Opinion editor's note: This article, part of our New Voices collection, was written by a first-time contributor to Star Tribune Opinion. For more information about our efforts to continually expand the range of views we publish, see startribune.com/opinion/newvoices.


My young-adult offspring uses they/them pronouns.

Many people object to the fact that plural pronouns have been adopted by individuals who do not wish to be identified by a gender pronoun (he or she). They argue that it's too hard to change the hardwiring of singular/plural. They have a point about the hardwiring, but not about the "too hard to change" aspect. It must also be frustrating and boring for nontraditional-gendered folks to be constantly asked (in effect, accused): "Why did you choose plural pronouns? It's counterintuitive; it's too hard; it's grammatically confusing." Those three points? To a very small degree, yes. To a much larger degree, definitively no.

An analogy: A person walks into a co-op and approaches the cashier, holds up their phone and points to text. They ask: "Why did you apply such difficult language to your business description? It doesn't make any sense and it's too hard for me to shift naturally into my own vocabulary and understanding." Well, first of all, I started this paragraph with a "person/their" match — a traditionally incorrect noun-pronoun agreement in grammar. But it reads just fine because English speakers and writers have become accustomed to using "they" when "he or she" is too formal or cumbersome.

Second of all, is there any scenario possible when a co-op cashier is solely responsible for the language choices of the company they work with? (See that? "Cashier" singular, "they" plural.) Is there any scenario likely in life that you will meet the one human being who decided, by him- or her- or their-selves, that they/them would be the pronouns adopted by any and all human beings who want to be identified by non-gendered language? No. The words have been adopted. The origin or the choice is not the issue. The portion of the population who uses they/them pronouns is not responsible for explaining or justifying or defending the use of them. They serve. They help define. They exist. Don't accuse or confront or blame the cashier for language over which they had no say. Don't judge or harass the person who feels best served by pronouns over which they had no participation in adopting.

The person and the pronoun? They're worth the effort.

Mary Dupont is a published author and photographer in Minnetonka.