Scroll To Top

California's Effort to End Gendered Pronouns Will Trickle Down


An attempt to incorporate gender-neutral language in government is an enormous step for nonbinary people.

I was the child who was told that boys don't wear makeup after rummaging through my older sister's eye shadow palettes. I was the student who threw a conniption fit until faculty finally agreed to let me act as a hula dancer in the school play. I wanted to play sports with the boys and paint my nails with the girls.

As a kid I dreamt of a world that not only recognized but accepted the expansiveness of human identity in all its beautiful forms. Being accepted meant being valued, and being valued meant not compromising who I was in order to be afforded the same opportunities as everyone else. For a while this dream felt like a fantasy, and I slowly planned to trade my femininity for the hope of a happier life. To no surprise, this plan would fail, and I discovered firsthand that we can never entirely suppress who we are as individuals.

I am nonbinary, meaning that I don't exclusively identify as a man or a woman. My pronouns are the singular use of "they" and "them," gender-neutral pronouns that have been used for decades. My story is somewhat common. Upon being admitted to a state university, I learned about gender theory, and so many of my life experiences started to make sense. I interned and later worked for an organization that taught me about inequality and intersectionality. I met people who showed me that gender is what you make. I realized that nothing was wrong with me and that it was finally OK not to feel "like a boy" or "like a girl," but to feel like a human open to experience. I learned there are gender-neutral pronouns that proved others feel the same. I reconnected with my childhood self and was determined to become the role model I lacked growing up.

I was even interning in the California legislature on behalf of Equality California when Sen. Toni Atkins's Senate Bill 179 was passed, affirming that nonbinary people have a legal right to exist. Yet I often found myself wondering what would have happened had I not had the access to these opportunities.

For a while, I felt that my nonbinary identity and use of "they/them" pronouns were only a testament to the privilege I held in attending college -- and you may find that to be true. I felt that even though Merriam-Webster acknowledged that "they" can be used as a singular pronoun, I was just confusing people. For a moment it felt as though the liquid matte lipstick collection I had acquired in college would just end up reminding me of the disapproving glances and degradation that so many of us face. I worried that the time I was putting into educating campus and community members about gender identity through my work would never produce any benefits.

When Donald Trump was elected, I became discouraged. Regardless of how progressive California's politics are portrayed for members of the LGBTQ+ community, I prepared for the inevitable uphill battle. I correctly predicted there would be more people and politicians who would boisterously uphold the claim that the blue or pink hat given to a person at birth is somehow a prescription for how they should live the rest of their life.

People like me and like us have existed since the dawn of time. These people transcend the boundaries of tradition, and they naturally created categories for themselves. In cultures across the globe, gender variance is accepted and sometimes revered; many countries legally recognize a third gender classification. But in the United States we are often viewed as a threat to natural order and historical convention. We are frequently seen as deviant people or predators who are seeking special treatment, and this often puts many of us in grave danger of losing our rights, our humanity, and our lives. This is why we as people identifying outside the gender binary need an acceptance that stems beyond feminist theory textbooks and Teen Vogue articles -- an acceptance that resonates with every child who feels their gender is atypical. We need acceptance that safeguards our place in society for generations to come. This is not a call to action asking people to abandon their belief systems; it is instead humans asking to be seen.

Assembly Concurrent Resolution 260, now heading to the Senate, presents California lawmakers with the opportunity to continue championing the rights of all constituents. By aiming to incorporate gender-neutral language in future laws so as to ensure that they are truly applicable to everyone, this resolution is nothing short of remarkable for many of us. As the text of the resolution states, California is often credited with upholding the legal "golden standard" for nondiscrimination policies protecting LGBTQ+ people. While a resolution may not guarantee that those of us who are nonbinary or use gender-neutral pronouns will instantly live in a more just, safe, and accepting world, it's a start. It may ignite the conversation that prompts others to realize that we already use the singular "they" pronoun to describe the person in the hoodie that just cut us off in traffic. It may normalize us.

A resolution like this may kick-start the conversations and subsequent drafting of legislation that honors the complexities within each of our experiences. A resolution like this may serve as another recognition by legislators that words hold power. A resolution like ACR 260 is a step in the right direction for those of us who have been called "it" more times than we can count. ACR 260 will assure many that California validates who they are and stands with them.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but legislation will humanize me.

SEVE CHRISTIAN is an alum of California State University, Chico, holding a BA in both comparative religion and multicultural and gender studies. This fall, Seve will be participating in a California-based legislative fellowship.

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Seve Christian