Drawn to Comics: “A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns” Is Quick, Easy and Spectacular

While it may seem easy enough to those of us who’ve had lots of practice, getting pronouns right is actually one of the things that cis people seem to have the hardest time with when it comes to small things to help trans people. Unfortunately, strict grammar rules have combined with cissexism and and just a reluctance to change to make it so that many people insist that they/them can’t be singular. We all know that that’s simply not true, but if you’ve got people in your life who could use some help, Archie Bongiovanni and Tristin Jimerson have a brand new book that will help explain not only how to use they/them and other gender neutral pronouns, but also explains why it’s so important.

You likely already know Bongiovanni from their work here at Autostraddle. They draw the Saturday Morning Cartoon Grease Bats. You might also know them from the Fist You Podcast or their queer truth-or-dare game Sweatgasm. They’ve illustrated this guide as well as co-written it. I like that they have both a non-binary queer person who uses they/them pronouns and a cis guy who uses he/him pronouns explaining all of this because it shows the importance of cis allies doing their part. Co-writer Tristin Jimerson does a good job of using his privilege to explain some things and take some of the burden so that Archie and non-binary people don’t have to do it alone.

The art style is Bongiovanni’s traditional style, but a little more cleaned up compared to what they usually do in Grease Bats — which is great, because it makes it more accessible to all the people who will need to read this book. The book is well organized in away that makes it easy to explain, and when things get confusing, Tristan will ask questions and Archie will explain them. The conversational style makes it even easier to teach they/them pronouns. They don’t even stop there; the book is chock full of scripts and real-life scenarios for you to practice using they/them pronouns.

I also really love the way that the writers have injected the book with some lightness and humor. You can tell that they were having fun while making this book, and that they’re friends who make a great team. This is a serious topic, but they don’t let that take all the fun out of it. Overall, this book is exactly what we need out of this kind of resource. There are a lot of ways to teach people how to be good allies to non-binary people and others who use they/them pronouns, but in my opinion, a comic book with two friends having a conversation about how, when and why to use them while also making jokes and funny faces is absolutely the best way.This book does a great job of explaining pronouns and non-binary gender to both people who already have an understanding of queerness and pronouns and people who might have no introduction to it at all. Like Archie says in the book, they do a good job of explaining things as if the reader is a baby. A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is being published by Limerence Press and will be released June 13. Check it out on amazon.com or your local comic or book store.

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Mey Valdivia Rude is a bisexual Latina trans woman living in Los Angeles. She's a writer, comic consultant and a trans activist. She's a bruja, a femme, a pop princess and she loves comic books, witches, dinosaurs and crying. She has a cat named Sawyer and a very successful twitter.

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19 Comments

  1. Great resource!

    When people try to argue that “they” can never be singular, I respond that they’d better not use singular “you” then either, because it underwent the very same grammatical shift several hundred years ago and that’s why we don’t use “thou” anymore.

  2. As someone who’s new to the nonbinary community (personally), I’m lost on a major point here. Tristin is saying that there are three pronoun genders–male, female, and neutral, the latter represented by they/them–and that in order to replace a noun with a pronoun, you have to infer the gender of the person being referred to, which is problematic if you’re basing that on physical/visual characteristics and not asking the person directly what pronouns they use. I’ve always been taught, and always used, they/them as a way of saying “I don’t know anything about this person’s life or identity, and I’m not claiming to, so I’m not going to make any assumptions whatsoever about them,” similar to people who have worked “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls” out of their vocabulary to be more gender-neutral. Is this saying that they/them can never be used as hypothetical/impersonal stand-ins, because they/them have been reclaimed by the nonbinary community as pronouns referring specifically to members of that community?

    If so, as someone who works and engages in a lot of upfront/impersonal/customer service discourse spaces, I’m not sure how to work around the lack of a stand-in pronoun that that opens up–I’m thinking about situations like asking a waiter “I’ll have what they’re having” re: the person’s dish the next table over, pitching a client contract where “they” is used as shorthand to mean “whoever would be booking this” or “whoever would be attending this event,” etc. As a non-cisgender person who doesn’t mind use of assigned-at-birth pronouns personally (at least for now), I want to be the best ally possible to nonbinary people who do use they/them or other neutral pronouns. Is there another stand-in pronoun the nonbinary community advocates use of in place of they/them? Or is this advocating that hypothetical/impersonal stand-in pronouns are never acceptable, and sentences should always be worded to avoid pronoun use in those instances?

    If I’m completely misunderstanding the comic and that’s not what’s being said, sorry for derailing!

    • Hi! I don’t think “they them” has been reclaimed and think it can and should still be used in those circumstances (when you don’t know much about the person). Gender neutral language used in intra-personal ways (what we’re talking about in the book) is an extension of rather than a replacement of that language! Hope this helps!

      • Hey! Thanks so much for the clarification–you’re awesome. I’m still not sure how I personally feel about they/them pronouns for a lot of reasons, but I’m glad to hear that the shift in recent years to the mainstreaming of they/them, as Juno and others have pointed out below, hasn’t negated their use as impersonal linguistic tools.

    • I think that using “they/them” to refer to people whose specifics you don’t know is the perfect way to illustrate how neutral pronouns should work. The only thing is that while we usually would use they/them until we know the person’s gender (e.g. “Jordan’s coming over!” “Do I know them?” “No, but he’s super cool.” “Sick; can’t wait to meet him!”), with people who use they/them, it means that ambiguity never really collapses into binary-gendered pronouns. In this way, I don’t think that enbies are “reclaiming” they/them so much as finding it the most apt language that already exists to relate their experiences. As a non-binary trans person, I personally think it’s much weirder that we have individual gendered pronouns (he/she) than numberless ungendered pronouns (they/them); like, how come it’s so important to continue referencing the gender of a person even when it’s not important enough to name them?

      • THANK YOU re: the weirdness of the existence of numbered/gendered pronouns in the first place. That’s one of the reasons I don’t personally use they/them or other common nonbinary pronouns–I don’t see a need to use gendered pronouns overall, with the caveat, of course, that just like with any gender identity, if a binary gender identity is very important to someone personally, we should always respect that. I’m not thrilled at all with assigned-at-birth gendered pronouns either, but for me, switching to they/them doesn’t actually feel like a better option when it feels like it’s the rest of the world that should examine the concept of pronouns. I suppose my proper identity falls somewhere between genderqueer and agender–I’m me, and that’s all there is to it, and a filler linguistic word doesn’t define me, it’s just a filler linguistic word so you don’t have to waste your breath figuring out how to word sentences saying my name every time. And if (the hypothetical plural) you think it defines me in some broad sweeping stereotypical way, then we probably have a lot larger problems than filler linguistic words here, you feel me? (I also have discomfort with it personally because of an unfortunate negative experience with a friend who used their genderqueer identity in a mentally unhealthy and abusive way, both to bait and guilt friends who couldn’t keep up with frequent pronoun changes and to use neutral pronouns specifically for times they didn’t “feel like a person at all.”)

        I asked this question here in part because I have heard people in the nonbinary community talk about the reclaimation of they/them from time to time, specifically with regard to the standardization mentioned by Juno and others below, and I couldn’t tell from the wording of the comic if that discussion had progressed further than I was aware of. When I say reclamation, I mean in a similar sense to the non-monosexual community’s recent reclamation of bisexual to mean “attracted to your own gender and other genders,” so as to respond to criticisms that bisexual was transphobic, that the real identity in question was pansexual, etc. I suppose that’s halfway between reclaimation and standardization, and it’s unfair to use “reclaimation” when there isn’t a similar historical context, but I’m not sure what the accurate word for all that would be, or if there is one.

  3. There’s a possibility that this stinks of cis privilege but I also imagine NB folks could feel this way too? I feel like it wasn’t that long ago that there were at least 4 different sets of nonbinary pronouns (ze, hir, they, in different configurations– I feel like the number of different pronouns peaked in the mid aughts). I met a number of people who had a very particular set of pronouns they preferred. I feel like recently more people have standardized to they-them and that is such a relief for my already cluttered, name forgetting ADD brain. Also this is brilliant and such a good resource.

    • I was and in some ways still use(and want to use) ze/xe but for simplicity sake and the fact it’s more common, I use they/them pronouns. It’s the one everyone knows. I would think a few people are in the same/similar boat as I am.

    • I mean, if I’m in a space where I actually get to pick my preferred pronouns I use zie/zir. (Not that that happens often.) Standardizing a neutral option is definitely useful, but it’s also affirming to be able to use the ones that resonate with me. But in my day-to-day life I use she/her and in queer spaces (also not a common occurrence at the moment) I use they/them.

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