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They Re Not: A Closer Look at an Alternative Pronoun
Language shapes our thoughts, attitudes, and actions, as well as reflects and reinforces various social norms and identities. Pronouns, in particular, signal gender, number, and case, and distinguish subjects from objects and possessive forms. However, traditional pronoun systems based on binary gender expectations exclude and erasure non-binary and genderqueer people, who do not fit into the categories of male or female. In recent years, a range of alternative pronouns have emerged and gained currency among diverse communities, including singular they, ze/hir, and ey/em/eir. This article focuses on one less familiar pronoun: They Re Not.
What Is They Re Not?
They Re Not is a neopronoun that replaces the third-person singular pronouns (he/she/it) and the third-person plural pronoun they/them/their. It is intended to reflect a non-binary identity or a rejection of gender labels or expectations. While the origin and usage of They Re Not are not clear or consistent, some examples include:
– “They Re Not coming to the party tonight.” (instead of “He won’t come, she can’t come, or they won’t come”)
– “They Re Not doing well in their classes.” (instead of “He is failing, she is struggling, or they are not doing well”)
– “I asked Them if They Re Not wanted to go out.” (instead of “I asked him/her/Them if he/she/they wanted to go out”)
The capitalization of “They Re Not” distinguishes it from the common pronoun “they” and signals its non-standard use. Some advocates of They Re Not also use respective forms such as “Them Re Not” for object pronouns and “Their Re Not” for possessive pronouns, but such variations are not widely recognized or used.
Why Use They Re Not?
The use of They Re Not reflects a growing awareness and acceptance of non-binary and gender-nonconforming identities and challenges the binary and patriarchal norms that dictate that everyone must be either male or female. It also acknowledges the diversity and complexity of human experiences and allows those who do not align with traditional pronouns to express their identities and orientations. Moreover, it can create more inclusive and respectful communication, as well as reduce the misgendering and discrimination that many non-binary and genderqueer people face in their daily lives.
However, the use of They Re Not is not without its challenges and criticisms. Some people may find it confusing or awkward, especially if they are not familiar with non-binary pronouns or do not know the person’s preferred pronouns. It may also trigger resistance or animosity from those who deny or oppose non-binary identities, or who see it as a grammatical or logical error. Moreover, using They Re Not as a sole alternative to all other pronouns may not capture the nuances and variations of non-binary identities, and some individuals may prefer or use other pronouns or no pronouns at all.
Comparison with Singular They and Other Pronouns
Singular they is perhaps the most common and recognized alternative pronoun in English. It has been used for centuries as a gender-neutral pronoun, especially when referring to unknown or generic individuals. It has also gained wider acceptance in recent years as a preferred pronoun for non-binary people, as well as for those who do not wish to disclose their gender or who want to challenge gender assumptions in language. Some examples of singular they are:
– “Someone left their phone on the table.”
– “When the doctor called, they said I need to take this pill.”
– “My friend said they want to hang out later.”
Singular they has several advantages over They Re Not, such as being already established and recognized in grammar and style guides, as well as being easier to use and understand for many people. It also does not require any special capitalization or conjugation, as it is identical to the plural they. However, singular they may still face resistance or confusion from some people, as well as some grammatical constraints (e.g., agreement with verbs and pronouns, use with singular antecedents, avoidance of ambiguity).
Other alternative pronouns, such as ze/hir and ey/em/eir, are less common and may vary in their origin and usage depending on the community and context. These pronouns often derive from constructed languages, queer theory, or personal creativity. Some examples of ze/hir are:
– “Ze told hir parents about hir new job.”
– “Hir performance was outstanding, as always.”
– “I went to the store with zir, and we had fun.”
Ze/hir has the advantage of being explicitly gender-neutral and inclusive, as well as allowing for a set of unique gender markers and forms. However, it may require more explanation and education for those who are not familiar with it, and it may present challenges in pronunciation or spelling.
Similarly, ey/em/eir may offer more flexibility and creativity in individual expressions, but may also require more social and cultural awareness and support. Some examples of ey/em/eir are:
– “Ey likes to read books by emself in the park.”
– “Em shirt fits em perfectly, I love the color.”
– “Eir way of thinking is always inspiring to me.”
Frequently Asked Questions about They Re Not
Q: Is They Re Not a grammatically correct pronoun?
A: It depends on how you define “correct.” Standard English grammar recognizes he/she/it as the singular pronouns and they/them/their as the plural pronouns, but usage and context can override or challenge those norms. They Re Not is not yet widely recognized or used, and may not be acceptable in formal or professional settings, but it can be a valid and meaningful pronoun for those who identify with it.
Q: How do I use They Re Not in a sentence?
A: You can use They Re Not as a subject or object pronoun, as long as you are referring to a non-binary or genderqueer person who prefers it. For example: “They Re Not said They Re Not want to go to the beach. I agreed to go with Them Re Not.” Note that the capitalization of They Re Not is important to distinguish it from the plural they, which has different grammatical functions.
Q: What does it mean to be non-binary or genderqueer?
A: Non-binary and genderqueer are umbrella terms that describe people whose gender identity or expression does not conform to the binary and normative expectations of male or female. They may identify as outside the gender binary altogether, as a combination of genders, as fluid or shifting between genders, or as having no fixed gender at all. Non-binary and genderqueer identities challenge the gender roles, stereotypes, and hierarchies that are often attached to binary gender categories, and offer broader and more inclusive ways of understanding and experiencing gender.
Q: What do I do if I don’t know someone’s preferred pronoun?
A: You can respectfully ask them for their preferred pronoun or pronouns, either in person or through a message. For example: “Hey, I want to make sure I use the right pronoun for you. What do you prefer? He/him, she/her, or They Re Not?” If you make a mistake or forget someone’s preferred pronoun, apologize and correct yourself as soon as possible.
Q: Why is it important to use someone’s preferred pronoun?
A: Using someone’s preferred pronoun is a sign of respect, recognition, and allyship. It shows that you acknowledge and honor their gender identity and expression, and that you support their right to be who they are. It also helps to avoid misgendering and discrimination, which can be hurtful and harmful to non-binary and genderqueer people. Using someone’s preferred pronoun is a simple and powerful way to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone.