Lately, I’ve been considering non-binary gender pronouns and how they might infuse my writing. First, https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-34901704 (which includes the image) takes you to an article about non-binary gender pronouns. Also, there’s a quick tip list created in collaboration with Melinda Lee, Assistant Director, Gender and Sexuality Center for Queer and Trans Life, at the University of Minnesota, at http://writing.umn.edu/sws/quickhelp/grammar/nonbinary.html
Right now, I’m working on a historical novel, so don’t “need” non-binary gender pronouns at the moment, but this gives me time to consider them for future writing projects. First, they are an indication of our growing awareness and, hopefully, understanding of all people. Second, they are becoming more common in our evolving language.
As someone who has used the English language for a long time, I find words like ze and ey unexpected, but I’m able to adjust to them more readily than the new way we use more common words like they/them/theirs. Referring to a single person as “they are…” is hard for me. Even harder is “they is…” which I have also read. While I recall that “they” used to be a single pronoun centuries ago (coming from thee, thy, etc.), it has been plural in my lifetime.
I also have difficulty with sentences such as these: “That research is theirs” (when referring to a single person) or, even harder, “They cited themself” (rather than themselves). I suspect that we may still be in a period of flux as our usages “settle” into a more common form, but, even then, it’s difficult for me to “change my spots,” even as I am fully aware that our living language is living precisely because it adapts and changes.
The English language is one of the most adaptable languages in the world. I recall reading somewhere that, in the first fifty years that Britain occupied India (we’ll ignore the horrible behavior for the purposes of discussing language), the British adopted/adapted/absorbed thousands of words into English from Hindi, Urdu, and so on. Words we take for granted, like “loot, nirvana, pyjamas, shampoo and shawl; bungalow, jungle, pundit and thug.” This list is taken from Rahul Verma’s “How India Changed the English Language” (BBC Culture article dated 22 June 2015 (see http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150619-how-india-changed-english), which explains the spelling of pyjamas (pajamas in American language).
So what’s my problem with ey/em/eirs or co/co/co’s? Upbringing, familiarity, habituation. What “sounds right” in my ear. So I struggle on and do my best and hope my non-binary friends and acquaintances will give me some understanding as I work to adjust.