All right, y'all, despite being an advice columnist, I've got a dilemma even I don't know how to solve. (Can you imagine?) But it's the kind of dilemma that Shakers will undoubtedly be able to help with -- and have probably been over a billion times before I ever got here -- so I humbly request your assistance.
When I'm talking about anonymous commenters, or anyone whose gender is unknown to me, I habitually default to "he or she," "s/he," etc. The more I become aware of how many people don't fit into either of those categories, however, the more I want to scrap that language for something more inclusive.
Here's the problem... I really, really hate "zie" and "zir." Don't ask me why; the words just bug me. And I figure this could mean one of two things:
1. I need to get the fuck over myself and use them anyway.
2. They're just words that bug me for no good reason, like "moist," and if there are acceptable alternatives, I can avoid using them in good conscience.
So, my two-part question for you is:
1. Are there acceptable alternatives?
2. Do I need to get the fuck over myself?
At the moment, I'm inclined to go with "they/their," even though using those to refer to a singular subject or object drives a tiny blade into my grammarian heart every time. But I figure A) I deliberately violate the laws of grammar all the freakin' time, which I regard as one of the perks of knowing them all, and B) everybody uses "they" as a singular pronoun anyway -- this technical mistake is so entrenched in the language, it's already at the threshold of becoming acceptable by default -- whereas relatively few people are even aware that "zie" exists. So, practically speaking, I'm more likely to be understood by a general audience if I use "they," and I get to avoid a word that inexplicably irritates me. Win-win, right?
Except... I worry that it's not my place to decide what language to use when referring to a minority group I don't belong to. I don't want to be the kind of privileged asshole who refuses to listen and dismisses anything unfamiliar as silly and pointless.
But THEN... I use the word "fat" to describe myself. A lot of people are uncomfortable with that, and I don't mind if they want to call me something else -- as long as it's not "overweight," a word I would like to see struck from the language. (I don't think most well-meaning people who refer to me that way are even aware of why it's offensive, mind you. And if you're not, that would be because it reinforces the myth that there is such a thing as a standard ideal weight, and fat people are necessarily over it, rather than perhaps at the ideal weights for their own bodies.) In my case, there's a lot of grey area between the language I use to describe myself and language that offends me or denies my experience.
Also, I'm a proud feminist, but I have never been able to stand "womyn," "wimmin," "herstory," etc. I get the idea, and it's a mostly unobjectionable one, but I just cannot bring myself to support bad spelling for any reason. And honestly, I think that -- more than the "moist" effect -- is my real issue with "zie." IT'S NOT A WORD. If we just let people start making up words willy-nilly, it'll be ANARCHY! And more importantly, MY SPELLING SKILLS MIGHT EVENTUALLY COUNT FOR NOTHING!
Except, of course, people make up new words all the time, and if they strike the right chord with me, I immediately and cheerfully adopt them. On the whole, I enjoy watching the language evolve, and I'm usually irritated by smug grammar fascists even more than I am by bad grammar. Language changes -- rarely for the worse. For as much as some people howl about the degradation of the English language, new words and constructions almost always arise because they make communication somehow richer and more precise. And considering that "zie" does exactly that -- gives us a word the language actually needs -- I should really embrace it on those grounds.
So, Shakers, what do you think? Do I need to get over my cisgendered privilege and deep-down lexical conservatism and just start using "zie"? Is it okay to go with "they," at least while I'm warming up to "zie"? Are there better alternatives I don't know about?
(Cross-posted to Ask the Blondes.)