Youth Radio’s Desmond Meagley doesn’t identify as as male or female. So when it comes to pronouns, people are often confused.

When I tell someone my preferred pronouns are they/them/their, I never know what to expect. Sometimes people just say “okay.” Other times, they’ll ask a whole bunch of questions I don’t really feel like answering.

For example: “You look like a boy. Why use they instead of he?”
Answer: I look like me. That’s all there is to it. When people make assumptions about me based on the clothes I’m wearing, or whether or not I’m wearing make-up, that’s on them: it has nothing to do with who or what I actually am.

Example 2: “How can one person be a they? It doesn’t make sense.”
Answer: It’s really simple. In English, we already use singular “they” all the time. Suppose you found fifty bucks on the ground. You might say, “Oh, someone dropped their money here.” That’s singular “they.” It dates back to at least the 16th century. And most major dictionaries — from Oxford to Webster’s — consider it to be grammatically correct. That should be enough.

What bothers me most is when I tell someone several times to use they/them pronouns for me, but they make no effort to do so. Being ignored like that hurts.

When I come out to people, it means I trust them. If they value my trust, they should respect who I am — including my gender pronouns. I don’t always feel safe correcting others, and I don’t like repeating myself to someone who isn’t listening. But my silence isn’t permission to keep ignoring my preferences. Seriously, stop doing that.

Lastly, it’s okay if you get my pronouns wrong by accident. It takes time to adjust to new ways of speaking and thinking. Just don’t make it my problem when you misgender me. Getting really apologetic or changing the subject to how difficult you find my pronouns makes me feel super uncomfortable. Don’t tell me you’re trying, show me by correcting yourself and moving on.

I hope this clears some things up.

With a Perspective, I’m Desmond Meagley.

 Desmond Meagley is 21 years-old and lives in Oakland. Their commentary was produced by Youth Radio.

The Singular They 10 January,2018Amanda Font

  • Matt Payne

    This piece just played on the radio, and the signoff misgendered them and I am SO PISSED! It’s literally what the piece is about! Get it right!

    • Pat Jaing

      The radio staff misgendered them multiple times, not just once! Desmond’s perspective was very engaging and interesting, and then the radio staff underscored Desmond’s point of people not listening to their gender pronoun request, by blatantly using “his” instead of “their”. The staff needs to correct themselves!

      • Zachary Peck

        I was flabbergasted. Twice. Within seconds of the piece airing. I almost expected the host to catch himself, but he did not. Instead he repeated the mistake. Wow.

    • Matt Elmore

      Please understand that it was not my intention to disrespect Desmond. As you might imagine, I work in a rather busy environment during morning drive. I don’t have the time to preview the content of the Perspective feature, and oftentimes can’t listen as attentively as I would in another setting (such as home or auto) as the feature is airing. So I missed the intent of their offering, and relied on the written material supplied which misidentified Desmond’s preferred pronoun. So again, with sincere apologies to the audience, to Desmond and their thoughtful perspective, we’ll make every effort going forward to ensure this doesn’t occur again.

  • Rob Thomas

    Umm, the announcer said at the end of this Perspective “his” piece was produced by Youth Radio…

  • Eli Fox Chaney

    Desmond’s segment was a well said and helpful primer for anyone confused by the historic and grammatical uses of the singular “they”, and also a strong reminder of why it is important to use appropriate pronouns. It was dismaying to hear the host misgender them TWICE literally seconds after they discussed their preference and the frustrations of being ignored. It comes across as thoughtless and rude, and seems like the host isn’t even listening to their own segments.

  • Milton Wong

    I cannot believe that the announcer within seconds completely dismissed Desmond’s entire commentary and identity. KQED, please listen to your own broadcasts! I expect a personal and public apology. Give Desmond the respect that they deserve.

  • Matt Payne

    Just played it again, announcer got it right this time, with some effort.

  • Norah Spear

    I heard the rebroadcast at 8:45 AM 1/11/17. The announcer must have caught the mistake. He used the requested pronouns.

  • My three cents

    We live in a society with norms for speech. We generally use the singular to refer to individuals, especially when the pronoun appears in the subject position. Meagley may prefer to call Desmond Meagley “they” or to use “their,” but Meagley must recognize that the request asks people to make an exception that requires more effort than is reasonable and calls attention to the very issue of male / female identity that Meagley allegedly wishes to bypass. And why? Meagley is young, struggling with identify, focused on self. I suggest that there are bigger issues in the world to struggle with. Language is changing always, of course. But this change Meagley requests is forced. I suggest the writer move on. Spend time volunteering. See what other people’s needs are. Then you will a better chance of finding your true self.

    • Jim Briggs III

      Why is this more effort than is reasonable – for you or for anyone? And given what we know about trans lives and how much more at-risk these young people are than the rest of society, you cannot blame them for feeling like the stakes are high. I want to know why language is more important than the person communicating. Characterizing their perspective as “young and struggling” is just another method of the kind of dismissal that trans people know all too well. Inclusion isn’t hard once you re-orient yourself and envision a world outside of your own limited perspective. To do otherwise is to to truly be too “focused on self.”

    • Andrés León

      This is NOT a “young person’s” issue. The usage of non-binaried pronouns is attached to gender variant and transgender identity, and on a larger scope, LGBTQ+ rights. Suggesting that this is some struggle with identity, is undermining and further marginalizing an already oppressed group of people who are not just young, but all of ages and races and sexual orientations. As a nonbinaried trans person of color who uses THEY/THEM pronouns and as someone who has been in a profession for many years in service to others as well as an advocate for queer and trans youth, I take deep offense to your dismissal of our collective identities. Emphasize on colllective. WE are not selfish in asking to be simply recognized. Have you ever thought that your need for our identities to be simplied for your convenience and ease of language is selfish? Have you ever thought that us already navigating a ciscentric, binary world is hard enough?? Or maybe seeing our fellow trans-folk slayed on the streets by bigots and bullies is a big enough burden to bear? Everyday we walk out the door we put ourselves at risk. This isn’t for attention. This isn’t for the selfish desires of ego or affirmation. This is because we have finally declared we will not live our lives in the shadows, smashed into boxes of convenience for people like you to digest more easily. Suggesting that we go volunteer at a soup kitchen so that we can have a deeper lens into “who we are” is one of the most privileged and presumptuous statements I’ve heard in a long time. Do you know that that one third of San Francisco’s homeless population identitifies as queer or trans? And over 50% of San Francisco’s homeless youth population also identifies as queer or trans???? Folks who are gender variant or trans, that often use gender neutral pronouns, are already some of the most marginalized people in our society. We are the identies that often don’t have the privilege to be on the other side of the volunteering or missionary to India. We are the folks literally just trying to survive on a daily basis, so please; do yourself a favor, and help us. Honor the our pronouns. Normalize this. Don’t assume because someone passes as a man or a woman that they use gender binaried pronouns. Ask. Inquire, and try… try, try, and try. This will eventually save someone’s life. And to Desmond — thank you for your bravery, sweetheart. May you thrive, be happy, and most of all, peaceful and free. Sending you love & healing. For all the other gender nonconforming, trans, and nonbinaried folk out there, remember: “Caring for yourself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” —Audre Lorde

    • A.R. León

      This is NOT a “young person’s” issue. The usage of non-binaried pronouns is attached to gender variant and transgender identity, and on a larger scope, LGBTQ+ rights. Suggesting that this is some struggle with identity, is undermining and further marginalizing an already oppressed group of people who are not just young, but of all ages and races and sexual orientations. As a nonbinaried trans person of color who uses THEY/THEM pronouns and as someone who has been in a profession for many years in service to others as well as an advocate for queer and trans youth, I take deep offense to your dismissal of our collective identities. Emphasis on colllective. WE are not selfish in asking to be simply recognized. Have you ever thought that your need for our identities to be simplied for your convenience and ease of language is selfish? Have you ever thought that us already navigating a ciscentric, binary world is hard enough?? Or maybe seeing our fellow trans-folk slayed on the streets by bigots and bullies is a big enough burden to bear? Everyday we walk out the door we put ourselves at risk. This isn’t for attention. This isn’t for the selfish desires of ego or affirmation. This is because we have finally declared we will not live our lives in the shadows, smashed into boxes of convenience for people like you to digest more easily. Suggesting that we go volunteer at a soup kitchen so that we can have a deeper lens into “who we are” is one of the most privileged and presumptuous statements I’ve heard in a long time. Do you know that that one third of San Francisco’s homeless population identitifies as queer or trans? And over 50% of San Francisco’s homeless youth population also identifies as queer or trans???? Folks who are gender variant or trans, that often use gender neutral pronouns, are already some of the most marginalized people in our society. We are the identies that often don’t have the privilege to be on the other side of the volunteering or missionary to India. We are the folks literally just trying to survive on a daily basis, so please; do yourself a favor, and help us. Honor the our pronouns. Normalize this. Don’t assume because someone passes as a man or a woman that they use gender binaried pronouns. Ask. Inquire, and try… try, try, and try. This will eventually save someone’s life. And to Desmond — thank you for your bravery, sweetheart. May you thrive, be happy, and most of all, peaceful and free. Sending you love & healing. For all the other gender nonconforming, trans, and nonbinaried folk out there, remember: “Caring for yourself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” —Audre Lorde

      **my original comment was reported as spam, KQED you have some trolls on the loose here that can’t handle diverse opinion.

  • Curious

    Tail wagging dog.

  • Beth

    As a middle-ager, I am not the most current on gender identity. But, I am dedicated to respecting all people. I want people to feel comfortable, and anything I can do to help them, I will do. I appreciate Desmond’s perspective, and instructional commentary. And, I will do my best to get this right. And, when I get it wrong, I will sincerely apologize and try again. It’s my problem to figure out this communication, and it’s not really that complicated. Very well done, Desmond. Thanks for helping an old gal out.

  • Ken

    I have to agree with the comments made by “My three cents.” The comments below by those who were “expecting a public apology”, “dismaying to hear the host misgender them TWICE”,The staff needs to correct themselves!” and “flabbergasted” should get off their high horses, then rethink their position. Those who make their problem with identity our problem are unrealistic in their expectation. Again quoting “My three cents,” “requires more effort than is reasonable.”

    Personally, I have no issues with one trying to find themselves, especially the young. However, the young many times have unreasonable expectations; the use of special pronouns is one of them. In the grand scheme of things, the pronoun usage should be a nit. I would suggest that those who have a gender identity issue get comfortable being in their own skins.

    One last thought, while making my comments, I struggled with the use of pronouns, trying not to use Desmond’s name, forcing me to use a pronoun that I have to make a concerted effort to use. As a suggestion, maybe Desmond should consider a name change, as this particular name is male, not neuter.

  • The error was entirely mine, and I sincerely apologize to Desmond and our listeners.

    Mark Trautwein, Perspectives Editor

  • Curious

    Apparently survived a year of the Trump presidency.

  • Long

    If Desmond applies a job in my company, what I would be thinking?

    If I hire “them”, I would need to train my entire staff and their families, customers, and suppliers that “they” will be upset if they don’t refer “them” as “they”. In entire internal memos, we would not know exactly what we mean when we use “they” or “them”. And, when somebody asks who “they” are. We point Desmond, saying: “They is”, without laughing.

    I agree with My three cents that Desmond’s request requires more effort than is reasonable.

    • A.R. León

      We’ve done this with race, religion, and sexual orientation, why would it be different with gender in the workplace? These are identities. These are people. I’ve used nonbinaried pronouns at work for years, and the adjustment has been remarkably easy for folks. Of course it takes education and compassion, but what trans and gender variant people are asking, is not much!! Once folks decide people are more important than their grammatical biases and antiquated policies, it makes it easier to move forward and grow and become more inclusive. I am an educator in public schools in San Francisco, and I hate to break it to you, but kids in primary school are now learning about third gendered people, trans and gender nonconforming students are demanding to be seen and respected, restrooms are becoming all-gendered, legal forms are including non-binaried pronouns and genders…change is happening, slowly, but surely. And the CHILDREN, the children, are the ones who get it best, who are most receptive, the most compassionate. They will be the trailblazers. They will eventually be the ones creating office protocol and trainings. We exist already and we will continue to exist despite peoples best efforts to suppress us.

      • Long

        A lot of anger here.

        But, actually, I respect anybody with any type of gender or sexual orientation.

        I understand gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans. My understanding is a trans person still have gender of his/her choice. I have never encountered a person who is either male or female. I even don’t know what that means. If this perspective is trying to let me know the existence of that, why not just say it? Why complicates the matter with grammar challenge?

        • A.R. León

          They (Desmond) are attempting to explain the existence of nonbinaried identity, which their pronouns, they/them/theirs, are attached to. I understand why you are confused. Often when we hear of trans identity, we talk about it in the binary, i.e. he was assigned female at birth and transitioned to a man and now uses he/him pronouns instead of she/her. However, what doesn’t get a lot of air time is the nonbinary gender identity which is why I’m thankful this perspective was offered. I intentify as trans, but use they/them pronouns. I have not transitioned using hormones or had any gender affirming surgeries which is why I feel connected to the nonbinary. I am masculine presenting and can pass as man sometimes, but also, am misgendered often as a woman, but don’t want to change my body to appear more male for reasons that are deeply personal which is why I use they/them pronouns, because I am ok being a bit of both, somewhere in the midst of it all, in mind, body, and spirit. If you thought of gender in the same way we do sexuality, as more of a spectrum, I am somewhere in the middle. Using they/them pronouns is not an attempt to complicate things, it’s an attempt to simplify the nuances of gender, so that folks who exist somewhere outside of the binary, can have an identity to claim, internal resolve, and peace. Also, please note, the nonbinary existed far before the binary, pre-colonialism. Many indiginous tribes had and honored third gendered people. Search: the Native American Two-Spirit people or the Mexican (Oaxaca’s) Muxe. It was colonization that forced people to adhere to the binary and language has resulted from that. Now, many of us are not only attempting to just be ourselves but also reclaim the identities of our ancestry. No anger here, just trying to offer context and solidarity to Desmond. Thanks.

          • Long

            I have colleagues who were gays or lesbians. They were fun to be with. I can easily tell their identities and respected them.. Those interactions did not require any special effort from others. It only requires sensitivity and respect.

            I would think Desmond’s perspective demonstrated that they is fighting a wrong battle. I guess you would want to be recognized in a certain way. But, confusing people with pronoun is not an effective way.

            This is not a choice between grammar and identity. If most of people do not have experiences with the nobinary group, the grammar fight is quite meaningless. What not just create a new class of pronoun?

  • John Sarsfield

    Words have meaning. “Them/they” is plural. “He/His” or “she/her” is singular.

    • A.R. León

      Indentities have meaning. Maybe you should try putting people over grammar.

      • John Sarsfield

        What’s an “indentity?”

        • A.R. León

          Only when you choose to step outside of that very narrow, agitated lens, will you begin to see a bigger picture here, a collective identity you are continuing to diminish with petty grammatical and spelling corrections. Wishing you well.

          • John Sarsfield

            I do see the bigger picture. The bigger picture is that people like Desmond are destroying language.

    • WesT

      Yes, “they/them” is plural…but it is also singular in many cases. Think of the sentence: “Somebody left _their_ umbrella in the office.” Or how about: “The patient should be told at the outset how much _they_ will be required to pay.” Would you prefer: “The patient should be told at the outset how much _he or she_ will be required to pay”? That form has been often cited as being too wordy.

      Singular “they” has been in use since the 14th century, though in the late 19th century many grammarians tried to remove its use. (At the same time, many other changes were foisted on the English-speaking world in an attempt to make English more like Latin, a futile effort and mostly ignored these days.)

      It may be difficult to use “they” to refer to a specific person instead of a generic, unidentified person, but it is doable. The only problem I have is trying to figure out WHEN to use it. When I first see someone like Desmond, I tend to put them in one gender category the other. It isn’t until they TELL me what their preferred pronoun is that I can make the change. The only suggestion I can come up with (and I say this in jest) is to have them wear a sign that tells folks right up front that they aren’t binary. Either that or they can just ignore folks who get it wrong. If it isn’t relevant, then don’t worry about it, though I appreciate the thoughtful explanation expressed in this perspective. Yay, Desmond!

      • John Sarsfield

        I agree with pretty much everything you wrote. That said, my point remains that words have meaning. The reason why language works if that the group (those speaking the language) agree as to certain meanings of words. If “pizza” to me is a delicious tomato, pepperoni, mushroom, garlic and olive circular delight, but to you it is a ping-pong table, then we will be unable to communicate. Desmond doesn’t get to make up his own words AND expect the rest of us to just play along. Desmond can himself whatever he wants, I really don’t care, but he doesn’t get to impose his definitions on the rest of us because he doesn’t like the agreed upon linguistic constructs.

  • dan

    While I may feel some sense to get the pronoun right, it is not anyone place to TELL ME what to do. Your commentary was not about getting things right, but telling us how you identify and telling us that we are required to use the proper pronoun, this is false. You may identify yourself as a “they” but most people don’t care, your still either one of the two, thats the way it has been since the beginning of time and life is too short to charge now.

  • David Stempel

    This listener appreciates your apology Mark Trautwein. As stunningly unfortunate as this was, it’s heartening to see in the comments that so many listeners were listening and care!

  • Kate

    This discussion could use a little more empathy – for Desmond, who asks us to respect his needs by making a relatively minor change in the way we talk and think; for all of the listeners and people Desmond comes out to who struggle to change the way we/they talk and think; and for Mark Trautwein and Matt Elmore, who work hard to deliver the news to us each day in fast-paced environment and sometimes make a mistake. We’re all human, after all.

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