Some Thoughts on Pronouns

About a dozen years back, after I had moved to Texas to keep an eye on my aging father, I signed up for a writers workshop. I had to write a couple of stories for it and travel to get there, so I expected it to give me the kind of energy boost I needed to work on my own stuff around parent care and my day job.

It turned out to be the wrong workshop for that. In the end, it may have done more harm than good. But that’s the chance you take with workshops.

I’ve let go of most of my bad feelings about it, but there was one thing that got said in the workshop that I completely rejected at the time and feel even more strongly about today. I hope that the person who said it has changed the way they think about it, but having heard several other writers in the same general age range make similar comments, it is possible that they are still stuck in this rut.

The thing they said was, “The first question we ask about a baby is ‘Is it a boy or a girl?’”

This was in criticism of a story I wrote in which I named a character Jade and didn’t indicate gender immediately. The instructor said firmly that the gender of the character should be established immediately.

Now it happens that in the story as then written, Jade was male and that became clear. That is, I wasn’t even writing a story in which a character was non-binary or their gender unknown. I just had two people meet and, given the differences in their backgrounds, their genders weren’t immediately obvious to each other.

I bristled at the idea that one must always label the gender of a character. Once I heard that, I decided that the instructor in question had nothing to teach me and gave up listening to them.

(BTW, I am using they/them/their pronouns because the gender of the instructor is not relevant and not important to my experience. I suspect the person in question might resent that, but that’s their problem.)

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