Gender Neutral Language – Singular They

Writing for parents makes gendered language tricky. I’m often referring to the single hypothetical child of an imagined reader. Since I don’t know the gender of that child, I’m left with awkward choices that I discarded for one reason or another.

  • Using only he – not going to happen. It’s sexist.
  • Using only she – not that much better.
  • Switching between he and she throughout the text – requires too much attention to detail for me.
  • Using he or she each time – too clunky, especially when I use a pronoun multiple times in a sentence.


Here on LoveLiveGrow, I’ve been using the invented (or reclaimed) pronoun – ou – which I heard of through s.e. smith. Ou is the pronoun ou uses to refer to ouself.

I’ve used ou in my writing for about 3 years now. I’ve even had a couple of friends adopt it. But I’m getting a little weary of explaining it. I’m also less enthused with it as I try to write for a larger audience. In a blog post I can link back to explanation of my use of ou. But I’m working on an eBook, and I worry that it might alienate that audience.

I hate singular they. I don’t care so much about the “it’s improper grammar” argument. Grammar shifts. It’s natural. However, I am sometimes legitimately confused when it’s used in conversation. Especially when referring to a specific known person, I tend to think multiple people are being mentioned, and it leads to some confusion.

However, a goal that’s important to me is supporting the language preferred by any marginalized people affected by the language. A language shift happens faster the more people get on board. If adding my voice will help enable a shift desired by the affected people, then I want to contribute.

I see various gendered and non-gendered invented and reclaimed pronouns being used in transgender and genderqueer circles. But it seems that more and more often I am seeing a preference for singular they.

I want to add to that chorus and help shift the language that direction.

I have decided to drop ou and use singular they, despite my personal discomfort with it.

As a bonus, I won’t have to explain myself so much like I need to with ou. People might think my grammar is off, but they’ll understand what I’m saying.

We haven’t talked about gender and language here in awhile. What’s your take? Do you have a gender-neutral pronoun choice?

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