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Maverick Notes



HURLINGrammar books used in high schools insist that using “they” instead of “he/she” is incorrect. But as we know, language evolves with time. And language evolves with the people who use these words.

“Internet,” “website” and other computer-related words didn’t exist until we needed words for things that are otherwise difficult to describe. Common slang, words like “selfie,” were invented to shorten other words; it’s so much easier to say “selfie” than to say “a picture of myself.”

Language changes with us, and this is a good thing. It represents shifts in society, progress, expansion, new inventions and ideas.

“They” is the word of the year, as proclaimed by more than 200 linguists at the American Dialect Society’s annual meeting, and with good reason. You might not realize how often you use the word “they,” but you often do so without even thinking about it.

Say you’re talking with a friend about a person you don’t know. They (see?) say, “One of my friends just moved to town.” You ask, “Where do they live?” or “Why did they move?” or “What do they do?” It’s a common, natural word that easily fits in with the flow of casual conversation, much less cumbersome than saying “he or she” all the time. It’s automatic, it’s quick — and it’s inclusive.

Unlearning old habits is difficult, which is why saying “he or she” is understandable. But there are other, more personal reasons for switching to the easier “they”; some people don’t use she or he as pronouns to describe themselves.

To give a quick explanation, let me alter your perception of the label “transgender.” In the past, the medical term was transsexual, a term for a man or a woman who was “born in the wrong body” and who desired to “switch genders.” The term was tossed around with “homosexual” and “drag queen,” although neither of those words correlate because being gay is an orientation and being a drag queen is largely about presentation. Slowly, as we settle into the 21st century, we are seeing this meaning shift.

The meaning of the word “transgender” in its simplest form is: a person whose gender is not the same as their assigned sex. A transgender person could want surgery or hormones; they might not. Some trans people are comfortable with the bodies they were born with. The label is broadening as we learn more about ourselves and step outside of the boxes we were born into and forced to live by. GLAAD.org or HRC.org both provide helpful definitions and terminology for those interested in learning more.

Under the term “transgender” is the term “non-binary.” It’s really quite simple: “Non-binary” refers to anybody who isn’t a man or a woman. Nonbinary.org gives a more elaborate definition and expands on the topic considerably. Non-binary people sometimes reject standard she or he pronouns and instead use gender-neutral pronouns like “they” or “ze.” They, like binary trans people — as in, trans men or trans women — might want surgery and hormones, or they might not. Every trans person is different with their perception of their gender, their feelings about their bodies, and how they want to be addressed.

This doesn’t mean you suddenly have to memorize tons and tons of words and facts; really, the questions should be saved for an educational environment, rather than discussing the topic over coffee or at a party. It’s just extending the same respect you would for a person who isn’t transgender — use the right pronouns, and use the right name.

If your friend changed her name from Maria to Christine, you might slip up and call her Maria every now and then. But you would try your hardest to use her new name, and eventually it would be automatic, and you would call her Christine when speaking to others about her. If Christine’s birth name is Brandon, the response should be the same.

If this seems like a lot of information to take in, it’s because it is. Again, there’s no need to memorize lists of terminology. There’s a very, very easy way to begin to make your language more inclusive toward trans people, and shorten your sentences at the same time. Say “they.”

I promise, it makes a difference.

Riverdale High School senior Skye Hurlin is one of two Maverick Notes columnists. Contact Hurlin at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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