Multi colored back ground with words "Pronoun" "She/her/hers" "They/them/theirs" "He/him/his"

February 29, 2024


Multi colored back ground with words "Pronoun" "She/her/hers" "They/them/theirs" "He/him/his"The partner of my oldest son uses they/them pronouns. In a text exchange with my son I used “her” in reference to “them”. I was offering an extra ticket I had to hear a speaker brought to Des Moines, Iowa by Capital City Pride. My son’s response confirmed they had other obligations and they thanked me for the offer. Immediately I realized my mistake and apologized. My son did not reply to the apology. Which is spot on. As it should be.

I know some of you might have the propensity to bad mouth the child who does not respond to his, her, or their parent. Even when the child is an adult. That is an exploration for another time. Today my focus is inclusivity and where the burden of creating an inclusive environment rests.

It is a timeless truth that younger people in society will change our language. Language; the use, meaning and creation of words; is fluid. In our current time one of the forces changing our language is the opening up and coming out of gender fluidity. Hence expanded pronouns. (and new relationship identifiers) Predictably there is push back from the (mostly white) older generations.

The push back is part an entrenched belief that elders should be respected i.e. We made the rules and ya’ll are to abide by our rules. Use our words. Which mystifies me some. Apparently there’s amnesia from our youth of how WE shifted language with OUR slang. Like totally dude, that’s heavy. The bigger part, my observation, has to do with ego. The uncomfortable, shaming, irritation which springs forth anytime we make a social mistake. No one enjoys being out of step or being behind the times. The knee jerk response is to throw up a self protection shield. Which coincidentally looks like (is) disparagement of the new language taking hold. The discomfort you might feel with shifting words is understandable. But. I’ll put this as gently as I can….Suck it up buttercup.

In truth there is more to pronouns. These words are not pop culture they are culture defining. We as a nation are rolling toward a reckoning with our true history. A decade long information ground swell has brought to the forefront truths how we as a country marginalize huge swaths of humanity. The politics of our time spark seeds of polarization which the media fans to flame. It is the centuries old divide and conquer utilized to retain control. Keep the wealth, resources, and power in the hands of a few. Each of us has a choice. We can continue to buy into fear mongering politics, stay divided, and watch a dystopian future unfold. OR we can begin to build connection across all the dividing lines.

Which brings me to where the burden of creating inclusive environments rests. It is not for the person choosing a new pronoun to remind others to use it. They can give grace when they are referred to by the wrong pronoun, but, they should not be expected to. It is a simple and powerful thing to interact with people in a way that makes them feel seen. Using the chosen pronoun is an acknowledgement. “I see you. I care about you.”

This one simple act shifts interpersonal dynamic from contentious to inclusive. Us old dogs (and all the not so old dogs who have been socialized to believe gender fluidity is bad) must learn new tricks. It is on us to embrace anyone who is a minority. Which they/them are. We have to remember they are they and be intentional using the correct pronoun. It is on us to apologize when we screw it up. Here’s a tip to help you get it right more often. While conversing with someone else and referencing a they/them individual, use they/them. It’s practice. And practice makes perfect.

This one tiny shift carries more power than you might realize. When we open up to new thought we grow. When we become intentional acknowledging others, declaring through our actions “I see you”, we satisfy our primordial need for connection. Any shame or awkwardness from the-new-thing melts away. It is a step on the way to building a society that is inclusive and accountable to us all.

For Your Best Possible Self
Forging a Life
Coach Christine Clark

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