CBA Record January-February 2022
the transgender and genderqueer communities. For those who do not identify with the gender binary of he or she , many prefer they as a singular pronoun. However, five years ago, many practicing lawyers were unaware of gender-neutral pronouns, such as the singular use of they or created pronouns such as ze or hir . Gender-Neutral Pronouns: Gaining Acceptance In the years since 2017, the use of gender-neutral pronouns has become more mainstream. In 2019, Merriam-Webster dictionary added a new meaning to the definition of they – “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” More and more major publications and style manuals allow use of the singular they for persons who use a gender-neutral pronoun. Others have followed the New York Times in using the honorific Mx . in lieu of Mr. or Ms . upon request. Email signature blocks often indicate one’s pronouns of choice. The social media sites Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn all allow participants to define their gender as something other than male or female. As for gender-neutral pronouns of choice, the singular they appears to be more frequently used than created pronouns such as ze and hir . Most of the discussion online within the last two years focuses on the singular they . The created pronouns have the advantage of being truly singular for a singular subject, object, or possessive, but there may simply be too many of them. Ellis noted 15 different forms of created pronouns in the CBA webinar presentation. Other websites list more than 20 forms. In preparing my earlier column, I contacted Prof. Greg Johnson of Vermont Law School. He wrote an article in 2016 entitled, Wel- come to Our Gender-Neutral Future , 42 Vermont Bar Journal 36 (Fall 2016). In the article he stressed, “We need a gender-neutral pronoun to reflect this new reality” of individuals of individuals who do not identify with the single gender male or female. I reached out to Johnson for this column. He agreed with my assessment, writing in email, “Back then [in 2016], the singular they was controversial, and its advocates were outside the mainstream in the legal writing community. With lightning speed (by grammar standards), the singular they and gender-neutral pronouns have been widely accepted by legal writing professors and students alike. Now, when I bring the subject up in class, pressing the excitement of a controversial (and political) grammar issue, my students stare at me as if I am stating the obvious.” Underlying this increasing use is the understanding that our lan- guage needs to be inclusive. All people deserve respect and acceptance. It has become a fundamental question of respect for and inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community to use one’s preferred pronouns.
NOTA BENE BY KATHLEEN DILLON NARKO The Power of Pronouns: 5 Years Later F ive years ago, I wrote a Nota Bene column on gender-neutral pronouns, They and Ze:The Power of Pronouns , 31CBARecord 48 (January 2017). At that time, many readers had never heard of the singular they or gender-neutral pronouns for individuals who do not identify with binary male or female identities. Since then, use of the singular they has become more mainstream as a way to include all gender identities. Many of us have moved from acknowledging gender-neutral pronouns to advocating for their use. As lawyers, we have a special duty to respect and include all individuals in the justice system, regardless of their gender identity. Our choice of language is a great way to start. The Chicago Bar Association recently sponsored a seminar, “Pro- nounUse&OtherTips forWriting in aDiverse Legal Environment,” presented by attorney Anne Ellis and moderated by Justice Michael B. Hyman. The seminar prompted me to revisit my earlier column. This column focuses on use of the singular they for non-binary individuals, rather than a way to avoid the cumbersome phrase, he or she . Merriam-Webster defines the latter usage as “they” “used with a singular antecedent to refer to an unknown or unspecified person.” Gender-Neutral Pronouns: The History As I wrote five years ago, we can see how important pronouns are to inclusion by looking at the history of pronoun use in the United States. In the 1970s and ‘80s, the collective he became unacceptable as a pronoun representing bothmen and women. Today, when women comprise 50% of law school classes, the collective he is not inclusive. To avoid sexism, he became he or she . While he or she can become cumbersome at times, fewwould argue we should eliminate she from the equation. It is unthinkable to exclude half the population from the language of statutes, contracts, or conversation. We are seeing a similar attitudinal shift in the use of pronouns for Kathleen Dillon Narko is a Clinical Professor of Law at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law and a member of the CBARecord Editorial Board.
“Pronouns are not frivolous issues. They are little words, but they are fundamental issues. They go to fundamental fairness, respect.” – Anne Ellis
“What is this [discussion of gender-neutral pronouns] really all about? To me, what we are talking about is what our country stands for. Because if we stand for equality and equity among men, women, and non-binary individuals, then what is happening today is that America is at war with itself on freedom of expression. On the human right to choose for oneself how to identify oneself.” – Justice Michael B. Hyman
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