With Pronouns, It’s Always Research

The young rock and roll drummer I used to be would never have guessed that the future me would say this, but – I really enjoy delving into research now!  Good thing too, because as a writer I’m required to do a bunch.

I was skimming back and forth through Sol Stein’s excellent ‘Stein On Writing‘ and I noticed a passage where he dealt with his pronouns thusly: “When a child claps its hands…”.  This brought to my mind the sticky wicket of pronoun use when describing people, especially in this day and age of neutral gender ideas, the process by which we don’t piss anyone off.  I will say that I had a hard time wrapping my head around picturing a child and “its” thought processes.  The language made me feel as if I were some lurking predator, already distancing myself from the prey so as to dehumanize them in my mind.  It was at the very least distracting.

I was recently at a large library with a small coffee bar inside.  A helpful person took my order, fulfilled my order and then went on with their day (whew! Dodged that bullet!).  When asked by a friend where I got the coffee I politely gestured toward the coffee area and said “She can help you out”.  I was within earshot of the employee (why my friend didn’t see the service bar I’ll never know) and she (he?) didn’t even flinch – no harm, no foul.  Still, I left the moment with a lingering admonishment to myself.  “Stupid, stupid, stupid!” my internal dialog chastised.

Even now, I’m simply uncertain about how to deal with this issue, in real life and more importantly, in my writing.  After all, I’ve gotten used to being ignored in real life, but I really really don’t want to be ignored in the literary life.  How the hell am I supposed to sell books when I’m constantly being attacked because I’m thoughtless in regard to proper pronoun use?

I’ve never liked the ‘alternating’ idea – one sentence it’s ‘she’, the next sentence it’s ‘he’.  My picture keeps changing when that method is used, it’s confusing and distracting.  I despise the ‘(s)he’ approach – that feels like we’re just trying to cross the street to avoid the underlying issue.

Daffy Duck elegantly points to the problem; yet like me he finds no workable resolution.  Any suggestions?  Any place I should continue my research?  Do you have any experiences like this?  Let me know what your thoughts are, thanks.  Have a fantastic Monday!  ~TH~

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