The ignored history of they/them pronouns

Charlotte Ury, Editorial Board

The American school system has a tendency to consistently push the “unfavorable” points of history to the side in favor of studying cultures and events most similar to our own “American experience.” Many people are forced to resort to independent research to learn about diverse history, a task that is often difficult because most of the information is relegated to the side notes of history.

While this is not the singular reason for intolerance, a lack of solid education can certainly be attributed to intolerance and ignorance.

A prime example of this conflict would be “they/them” pronouns. Many people refuse to acknowledge, validate, or even use “they/them” pronouns because they believe the pronouns to be a fad, or they refuse to recognize the change in our culture. More often than not, their intolerance isn’t the product of hate; it’s the result of fear of the unknown and change, especially in older generations.

Except, nonbinary people have existed for thousands of years. There have been multiple recorded examples of cultures using multiple genders. Using different pronouns and identifying outside of the gender norm has always existed for as long as human civilization and the development of culture has existed, even if you’ve never seen it before in your history books.

 For instance, the Mesopotamians had the third gender “Hijra.” These people were believed to be above gender, and were chosen as holy servants to serve the Gods.

In Polynesian culture, “mahu” is a highly-respected gender between male or female. Similarly, the Navajo, a Native American people in the Southwestern United States, have a gender called “nadleeh” which refers to people who transitioned, or were in between gender norms (the Tempest)

Dennis Baron, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, has written on how  English speakers have suggested and integrated nearly 250 different pronouns since the 1780’s (The Atlantic).

For as long as human civilization itself has been around, people have existed outside of the gender binary. Just because something isn’t in your textbook in school does mean it never existed.

But these things did happen, so why aren’t they in our textbooks? Knowledge about the past and exposure to different cultures gives us the ability to evolve as a society. We should all receive an education that is relevant to us, and for many students, queer studies shows them that they are not alone.