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What Does They/Them Mean? They/Them Pronouns Explained

Everything you need to know about the award-winning pronoun

Non binary flag designed by Kye Rowan. Image: Creative Commons.

Oh, you don’t know? Singular they is only the hottest word around. After all, it was voted “word of the decade” by U.S. linguists. It’s the only pronoun to have ever won an award. Maybe that’s why people like me use they/them pronouns, because it means we’re iconic. We’re award winning. Basically, we’re hot shit.

But what exactly does “they/them” mean, you ask?

Short answer: it means whatever you want it to mean.

There are a myriad of reasons why someone would choose a gender neutral pronoun to refer to themselves, and all of them are valid. Maybe you’re trans, maybe you’re non-binary, maybe you’re pangender and refer to yourself by all pronouns. Maybe you just think it’s cool. Well, you’d be right. It is cool. After all, Shakespeare used singular they in his writing, and THAT GUY knew words.

So let’s just break down a couple of these reasons as to why someone might want to use they/them pronouns, shall we?

They’re non-binary

Many people who use they/them pronouns do so because they want to disentangle their identity from the male/female gender binary. Non-binary is somewhat of an umbrella term and is used to categorize a wide variety of genders. A non-binary person may feel that their gender is neither male nor female, and that they are somewhere in the middle. A non-binary person may also identify as “agender” and feel that their gender is neither male nor female. A non-binary person may feel that they have two or more genders, making them bigender or pangender. A non-binary person may also identify as genderfluid, and they feel that their gender identity is not static and changes over time. Or perhaps they are simply unsure of how they identify and are using “they/them” pronouns as a placeholder.

To me, that’s the value of “they/them” pronouns. They can mean a multitude of things, and they are able to validate a wide variety of gender identities. I personally identify as non-binary myself and use this term to validate my feminine qualities without feeling that I need to use “she” or “her.” I don’t think I’m 100% woman, I don’t think I’m 100% man. I’m simply a consciousness in a body. A soul. A spirit. A combination of masculine and feminine. A girl heart in a boy body, and that suits me just fine.

They’re trans

Many non-binary people (myself included) also identify as transgender. “Trans” itself is also an umbrella term and consists of binary and non-binary trans people. All I mean by this is that, on one side of the umbrella, there are people that identify as trans men and trans women, who tend to use “he/him” and “she/her” pronouns (respectively) and feel that they are one gender. On the other side of the umbrella, there are trans people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, but also do not solely identify with the opposite gender. For instance, a non-binary trans person might identify as a “femme” instead of a “woman.” They may feel that they possess largely feminine qualities but do not feel that “woman” is an accurate term to describe their gender identity.

If you’re new to concepts of gender identity and feel a little bit confused, that’s okay. Odds are, you’re reading this article because no one ever explained any of this to you. Maybe you’re simply curious about “they/them pronouns” after seeing them in someone’s Twitter bio. Maybe someone close to you has begun using “they/them” pronouns, and you want to know more but don’t want to feel rude by asking. Maybe you yourself feel that the pronouns you’re currently using don’t reflect who you feel you truly are inside. All of that is totally valid, and I applaud you for reading this far.

They think they/them pronouns are cool

And you know what? That’s dope. Because they/them pronouns are cool. Listen, some people might not be cool with me saying that it’s okay to use they/them pronouns just because you want to, but to me, those people seem like gatekeepers. Gender SHOULD be explored. Gender is a cliff that you should be free to JUMP OFF. It is OKAY if you don’t know exactly where you’re going to land. It’s OKAY if you don’t know EXACTLY what your gender identity is. If that’s the case, you should fuck around with it for a little while! Try different pronouns out! See what you like and what you don’t!

You might realize that “they” feels great, but you’re also comfortable with “he.” You might realize that “they” doesn’t depart from the gender assigned to you at birth far enough and you want to use “he” or “she.” You might realize that you’re cool with being referred to by any and all pronouns, and that’s dope! You might even realize that you actually prefer the pronouns that were assigned to you at birth after all. If that’s the case, I triple applaud you for your open-mindedness and willingness to explore outside the norm. It’s cool to kiss whoever you want, it’s cool to have sex with whoever you want, it’s cool to be whoever you want.

They’re a genderless 5th dimensional alien come to spread the light of understanding across the face of the earth

THIS IS THE DOPEST OPTION OF ALL. Somewhere out there, there might be an alien species that has evolved BEYOND gender—and perhaps even biological sexual characteristics themselves! Maybe they reproduce by budding, like a sponge! Maybe they can simply create more of their species through the sheer power of will! Maybe they are actually a “hive mind” of beings that are all a part of one universal consciousness! And they’re here to share their freaky alien technology and enlightened ways with the human race! AWESOME.

But what are you gonna call them? They evolved out of the the gender binary millions of years ago! Even the most bigoted transphobe in the world would be a fool not use “they/them” to describe these wondrous beings because THEY NEVER HAD A GENDER ASSIGNED TO THEM AT BIRTH. MAYBE THEY WERE NEVER EVEN BORN AT ALL. MAYBE THEY SIMPLY ALWAYS WERE AND ALWAYS WILL BE. That would make singular “they” not just the “word of the decade,” but the “word of the aeons.” And wouldn’t that be a thing to behold?

(Featured Image: Creative Commons)

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