Donna’s sewing retreat is next week and she’s swamped with last-minute organizational details and changes. On top of that, she’s squeezing in a quick flight to Las Vegas to attend our grandson’s high school graduation. I’m sitting it out at home in Tucson, since Quentin’s father, mother, and sister are also attending and the school’s only allowing four members of each graduate’s family into the auditorium. When we told our daughter Polly about the change of plans, she was disappointed … she’d been planning to camp out at our house while we were gone.
Mentioning our daughter reminds me: a journalist and blogger I follow, Nancy Nall Derringer, writes how her daughter Kate “effortlessly uses ‘they’ and ‘them’ to describe nonbinary folks.” It doesn’t work for mom, though: “I’m never not confused by this, and asking ‘who else are we talking about?’”
I’m with Nancy. The singular they confuses me. Every time.
My reactionary streak shows every time I encounter it. I’m reading a cyberpunk science fiction novel (“Repo Virtual” by Corey White) and tripping over a nonbinary-by-choice character (Soo-hyun, sister of the protagonist and clearly a woman but never mind). Other characters (and the author) defer to her genderless identity with they/them/theirs pronouns. “They woke up cranky.” “Soo-hyun buttered their toast.” “I told my sibling I loved them.” Every other character in the novel, I should note, is a he or a she. It’s just the one character who’s a they.
I respect a person’s right to identify as nonbinary, neither a him nor a her, and wish them luck. But there has to be a better way to refer to singular people who make that choice than with plural pronouns. I suppose I can get used to it in casual speech, but I always think of writing first, of making things clear to readers.
If I wrote fiction, would I create a nonbinary character? I guess, if my story was a mystery and the plot depended on misunderstandings about a suspect’s gender. But otherwise, why? I’m not sure what Soo-hyun’s purpose is in Corey White’s novel. I’m far enough in that I don’t think a plot point is going to hinge on Soo-hyun’s self-identity. Is she (oops) just there to make a political or social point about gender diversity? To demonstrate the author’s hipness? To get readers used to the singular they?
It detracts from what would otherwise be a ripping yarn. You don’t see that shit in Jack Reacher novels.
Speaking of ripping yarns, I have a question: Principal Snyder knew about the Hellmouth. Why didn’t he know about Buffy … or did he?
A quick personal update: one week after surgery to correct the ptosis on my right eyelid, the stitches are out and the bruising is almost gone. The skin above my eyelid is still swollen, keeping it from rising as far as it eventually will, when for the first time in my adult life my eyes will be symmetrical. My plastic surgeon tells me the swelling may persist for three months but will go away, and I have complete confidence in her. Though there’s already a big improvement, I’m not quite ready to share. It’ll be selfies with shades for a while yet.
© 2021, Paul Woodford. All rights reserved.