Christa Kelly, News Editor
Second year student Danny Reinan and English professor John Schmitt were interviewed by WCCO’s Roshini Rajkumar about what it means to identify as nonbinary and the use of “they” as a singular pronoun. In her Nov 17 segment of “Real Talk with Roshini”, Rajkumar began by stating that she “was confused” about issues surrounding nonbinary people and wanted to “get some real answers”.
Reinan started off the conversation by giving a bit of their background. They stated that they had identified as nonbinary since they were twelve years old.
“People think of gender as a binary system, a system that only has two options,” Reinan explained. “But in reality… there are shades of gray in between. There are more than just two options and people who lay outside of the traditional gender boxes of male and female may call themselves nonbinary.”
When they first read about the term ‘nonbinary’, Reinan says, “immediately the feelings of displacement that I had felt for my entire life kind of clicked into place once I had that language to describe myself.”
While Reinan’s parents were supportive of their identity, they initially rejected the notion of using ‘they’ as a singular pronoun. This attitude changed after Reinan educated their parents on “how ubiquitous the singular they is in our language already.”
“People don’t say ‘who left his or her coat on the coach’, they say ‘who left their coat on the coach’”, Reinan said. “All you need to do is take that language that you already use constantly in your daily life and use it more intentionally when referring to individual people.”
Professor Schmitt added to this point, stating that “the use of they as a non-gendered pronoun goes back to the 14th century… it’s actually quite common.”
Still, some people have reservations about the use. “As someone who’s into grammar, how do I reconcile this with myself?” Rajkumar asked.
“You just have to get used to it,” Schmitt answered.
But adapting to this isn’t easy for many people. “Change can be difficult,” Rajkumar said after misgendering Reinan several times. As this happened throughout the interview, Reinan was asked to explain how to handle misgendering someone. They cautioned against over-apologizing.
“It really derails the conversation,” Reinan said. “It ends up centering the cis person who made the error… all you need to do is do a quick ‘sorry, I mean they’ and then move on.”
But this misgendering can get exhausting for transgender people. When asked about how transgender people handle this, Reinan acknowledges that it can be hard.
“Some trans people are worn down from constant invalidation and microaggressions. I have some days in my life where I’m not nearly as patient as I am today because I’ve corrected someone and tried to explain myself for the hundredth time in the day and I’m just getting sick of it… trans people are invalidated constantly on both personal and systemic levels and we’re entering into conversations around pronouns carrying that weight. However, in my experience, trans people want to be patient and want to have these conversations and want to be respectful… many of us are tired and frustrated about being invalidated, but we’re not angry and we ultimately care about building a community in which people can learn and these conversations can take place.”
As for cisgender people, Schmitt says “we have to just pay attention, listen, be respectful.”
“Patience, and maybe some grace,” Rajkumar finished.
The full interview can be found on wccoradio.radio.com.