When they is (are?) one person

Is there no better alternative to “they” for an individual who identifies as neither male nor female, but as non-binary? I’ve seen many alternatives but am not persuaded that any of them are better.

This has come up a a few times recently in my little corner of the world. The most recent example was in this NPR story about someone who “is no longer legally male or female and prefers the pronoun ‘they’.”

It’s confusing to use they in a sentence when referring to one person. Small issue, maybe, but it’s the only thing that bugs me about the story.

Well, OK, it’s not the only thing.

Far, far worse and infinitely more distressing is the hate that burbles up from the depths when stories like these come to light. I briefly thought about disconnecting from social media, or at least trying harder to avoid the vile, toxic comments that are so common in the world’s dark online underbelly.

I sometimes envy a good friend who no longer watches the news and has no social media presence or interest. I suppose part of the reason is that he is a lawyer, a former prosecutor who now defends the accused. I imagine he’s had more than his fill of exposure to the uglier side of humanity.

It’s hard for me to imagine disconnecting to that extent as a writer. So far, I’m unable to turn away. Maybe it’s because of my education and experience as a journalist, or some character flaw that makes me inordinately curious about the evil among us.

When “they” is among a person’s preferred pronouns (mine are he/him/his, BTW), I try to respect that, as difficult as it might make construction of a clear sentence.

The slimy creatures that spew hatred from greasy keyboards and incite others to commit violence against people who are different?

It is important to know that those people exist, but they deserve respect from no one.

 

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