoun.

3) When a slur is used, it can cause real harm. NO MATTER WHO USES IT.

4) For people who do know the history of ‘it’s [sic] use, it is asking them to be okay using a slur. Not everyone, whether part of that group or not, may be comfortable with that.

5) Some people will use the fact that one person they know is okay with being called ‘it’ as a reason that everyone should be okay with it, (well xyz, is fine with ‘it’), this can allow folks to weaponize one person’s choice against others.

Give students the benefit of the doubt, hopefully with a little bit of open dialogue they will understand how their manner of communication can impact others. Ultimately we support all our student’s right to self-determine. If after additional dialogue this is still how they choose to identity, it’s OK.

Things you can do as a trusted adult

One on One Dialogue

If you have students who want to use the pronoun ‘it’ opening a dialogue with them about the fact that ‘it’ has a history as a slur and thus some folks might have a negative response. Affirm their right to use whatever pronoun feels right to them and also offer to discuss or connect them to someone else to discuss other neopronouns if they want. This can give you insight into not only their own understanding of ‘it’s history and use, but also what they are hoping to communicate by using ‘it’. Make sure to frame this conversation as a desire to better understand and affirm their gender identity.

Collective Processing

If the student feels that the best language to reflect who they are is to use ‘it/its’ pronouns. Dedicating a space (GSA, QGroup, Advisory) to discuss identity formation and identity conveying language could be a way to help both this student and those most likely to be impacted by their use of ‘it’ come to a space of understanding and mitigate possible avenues of harm. This can likewise build a collective p. 54 understanding about what place/time/space considerations could be important around the use of potentially loaded language, reclaimed or not.

 

100 thoughts on ““It” is now a pronoun

  1. When all this started a few years back, some critics (who are obviously bad people) quickly arrived at the satirical pronoun “s/h/it”. I’m told that it has its uses on occasions when declaring ones pronouns is made mandatory.

  2. Since “it” is often used as a pronoun for animals, we of the trans-species movement welcome this development with particular enthusiasm. Whoever it was in the SF school bureaucracy that wrote this memo, it should be named honorary clownfish of the year.

      1. Your excellent example illiustrates why English is not really gendered in a grammatical sense. A noun, like a ship, a country, or Honey the Duck can be referred to as male, female, or unsexed, depending on context and the mood and style of the diction. In French, the gender of the words for ship, a country, and duck are invariant as to gender. All adjectives must agree with the noun they modify, even past participles in verbs conjugated with etre. And note that “his mother” translates as “sa mere”, while “his father” is “son pere”. English doesn’t bother with any of this. Nouns we think of as gendered in English really are only those that have sex or are personified as such.

        Edit: sorry for the typos and undetected auto-complete errors, Jeremy (and Jerry). I am getting only a tiny little comment window in which I can’t see what I’m typing until I edit.

  3. Sorry, but there is no way I’ll be using “it” to refer to a human being in the foreseeable future.

    It’s all very well somebody saying “use ‘it’ to refer to me”, but, when I talk to somebody I always use “you”. If I’m using he/she/whatever, by definition I’m talking about the person to somebody else. I probably have no idea what the somebody else thinks about using “it” as a pronoun for a human. Most likely, they think it is derogatory and they’ll think the less of me.

    1. And can any person or subgroup really speak for the whole group? How can anyone legitimately claim that “I speak on behalf of every single person who happens to share my particular skin tone (or sex, or belief, or ethnicity, etc., etc.) when I claim we should henceforth all be referred to as ‘it’ and we will take deep offense at anyone who fails to do so”? I can understand in circumstances when someone claims that this or that nomenclature is preferred for whatever reason, but this one strikes me as off the rails and its not something I’ve ever seen before in reference to blacks in anything written within the last 50 years. Usually, the only time I’ve seen the pronoun “it” used for a human being is when either the sex of the person is unknown (“it’s Pat!”) or the person is a hermaphrodite and hasn’t made known a pronoun preference.
      At work, over 20 years ago now, I was once faced with a customer whose sex I could not determine — somewhat stout but no prominent chest; very short, military-style haircut; dressed in a suit and tie; face looked somewhat feminine but then I’ve known guys who had feminine looking faces, especially with make up. I made a guess and said, “may I help you, sir?” “I’m not a man,” she said icily. Oops! In hindsight, I should have just asked, “May I help you?” But I’ve been on the receiving end too, when I let my hair grow out — it gets bushy. Customers who have only glanced at me, or speaking to me when my back is turned to them, have addressed me as, “ma’am,” only to be embarrassed when I they get a better look at my bearded face! At least they weren’t trying to ask me out.

  4. It makes me tired. Surely this obsessing over what one should be called falls into the category of first world problems of people with too much time on their hands.

    1. +1

      C. P. Snow talked about “The Two Cultures”. That was in the sixties – is this a third culture? Or what became of one of them?

  5. The mania of complication language to accommodate academic feminists and now “LBTGQ++” people is far worse in German than in English, though we haven’t quite caught up with the whole pronouns stuff yet. (Must be even worse in Hebrew than in German.) What I don’t understand: If one has to meddle in language to this degree, why not simply scrap all remnants of grammatical gender and just use one pronoun and ending for all sexes/genders/identity quirks, like Turkish does. Pronouns and suffixes are for quick and easy reference, not to make things complicated.
    As regards “it”, it just so happens that I often tenderly call my loved ones the German version of “it” (as in “has it eaten”? for “have you eaten?”), due to the fact that in German, “it” is associated with diminutives, as the diminutive suffixes automatically make a word or first name neuter. The “object” association is less stringent in German, as objects can be of male, female, or neuter gender. Of course prepubertal humans (“the child”) can be “it” even in English.

  6. Some people, including parents, will refer to a newborn baby as “it.”

    “Does it look more like the mother or the father?”

    I always found this bizarre.

  7. What’s the problem with ‘It’? The universe/nature is ‘It’, and we are made of the same stuff as the rest of the universe. ‘It’ is in fact a humble affirmation of our connection to everything that exists. We are inseparable from ‘It’. Thus, from now on, I would prefer that you refer to me as ‘It’.

  8. “Referring to people by the pronouns they determine for themselves is basic human dignity.”

    I don’t think so. If I chose not to accept or use what I consider an abuse of grammar, that’s my prerogative. You’re free to refer to yourself by any pronoun you choose, and I’m free to refer to you by any pronoun I choose. That’s basic human dignity.

    1. Rather than “basic human dignity,” I would call it a matter of basic good manners.

      Does your conception of basic human dignity as expressed in your final sentence extend to calling black people “negroes” or “colored” (the accepted nomenclature of our youth), Gary?

      Times change, mores change. I see no point to being rude to people by refusing to address them by their preferred pronoun (or preferred ethnic appellation). Of course, one’s mileage may vary in this regard.

      1. If the pronoun is an invented or otherwise idiosyncratic one, it no longer serves the function of a pronoun. The whole point of pronouns is that they are short, phonetically easy and the same for a humungous class of nouns and you don’t have to memorize them or ask for them or tell them to other people. It’s rude to call someone who obviously wants to be seen as female “he”, but it’s also rude to expect from other people to remember invented or atypical pronouns in addition your name.

        1. To that end I would say there is room for a gender neutral pronoun, but please can we have just one.

          And also, for the love of d*g, can it not start with an ‘x’, please.

        2. Unless we’ve all agreed that pronouns refer to gender and not sex, AND that sex and gender are two completely unrelated things (and I don’t think we have, we are simply being forced to by a tiny ultra progressive minority), to be honest, I also find it rude for people to expect others to deny reality and to play along with the fantasy that humans can change sex at all.

          At what point is it obvious enough that someone (a male) wants to be seen as female (or vice versa)? More and more, legislation allows for official “sex change” (really gender change) to happen without any kind of physical changes. If a man with a beard insists he is a woman, according to the new rules, you’re still going to be rude (or a criminal) if you call them “he”.

      2. I see no point to being rude to people by refusing to address them by their preferred pronoun …

        But you don’t address someone with a pronoun, you refer to someone (usually when they are not present) using a pronoun.

        And I don’t see that it is rude to refer to someone using a factually appropriate pronoun. Thus, if someone actually is a biological male, why is it rude to refer to them as “he”? A pronoun, in such a regard, is actually very different from a name or appelation.

        1. And that’s the limitation of using “it” to refer to people. The personal pronouns have first- second- and third- person forms (I/we, you/y’all*, he/she/they). The impersonal pronoun “it” exists only in third person because an inanimate object can’t speak for itself or be addressed. If someone wants to be called, “it”, it can only be referred to, often in absentia, not addressed. To address someone you have to use “you”. And if a student says, “It has to go to the bathroom,” the teacher will be looking around to see who it was who had an accident.
          ————-
          *Not making fun here. The loss of the plural “youse” from formal English was a great tragedy in my view.

          1. Umm. “It” is just inserted in place of he/she. So (I/we, you, it). And how exactly is “It has to go to the bathroom” so terribly ambiguous?

            This really isn’t all that hard. Why are you going to such lengths to make it seem like it is?

      3. I anticipated a reply from you , Ken, and am always delighted to hear from you whether or not we agree. In this case, The people who want me to use their pronouns rather than ones I choose are trying to force their ideology (and that’s what it is) on me, whereas I’m not trying to force anything on them. So the rudeness, if any, is in the other direction.

        As for using “negroes,” I can’t imagine an occasion for doing so, though I’d have no remorse if I did; what’s good enough for MLK is good enough for me. I do prefer and use “oriental” rather than “Asian” even though I’m told this is outdated and even racist.

        Here’s a passage (let me know if you can’t open it and I’ll try again) from an essay by Marilyn Robinson called “Puritans and Prigs,” which I find to be one of the best commentaries on this issue:
        https://drive.google.com/file/d/1-aqFS62W1TLc5IBU0W0bxukVdQDp0UTU/view?usp=sharing

        Thanks for chiming in. 😊

      1. Just today I mentioned that article and was going to look it up and send it to my friend. Cool!
        D.A.
        NYC

    2. On a similar note, other references would be “mister”, “madame”, etc., and those are clearly meant to be respectful ways to refer to someone, albeit they are gendered.

    3. The whole pronoun push is deeply authoritarian. After all, one need never even use third-person pronouns until one is no longer in the presence of the person being discussed — their name will surely do, or “you.”

      So demanding that I use someone’s “preferred pronouns” is in fact telling me how to speak when the person being spoken of is not even present.

      If that doesn’t reek of a power move, pure and simple, I don’t know what does.

  9. >As I said, I am happy to use someone’s pronoun so long as I know it

    And this right here is the reason why those people have proliferated and infested so much of the world. Being an asshole, having the courage to be disagreeble and not give a single flying shit what somebody thinks of you, has always been a rare breed of courage, and one that, if humans had it in sufficient quantities, would utterly crush pathetic religions and cults in their cradle.

    As an analogy to you, *Why Evolution Is True*’s author(s), consider that you are not obligated to say “Peace Be Upon Him” whenever any mention of Muhammed is done in a debate with a muslim to be considered a nice and respectful person. Through a long and arduous struggle by the likes of Hume and Voltaire, most sane humans recognize in today’s world that a Religion’s commandments do not and should not bind anyone not following them.

  10. “‘It’ has existed within the English language since the Middle Ages. It is actually a simplification from the original ‘hit’.”

    Growing up in the Appalachian South (East Tennessee), I occasionally heard “hit.” Through a third party I heard of a woman, working as a maid at a motel, remarking on a guest’s having left a personal item in a room: “They was a man left hit.”

    This was in response to a question from a desk clerk, who was not all that well-versed in Southern Appalachian mountain linguistics. (This was at a small family owned “tourist court,” motel rooms and cabins. He and the maid had a history of trading barbs, posts and ripostes, getting under each others skin, all in good-enough fun, though I’m sure it occasionally went too far.) While in the beginning he might have sincerely-enough asked her to repeat it because he did not understand her, for his own amusement it quickly evolved into his purposefully feigning misunderstanding, requesting that the maid say it a few more times. Finally exasperated, she said: “THEY. WAS. A. MAN. LEFT. HIT!!

  11. Of course, “it” has always been a pronoun, but not referring to people. This is getting ridiculouser and ridiculouser. I agree with Jeremy, I will not refer to people as it.

  12. “It” would be insulting; since the clash of pronouns began several years ago I have kept proposing XE for everything between he and she, him and her. My pronouns are “Doc” “Prof” and “Sir”

  13. Hasn’t it always been a pronoun? I think what you mean to say is that now it’s a personal pronoun.

  14. And it’s really pretty sad to see supposedly educated people lining up with the folks who won’t cater gay weddings.

    The fact that parts of our language are heavily gendered isn’t an accident. It’s a part of a whole societal system fixated on enforcing gender norms. Part of the same system that makes women wear veils and keeps women from driving or holding property, etc. etc.

    Folks are trying to carve out their own non-traditional identities within the remnants of that system. Anyone making a point of pride out of not accommodating that effort is an ass.

    1. On the contrary, it is the trans movement that is reinforcing sex related societal norms and stereotypes, in particular, it enforces the idea that people who do not conform to extremely narrowly defined cultural stereotypes of male or female must be something different.
      Language plays no role in the way society treats and sees women or LBTG people, as can be seen from the fact that the existence or nonexistence of grammatical gender does not correlate with societal norms regarding the sexes. Turkish has no grammatical gender (and only a single 3rd person pronoun for all and sundry), a large percentage of first names are not sex-specific, yet Turkey is not less partriarchal than Germany or France with their relatively heavily gendered languages. Will stop commenting here now for fear ob disobeying da roolz.

      1. So one language not having gendered pronouns is evidence of language playing “no role in the way society treats and sees women.” And even supposing that one language is good evidence, the question wouldn’t be whether Turkey is less patriarchal *now* millennia after the linguistic structure was established, but whether the Turks were less patriarchal millennia ago.

        But I’m not saying gendered language is the sole determinant of patriarchy or anything like that. Just that it is part of an entire system fixated on inculcating and enforcing gender duality and gender hierarchy.

        Why else have gendered pronouns to start with? A single non-gendered personal pronoun would be simpler and better serve all the purposes of pronouns you relate above.

        1. It’s not “one” language that doesn’t have gender in pronouns or in nouns. Many languages don’t make gender distinctions. I’ve studied two myself, Georgian and Circassian. I also did anthropological fieldwork in Israel with Georgian immigrant Jews (for my dissertation) and with the small Circassian community. Sexist? Patriarchal? Would not wish to cast aspersions on my hosts. But let’s just say I was not infrequently shocked and horrified by the treatment meted out to women that I heard about (or, in the case of beatings, occasionally saw the results of).
          Again as an anthropologist, I am convinced that the structure of language has nothing to do with the actual treatment of women. Calling people “it” is not going to remedy the inherent injustices and frequent mistreatment of women – unequal pay, sexual harassment, need I go on? – in this society. And it’s not going to fix things for victimized trans people either.

          1. You studied these people around the time that their language was established with gender distinctions? Or, as an anthropologist, don’t you think the passage of great deal of time matters at all?

            And, as an anthropologist, would you say the only way language can have “something to do with” the gender inequality is if language *causes* gender inequality. Wouldn’t you say, as an anthropolgist, that there might possibly be other relationships between the two? Perhaps language could be “an expression of” or “a constant reminder of” gender inequality?

            And while it might not make a difference to world history or deep-seated social structures whether I stop being snarky about your “as an anthropologist” bit, wouldn’t it be better if I did, just as a matter of plain courtesy? I’d be interested in your thoughts on this admittedly trivial matter as a anthropoligist, but also as a human being with certain minimal expectations of decency from others.

            1. If language an influence on society, this influence should show itself even millenia after the grammatical distinctuin was established. If the correlation is there only at the moment the distinction is established in the language, then the influence is the other way round: Society influences language.
              In German, the progressive language reformers are busy making the language far more sex-and gender-conscious than it was before, which shows the direction society is moving.

              1. Did I say “language influences society?” I don’t think I did. I think my point was more in the category “language reflects society.” What’s your argument against that?

        2. > Why else have gendered pronouns. . .?

          For clarity in storytelling, of course. All good stories need a boy and a girl. “Jack and Jill went up the hill. Then it said to it,…”. Now I’m immediately lost and I have to interrupt the story teller.

          Be thankful you aren’t trying to tell the story in Turkish. In French, the non-sexual gender awarded to inanimate objects makes the language hard to learn but it doesn’t get Jacques et Ghislaine confused.

          I wondered if you were having a joke on us in your first comment but it seems you were sincere. Call me an ass, then.

          1. All good stories need a protagonist and an antagonist. Why not have different pronouns for them?

            And what about the fact that most good stories have more than one male and female character, often appearing in the same scenes together?

            It’s not a very good explanation.

            Wouldn’t it be simpler to assume that language is gendered for the same reasons that dress is gendered, social roles are gendered and legal status is gendered, etc. etc.?: Because they are all parts of a binary, hierarchical gender system.

            Do I think changing pronouns is going to change the world? No. Do I think people who beat their chests about refusing to do anything different are jackasses? Absolutely.

            1. I’ve changed my mind. I think you really are pulling our leg. Or nursing a grudge. Or grinding an axe. Of one of Mad Magazine’s collection of “Horrifying Cliches.”

              Bye.

              1. So, still nothing substantive? I am a cliche feminazi, I suppose, and you are the cliche airheaded woman who can’t plunge the depths of a schoolyard puddle. I guess our respective cliches were destined to have no common ground.

                But I’m not and you probably aren’t. But what you certainly ARE is afraid to address any of these issues in anything like a substantive manner. You don’t know what you are talking about and you don’t care that you don’t know what you are talking about, and now you are looking for a quick exit.

                Ta! It really wasn’t meant to be.

            2. Every good thing can be overdone, and there are jackasses on both sides. A jackass is one young German television actor/actress, a biological female who dislikes make-up and high heels, so according to current sexist standards called progressive cannot be a woman. She decided to identify as non-binary and chose to go by the exclusively male first name Heinrich, then was terribly shocked and offended and bitter and complained for weeks when a close to 80 year old, visibly frail social democrat “misgendered” her as male (called her “Herr Horwitz”) in a zoom conference where she had been introduced with her very male self-chosen name. Sorry for commenting again.

    2. A non-traditional identity (personality) would involve boys and girls feeling free to throw out social gender expectations and defy the idea that there’s a special way girls are and a special way boys are. They’d just be a girl or boy who is the way they are.

      Instead, the change in pronouns encourages them to look at traditional ideas about boys and girls and decide whether they’re a girl, boy, neither, or both based on measuring the way they are against those standards. This doesn’t eliminate gender norms; it reinforces them.

      1. Please explain how telling kids, essentially, that the gender thing is totally up to them–that they can be either traditionally recognized gender or both or neither–reinforces gender norms. That doesn’t make very much sense to me.

        One might argue that it tends to exaggerate the real importance of gender as such. Perhaps it does. But I have a feeling that we in the West are in a rather strange place with gender and sexuality across the board, and the world of alternative sexual identities probably reflects that.

        Otoh, that reminds me of conversation going on around race, where people who want to deal with racial issues are accused of being obsessed about it by people who want to pretend the issues don’t exist.

        But I still don’t see how beating your chest about refusing to use someone’s preferred pronouns helps anyone or anything.

        1. Please explain how telling kids, essentially, that the gender thing is totally up to them–that they can be either traditionally recognized gender or both or neither–reinforces gender norms.

          The problem is not with telling kids that they can live whatever roles they wish, and that it’s fine if they are gender non-conforming.

          The problem is with associating these gender roles rigidly with the two biological sexes, such that their prefered gender role then determines whether they are a man or a woman.

          1. That might be a problem, but where do you see it in the material?

            The material does not reflect rigid gender dualism. Quite the opposite.

            1. It’s not the “dualism” that I said was “rigid”, it is — in your ideology — the linkage between gender role and sex that is rigid, such that adopted gender roles are even supposed to determine whether one is a man or a woman or “non-binary” or whatever.

              1. I’m presuming that your ideology is that adopted gender roles and preferences determine whether one is a man or a woman or “non-binary” or whatever.

              2. I do not think, say, that calling yourself a woman or a man or non-binary will change your 23rd chromosome, or that it will magically transform your primary sex characteristics. Or make hair grow or not grow or change your hormone levels. So you can stop arguing with that strawperson.

        2. You’re conflating sex & gender.
          Sex: biological reproductive classifications; boy & girl.
          Gender: cultural norms assigned to the sexes; masculine & feminine.

          Telling kids “the gender thing is up to them” ought to mean “all you boys & girls can create your own gender personalities without worrying about whether other people think that’s not what masculine boys or feminine girls should be.” (Gender Nonconformity)

          example: Boys can like to wear dresses and still be perfectly fine boys. Dresses aren’t really a girl or boy thing, just clothes. You can express yourself traditionally or not. Sex is binary and fixed, but Gender is arbitrary and flexible.

          Instead, telling kids “the gender thing is up to them” apparently means “all you kids can decide which sex, if any, your gender personalities match up with — and then worry about whether other people think you’re the sex you really are.” (Gender Conformity)

          example: Boys who like to wear dresses are perfectly fine — but they might not be a boy. Think about that. They’re girls clothes. You could have been assigned ‘boy’ at birth but the true girl in you knows her gender and she wants to wear dresses. You can be the sex that tradition says you are, or not. Sex is arbitrary and flexible, but Gender is fixed.

          Yes, treating “sex” as the equivalent of “gender” in the second case exaggerates the importance of gender.

          1. Where is that material do you see these things you are on about. Show me where it says what clothes you wear is absolutely determinant of your gender identity.

    3. English isn’t heavily gendered. Look at French, if you want heavily gendered.

      Also, in the English speaking (as a first language) world, women haven’t had to wear veils ever, they have always been allowed to drive and have been allowed to own property (by which I assume you mean real estate, not things) for centuries. I am not saying that anglophone societies have not been sexist in the past, but please choose examples that actually apply.

      English does lack a gender neutral third person personal pronoun but to claim that this lack has anything to do with the injustices to which women have been subjected through the ages is just wrong.

      1. I said “parts” of our language were heavily gendered you’ll see. Singular personal pronouns would be one of those parts.

        That that situation has absolutely nothing to do with the oppression of women seems to me to be a very broad claim for which you provide no evidence whatsoever.

        So I should probably just say, “No, you’re wrong!”

        Then you carry on by posting “Am not!”

        I post “Are too!”

        And we’re off.

        1. I said “parts” of our language were heavily gendered you’ll see. Singular personal pronouns would be one of those parts.

          Except that two thirds of the singular personal pronouns are not gendered and neither are any of the plural pronouns. So we can say “of personal pronouns, one out of six are gendered”. Compare that to French or German where 100% of all nouns are gendered. If you are going to cherry pick, you can say parts of English are pretty much anything you like. Parts of English are French. Does that make us French?

          That that situation has absolutely nothing to do with the oppression of women seems to me to be a very broad claim for which you provide no evidence whatsoever.

          I’m not the one making the assertion that the grammar of the English language is connected to the oppression of women. It’s for you to provide the evidence. I’m just applying Hitchens’ razor.

          1. What exactly are you attempting to refute? I can’t tell.

            And before we rush off to Hitchens razor, perhaps we should stop and have a look at the singular personal pronouns: I, you, he, she, him, her, me. How are two thirds of those not gendered?

          2. It’s not that I *can* say that parts of English are (something). It’s that happens to be what I *did* say. You, for reasons known to you but not to me, are disputing that very modest and not-extraordinary claim. So far without success.

  15. I wonder if anyone knows if kids in some areas are starting to pretend to be non-binary, as a way of gaining cachet. If so, I don’t think it should be a matter of concern. But it would not be surprising.

  16. Of course you can use ‘it’ as a pronoun. It is a pronoun and always has been. The difference is using the pronoun ‘it’ to refer to a human.

  17. I’ve been wondering all along why people weren’t using “it”, which is gender-neutral and singular, rather than “they”, which is plural and therefore confusing. Some people have always used “it” when referring to infants.

  18. Yes, a week or so ago I came across two items. In the first, Germaine Greer was castigated as transphobic for referring to a trans stalker as “it”; in the second, a non-binary school child in Scotland gave “it” as their preferred pronoun. Bizarre.

    On the subject of preferred pronouns, this article explains why using them appears to be a courtesy, but can in fact be a dangerous slippery slope: https://www.legalfeminist.org.uk/2022/04/26/grammar-and-grievance/

  19. Amazing how here, and in wider society this issue drives people so bananas. I admit, I follow it closely even though it applies (genuinely) to a miniscule number of people (who generally want to be taken as is w/o fanfare) vs. a bunch of young poseurs being trendy b/c to be trans is cool, jazz, and (somehow?) “brave”. There aren’t so many of them, either, but they tend to be shouty.
    D.A.
    NYC

  20. In elementary school, the district tells students that they may not “feel like a boy OR a girl” and can identify as “non-binary” and use “they” pronouns.

    What the hell kind of sexist garbage is this? Elementary school children are exposed to a barrage of sparkle-pink-girly-girl and rugged-tough-tyke-in-denim stereotypes from birth, regardless of how they’re raised at home. Then the school, instead of encouraging kids to recognize that girls and boys can think and feel any way at all, is actually teaching that there’s some sort of official girl-feeling or boy-feeling and gosh, where are YOU on the masculinity/femininity scale? Are you Barbie or GIJoe or in-between the binary?

    What do they think kids are going to do? I don’t care how much the teachers follow this up with reassurances that oh sure, boys can wear sparkle-pink and girls can be rugged-tough — the kids are still going to associate “feeling like a girl/boy/neither/both” with matching up to gender norms. Or, possibly, picking which sex most of their friends are.

    And then they’re going to feel a burning need to match their body to their gender. That comes with the territory.

    I think the awkward or uncomfortable pronouns are the least of the problems here.

    1. This is exactly the terrible issue with gender ideology and teaching it to kids. In the end it’s just reinforcing sexist stereotypes about what “feeling like a boy or girl” should be, not to mention teaching the ridiculous nonsense that being a boy or girl is about what you feel, not what you are. Of course there is a feeling component to “what it means to be a man/woman” but human beings can’t change sex no matter how many surgeries you get or how much you might feel like it. Period. Sadly we now live in a world where denying basic human biology is virtually mandatory, and recognising it or talking about it might be a hate crime, depending on circumstances.

    1. +1.
      I’m feeling too old for all such “s/h/its”.
      (And I guess the equivalent masculine form would be “h/h/its”, which unfortunately has no sense of humour.)

  21. I guess we all have our limits. Jerry draws the line at calling a person ‘it.’ I have a rather hard time calling a bearded man ‘she.’ That’s simply not what the word ‘she’ means.

    In neither case does it seem to me like showing ‘respect.’ Seems more like a way to force people to pretend that they agree with gender ideology, or risk exposing themselves as ‘bigots.’ I see narcissism, bullying, coerced speech…

    1. I haven’t tried this yet, but “that person” is an option. Certainly, if I person is okay with “it,” then “that person” shouldn’t offend…

  22. I wrote thr following about using plural pronouns for the singular. You can guess how this argument would extent to using the neuter:

    Languages’ pronoun systems—unlike their noun, verb, and adjective inventories—are extremely resistant to change. In English for example, singular gendered pronouns will, in all likelihood, remain in place for individuals: “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” (“it/it/its” for neuter); plural pronouns (“they/them/their”) will likely be reserved for referring to more than one person. Although some individuals want others to refer to them with “they/them/their”, these individuals have not replaced “I/me/mine” with “we/us/our” when referring to themselves—an obvious first step—and so, their expecting others to change their usage without their first changing their own is suggestive of the stubbornness of linguistic inertia. But most fundamentally, this won’t happen regardless: using plural pronouns for individuals will probably never take hold, because a gender designation marked by a number designation is probably unprecedented by nature, and is certainly unprecedented by diktat. No one dictates how language changes; language change is passive and natural. This is not a statement of policy; it is a statement of fact. Since attempts to change the pronoun system will almost certainly fail, then perhaps, in those (typically, secularized and technologized) societies where “masculine”-“feminine” gender nomenclature has become contentious for some, new gender labels can be suggested, say, “Class A” and “Class 1″. (Recall, adjective and noun inventories are readily subject to modification.) If, over time, these new terms catch on, any linguistic controversy all but disappears.

    (Singular “they/them/their” has, over the centuries, crept into use in some contexts. For example, “Someone forgot their keys” may be encountered when (1) the sex and gender of the person is unknown [as when reporting this information to a clerk], and even (2) when the sex [and, presumably, gender] of the person is known [as when teasing or scolding the friend who returns to fetch them]. This second usage is probably a consequence of analogy with the first. But in neither case is the plural [used to mark number] deployed as a mark of gender.)

  23. They’re not saying clothes absolutely determine GI, but indicate it.

    Look at the Original Source materials linked in the OP in the sentence “According to documents obtained from a whistleblower..”

    Students are to be told “Gender Expression = How you show your Gender Identity.” GI = “Who (ie what sex/gender) you feel you are inside.” Next panel,Gender Expression is described as “the way a person communicates their Gender Identity to others by the way they dress, act, or refer to themselves.”

    In other words, if “who you are inside” is “a girl” you will let people know that by dressing and acting like a girl. This entire concept — from “who (not what) you are = GI” to “dressing & acting like a girl” is aggrandizing sexism.

    1. All of the material is descriptive, not prescriptive. Gender identity is how people do, in practice, display their gender identity. Not “this is what you ought to be doing.” Rather “this is what’s happening”

      That said, there is no mention of biological sex there at all.

      And it is you who assumes that gender identity = girl therefore gender expression =cliche female. The material has nothing to say on that. And in practice what you actually see is people negotiating a pretty complicated gender expression landscape in pretty idiosyncratic ways. Not people just rigidly deploying a narrow set of gender cliches.

      Are there folks who are big-time interested in what we might call “cliche” femininity or masculinity? Sure. Is that all we’re talking about here? Absolutely not.

      That limitation is on you.

      1. But nowadays most of us are fine with anyone expressing whatever “gender” they wish. That doesn’t alter the fact that biological sex is sometimes relevant and important, and that it is ok to use pronouns to refer to biological sex.

      2. In practice, children grow up with sexist messaging. In practice, children who identify as trans are gender nonconforming. We don’t get roughhousing 6 year old boys who scorn “girly stuff” announcing to the first grade that they’ve realized they’re a tomboy.

        Biological sex is mentioned and minimized as “sex assigned at birth: the labels ‘male,’”female,’ or ‘intersex’ based on their body parts.”

        The idea is that if we classify children as boy or girl by sex the stereotypes are somehow unavoidable, but if we let children classify themselves as boy, girl, both, or neither according to “who they feel they are inside” the stereotypes are eliminated. No. The stereotypes are entrenched by their assigning different ways of feeling, thinking, acting, and being to the sexes and deciding which they are. Gender requires the existence of sex to exist. Otherwise, it’s just personality traits which have no relation to boy & girl.

        1. All you are doing is making up an opposing argument, then refuting it.

          I don’t think this all about stereotypes. I think the notion is more like people are on a gender spectrum. Sex characteristics contribute to gender identity to varying degrees. Folks who have gender identities that aren’t typical for their biology should have the opportunity to express that and to be recognized for what they feel they are rather than always being moored to the identity society’s says confirms to biology.

          Stereotypes are really a whole different matter.

  24. I don’t really have a problem with they/them. Except when someone is describing more than one person. Then it’s confusing. (I recently read a book involving a non-binary character and every time they were in a scene with another character, it tripped me up. Though that could just have been shoddy writing too.)

    As someone who was bullied in grade school, and called an “it” on occasion, I can’t help but think of using that word to describe another person as a form of degradation. I’m a – mostly – well-adjusted adult now, but the idea makes my skin crawl. If degradation is your kink, fine. To each their own (<– see? it works there). But don't ask me to participate.

  25. “Youse” was mentioned here as a useful if nonstandard plural form.
    It is very relevant to our topic that “you” is the correct and original English 2nd person plural. The 2nd person singular is of course thou. “Thou” is a pronoun that got lost only recently because of too much politeness (“you” was the polite direct address, like “vous” in French).
    English is now poised to lose “he” and “she” to politeness, too. Young people already think “they” is a normal 3rd person singular. So “it” may the better choice than “they” in the long term if we are looking for a gender neutral third person singular reference, because it is at least singular and avoids the loss of two more useful singular pronouns.
    Some here apparently think that “I” is somehow a form of “he” and “she”, but not of “it”. But “I” and “you” are not forms of anything else (linguist speaking here), they are the pronouns for the first and second person respectively (“person” meaning a relational aspect here, not “human being”), independently of “he” and “she”, and they happen to be ungendered. He/she/it are the third person singular pronouns for reference to an entity not directly addressed, they are gendered as male/female/neuter respectively, a relict of a more elaborate gender system that English largely lost. All of the three third person pronouns have equal grammatical status versus “I” or “you”. Any he, she or it should call him/her/itself “I” when speaking in the first person, and should be called “you” in the second person (unless in the kind of baby talk I use with my spouse I cited in another comment above).
    “Neuter”, by the way, should not be understood as of neuter sex. “unspecified” or “does not apply” would be a good interpretation.

    Hope da roolz still cover this.

    1. Thank you for that, Ruth. My view is that “I” and “thou” don’t need gender forms because if thou and I are speaking to each other, there are only two possible people covered in the first- and second- person exchange. If thou or I am taking about someone (third person), the gendered forms help a little in keeping track of who said or did what. (“He said-she said.”). Obviously this doesn’t work if the gossip is about two men or two women but as I said above, all the good salacious stories involve one of each. “It said-it said” is even less informative than “she said-she said.” At least the latter tells us that two women or girls are involved. If the purpose of language is to exchange information and not to suppress it, words and constructions with the greatest possible information density should be chosen. “It” and “they” to refer to people is telling me that someone is hoping we won’t ask too many questions about, say, the true sex of the “they” charged with sexual assault and indecent exposure.

      Since “it” and “they/them” are both third- (and only third- ) person pronouns, they cannot grammatically be used in first- or second- person speech. If a person wants to be referred to as “it” instead of “he/him” or “she/her” in the third person, that would at least be grammatically correct, even if impersonal and obfuscatory.

Leave a Reply