Graphic Illustration by Christopher Ikonomou (Xe/He)
Most of us have that one thing that makes us tick, that specific issue that most folks don’t really get but generally understand because they, too, have their own pet peeves. Every time, without fail, the appearance of “he/she” or “his/hers” in a sentence causes my body, mind and soul to necrose, withering away in the form of a deep sigh. To be fair, it shows good intent on the part of the author — nobody wants to sound like they’re only writing for men; inclusivity is a good thing we should heavily promote and it’s clear we’re making great progress on that front. All that said, this is still bad and I hate it.
Not only does it reinforce a rigid, binary perception of gender (something that is, for all intents and purposes, not good), but it’s just bad form. When I read something, I’m assuming that the writer is being deliberate in the words they choose since it justifies the attention I’m giving to their work. Word choice can be a really powerful tool in any context, from research papers to philosophical prose, and no matter where it comes from (the author, editors, other editors, yet more editors), it’s an essential part of the writing process. When you pull a “herself/himself” on me, you’re not engaging in word choice; you’re literally not making a choice— it’s just two words glued together with a big distracting slash. Sure, maybe in some contexts this is a valid move, but when an author, in his/her/their work, creates a habit in his/her/their writing where he/she/they is/are frequently referring to his/her/their sources as “his/her/their” to the point where you might assume he/she/they were/was deliberately trying to annoy you, it becomes really, really tough to justify.
Just say “they.” We’ve already been doing it for centuries, it’s a feature of the English language. To anyone reading this: please, for the love of God, just say “they.”