What does it mean when someone's pronouns are "she/they" or "he/they"?

I don’t want to make this topic about a specific individual, so I won’t name names unless it becomes important to refer to a specific statement.

In general, when one describes one’s pronouns, it seems the standard to list both an object and a subject pronoun: “he/him”, “she/her”, or “they/them”. That’s a bit of a curiosity in itself – why list both? – but not the main thrust of my question.

Lately, some people have announced new pronouns and have listed two subject pronouns, a gendered one and a non-gendered one (e.g., “she/they”).

What does that mean? How does one know which one to use when? Does it matter? Why would someone pick two different pronouns?

I do not intend to question anyone’s gender; I just want to understand what they are saying when they say their pronouns are “he/they” or the like.

Powers &8^]

As far as I understand it, it means the person is happy to be referred to by either pronoun. I guess on its face it seems like that it might be completely superfluous to even mention it if that’s the case, but I suppose there could be situations where a person feels they want to specify that they’re happy with either, and don’t require anyone to guess

It’s not superfluous to mention pronouns if they don’t want to be referred to by the one that’s not included.

I would take somebody who lists “she/they” to mean that female pronouns are fine and neutral pronouns are also fine, but don’t use male pronouns. I might do that version myself if there were no room to fill in any more than two or three words.

I’m not sure why listing two and not three; but some people list more unusual pronouns and probably don’t want to assume that everybody knows the objective and possessive cases of xe, for instance. But it’s an area that I’ve mostly just read a bit in from the outside, so there may be other reasons I don’t know about.

Well maybe I should get more specific.

I read today that a celebrity, who was previously referred to as female and in fact is currently pregnant, had quietly changed her pronouns on a social media site to “she/they”. The article exclusively used the latter pronoun to refer to her, avoiding the former, and reported on other social media users reacting positively to what was seen as a change.

It just struck me as a little odd, but I don’t have much understanding of non-binariness, so I was wondering if I was missing some nuance of why the article (or anyone, for that matter) would use “they” if both “she” and “they” were acceptable.

Powers &8^]

Because they feel they is a better match for their gender identity, but do not mind she and understand if you default to that because they present as feminine.

Alternatively, they identify as a she and present as she, but want to signal solidarity with gender queerness, so they is ok for them as well, and they would rather have you default to “I can’t remember” than default to “my assumption based off presentation.”

Why wouldn’t they? If both “she” and “they” are acceptable, ISTM that the whole point of that is that either can be used, so why would you think that nobody would choose to use the latter?

Yes, I think you might be over-focusing on the conventional practice that gendered singular pronouns are always preferable for identifying a particular individual, with singular “they” used as a makeshift indefinite compromise for situations where we don’t know the gender of the person being referred to.

But if an individual has no particular preference for a gendered vs. non-gendered pronoun, then there’s no reason that anybody would have to favor the gendered pronoun in referring to that individual.

To take a related example, would it puzzle or bother you if a woman was okay with using either the female-specific honorific “Ms.” or the more recently coined gender-neutral honorific “Mx.”? Or if a man was okay with using either “Mr.” or “Mx.”?

How about the practice of referring to somebody as either “Mr. Surname” or just “Surname” (and similarly, either “Ms. Surname” or just “Surname”), as is often seen in news reporting?

Endorsing any of these sets of options is just a way of saying “I acknowledge this particular gender identification for myself, but if you choose to refer to me without mentioning my gender, that’s fine too.”

On a related note, what should I put down if I truly have no preference whatsoever and will not be offended by “he”, “she”, “they” etc.? If I say nothing people will continue to ask, so I don’t think that is a good option.

Not super happy that you truncated my post as if I was saying its superfluous (and then disagreed that it’s superfluous), when that was the opposite of my point.

My personal take would be that if you do have a specific gender identity, use the pronouns corresponding to that gender as your preferred pronouns. While I completely concur with your attitude of not wanting to make a big deal out of gender, I think there may be some privilege issues involved here.

Cisgender folks like you (AFAIK?) and me have little or no trouble getting people to recognize and acknowledge our actual gender identity if we ever need to. Being able to say “sure, call me by any pronouns you want, I don’t care either way” is a luxury available to those of us who can unambiguously enforce recognition of our fully documented and consistent biological sex and gender whenever that’s necessary.

So I don’t think we should be actively encouraging the idea that it’s okay for people to decide for themselves about how they want to gender other people. We don’t have to use just one set of pronouns, but we shouldn’t be sending the message that pronouns just don’t matter at all.

Kind of subtle and not very GQ, sorry.

So They is used as a singular pronoun? I always considered it a plural and is one of the reasons why I’m baffled by people saying she/they. I think it’s just an age thing, where Sally is ‘she’ and bill and sally or sally and lucy are ‘they’.

People can call themselves anything they want, far as I’m concerned.

They has been a valid singular pronoun for a long time (centuries?). You are definitely not too old. You probably use it but don’t even notice.

To elaborate on the correct & accurate responses you’ve received so far…

A person may feel that their gender is “in between” being a part of the feminine gender and being in some sort of neither-nor, so either “she/her/hers” or “they/their/theirs” is fine by them.

Or they may be genderfluid so their gender identity varies, and sometimes they are a “she” and sometimes a “they”.

Absolutely, and in two different but related ways:

Indefinite singular “they”. This is the traditional workaround for referring to an individual whose exact identity, including gender, you don’t know. As in, for example, “I don’t know who was making tuna salad in the break room but they left a godawful mess that they better clean up!”

We older folks sometimes got scolded in English class for violating agreement of grammatical number with such phrasing, but modern stylistic conventions are much more relaxed about that.

Definite singular “they”. This is a relatively new* usage promoted primarily by individuals who identify as nonbinary, agender, or similar. It involves using “they/them/their” pronouns to refer to specific known individuals. As in, “I asked Pat to go to the dance with me but they turned me down.”

*Although not unprecedented; see, for example, some historical figures such as the “Public Universal Friend” in 18th-19th-c. New England.

“They” has always been a singular pronoun when the gender of the subject is unclear. For example: “The camera footage showed a single individual breaking into the store. We’re not sure who they are, but they stole over $400 worth of Hot Pockets.”

Well if the celebrity is currently pregnant, then it probably is simply a joke. “They” refers to the mother with her unborn child.

It’s not a joke.

No, probably not, if the celebrity in question is the singer Halsey, currently trending in the media for this very issue.

Her very recent pronoun modification on social media doesn’t seem to have anything to do with her late-January announcement of her pregnancy.

(Do pregnant women generally consider themselves to have plural identity during pregnancy, anyway? I mean, you may have another human being in your uterus temporarily but what you choose to post in your social media accounts is still solely your decision.)

Apologies. I misunderstood your post; I thought you were indeed saying that it was superfluous. On re-reading I can make sense out of it either way, depending on the tone of voice of the “I suppose”, which of course doesn’t come over the net.

Well, I have often heard people addressing pregnant women as “they” in a lovingly and joking way.
I think this has nothing to do with identifying as a plural entity, but more with an innocent way to include the baby.

I have definitely heard a pregnant mother, after mistakenly having been offered an alcoholic beverage, respond with something like : “We rather take a water, thank you.”

Thank you. Understood - for clarity, the ‘but’ part was the real point (and I appreciate it wasn’t especially lucid)