Singular “They” Traces Back To The 1300s, As It Happens…

, , , , , , , , | Related | July 18, 2020

My mother was diagnosed late in life with Aspergers Syndrome. One day, I notice she has posted a Facebook comment under some Christian article about the gender-neutral pronoun “they/their.” She states that “they” can only be used as a plural, and that if “he” or “she” don’t fit, there is always “it”.

I respectfully reply that, while they may have been used as plural pronouns in the past, language evolves and you most definitely can’t refer to anyone as “it”. I also comment that for the sake of tolerance and acceptance, “they/their” as gender-neutral pronouns should be embraced. 

She doesn’t respond, so later that day I ring her to ask if she really feels like calling people “it” is appropriate and to tell her that I actually think it’s pretty mean. I tell her that using respectful language won’t hurt her. She says something like, “And I suppose if I invite a stranger into my house and they slit my throat, that won’t hurt me, either?” — weird, I know! — and she hangs up on me. I try to call back a few times but she refuses my calls. 

I carefully craft an email to her explaining how I feel about what she said. I say that I understand that it’s difficult for her generation — she’s nearly seventy — to accept these societal changes, but it’s important that she does. I also reiterate that language evolves, even including a link to words that have changed meaning over time. I don’t hear back. 

A few days later, she turns up on my doorstep, hands me back my spare house key, tells me that she’s no longer my mother, and walks away. I yell after her to try to see my side but she keeps walking. When I call out, “What about the girls?” referring to my children, her granddaughters, she pauses, turns, and says, “Your girls, your problem!” I’m understandably upset. 

The next day she deletes me, my husband, and my mother-in-law from Facebook. 

I call my sister and my aunty — my mum’s sister — and explain the situation. They are also upset and both promise to talk to her about it. I ask them not to as I don’t want my issue to become their problem.

A few days later, I decide that I’ll be the bigger person for the sake of family and go to visit her with flowers. Fortunately, she’s out in the front of her house when I arrive; I was seriously concerned that she’d slam the door in my face. I give her the flowers and say I am sorry that I upset her and I just want to listen and not talk. She says she felt bullied by me and that her argument was about language and not transphobia. Rather than argue, I just make small talk until she feels better and promises to friend me and my family on Facebook again. 

I can’t say everything is back to normal. I haven’t given her my spare house key back and I won’t ask her to babysit my children again, but at least we can have family functions without any animosity. Fortunately, my mother-in-law is a loving mother to me and an amazing grandmother to my kids so they aren’t missing out too much not having a close relationship with my mother, but it’s still sad that rather than have a reasonable discussion, her first reaction was to cut us out of her life.

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