A few years ago I read somewhere that we were supposed to use “they” instead of “him/her” as a general rule, and I’ll confess, the grammarian in me resisted. But increasingly, I am seeing the merits of “they/them”. And today I had an experience that sealed the deal.
I was on my way to Boston, where my partner (a woman) was flying (she’s a pilot - gasp!) on a two-day pairing. As it was a weekend and the kids were at their dad’s, we decided to avail ourselves of her travel benefits, and the plan was that I’d fly along on the final leg of her Saturday and spend the night in Boston with her, exploring the city together for a wee bit before her mid afternoon call time the next day.
On my arrival at the check-in desk in Toronto, the nice lady asked me where I was staying in Boston, to which I replied, “hmmm... I have no idea, I’m flying out with my partner, who is a first officer, and I don’t know the name of the hotel that’s been booked”.
And that’s were the trouble started.
“Is he a pilot with this airline?” The nice lady asked; “yes, she is”. (My gently corrective response.)
We debated back and forth whether — given that this was a company employee — the customer service rep might have access to the hotel info (my partner, probably engaged in her pre-flight briefing with the crew, was not responding to my texts).
Eventually the CSR summoned her colleague at the next kiosk and made the inquiry: “This lady is flying to Boston and her partner is a pilot on the flight; do we know which hotel the crew is staying at?”
The colleague wanted to ascertain everyone’s status: “He’s the captain on the flight, or the first officer?”
“She’s the FO” I calmly explained, and added a meek, “Sorry, she’s not responding to my texts right now.”
Long story short, we found a temporary solution until my female first officer partner finally texted me the details. But I was left with an annoyed sense of mistaken identity.
I couldn’t figure out whether it was gender stereotyping at play [Even people who know I’m gay do a double take when they find out Tats is a pilot — the first assumption when I say “my partner flies for (insert airline here)” is that she’s a flight attendant. Cause, you know, only men can be pilots apparently.] or heteronormativity (I’ve noticed that since I let my hair grow ever so slightly beyond my usual short fade/undercut, there is less of an assumption about my LGBTQ+ status... especially when I’m not decked out in plaid and/or Doc Martins!!)
It suddenly dawned on me that it actually didn’t matter whether gender bias or heteronormativity was the culprit — the use of the pronoun “they” would have solved either problem... AND would have signalled more generally a culture of inclusion on the part of the airline.
Here’s to the use of the pronoun “they”, and to the evolution of grammar in support of a more inclusive language!