"Almost anyone under the circumstances would have doubted if [the letter] were theirs, or indeed if they were themself."
Emily Dickinson, 1881
Using "they" as a singular pronoun when referring to someone whose gender is unknown or of no relevance is nothing new. In fact, it has been consistently used as a singular pronoun since the 1300s. What is new, however, is that it is now also used for a person whose gender is known but who does not fit into the binary system and does not identify as male or female (via).
"There have always been people who didn’t conform to an expected gender expression, or who seemed to be neither male nor female. But we’ve struggled to find the right language to describe these people—and in particular, the right pronouns. In the 17th century, English laws concerning inheritance sometimes referred to people who didn’t fit a gender binary using the pronoun it, which, while dehumanizing, was conceived of as being the most grammatically fit answer to gendered pronouns around then. Adopting the already-singular they is vastly preferable. It’s not quite as newfangled as it seems: we have evidence in our files of the nonbinary they dating back to 1950, and it’s likely that there are earlier uses of the nonbinary pronoun they out there."
MR: What pronouns would you like me to use?
LP: I use she and they so you can use whichever and you can switch them too.
"My name is Laurence and I’m a photographer, curator, director, based in Montreal. Photography is the main thing that I do but I also try to do a lot of curatorial work and directing and video work and it’s all kind of based around identity, colour theory, and queer communities.
(...) I was... thinking of what kind of work I wasn’t seeing out there and as someone who identifies as non-binary, and a lot of my close friends are non-binary, it was something I just wanted to make for myself. It’s really just a passion project. I just wanted to challenge the trans representation that is out there in the media.
(...) non-binary is a term for basically any trans person who doesn’t fit in the binary of man/woman. But it includes a lot of identities some of the people I photograph are non-binary trans women, intersex, gender fluid. So it encompasses a lot of different identities."
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photographs taken by Laurence Philomene via