When you hear “them” what do you think? Most will think that use of “they” means multiple people. There are occasions where this is no longer the case. They is a pronoun used for someone of unspecified gender, or in some cases, someone who doesn’t identify with a gender at all. They/them pronouns are often used when someone is non-binary and/or agender. Being non-binary is when someone identifies out of the male/female dichotomy, in other words, are outside of the binary. While he/him and she/her are specifically gendered to male and female, they/them pronouns are not.
There is a debate brewing in queer and non-queer spaces about pronouns. “How much meaning should we prescribe to them?” “Are he/him lesbians valid?” You hear the murmurs of these questions constantly.
Pronouns are sensitive, as they relate exactly to identity. The singular they has been around for centuries. The works of William Shakespeare, Jonathan Swift, Jane Austen and William Thackeray all include a singular they. However, now this use of singular they has come into question. Why has this use of singular they become controversial? The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides this answer to the question of if you can use a singular they; “The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing.”
Then it comes to neo-pronouns. These new pronouns take on lists, the time of creation spanning from the early 1970s to yesterday. Ey/em pronouns were introduced to the queer scene in 1973, as an alternative to binary pronouns, plural, or “object” pronouns (it/its.) The queer disconnect from binary is something inherent and unique to queer spaces: the grotesque, the tacky, the beautiful, all smashed together in a revolution of beauty standards. This is apparent in the strict disregard of binary provided by the nonbinary and trans community, the butch/femme lesbian community, and the other sects of identification language in queer spaces. The pronouns are important as a badge of identity, what you call me will be what I’m most comfortable with.
Likely the reason we come to dispute these occasions of singular they, or the use of new pronouns be because this is a use in the context of queer people, and their refusal of typical gender binary. Even if you don’t want to listen to Shakespeare because language changes over time from his version of English, I pose another question: then why can’t it change now? If people are more comfortable using a different pronounーwhether it be they, he, she, or a newer oneーwhat right do we have to say, “no, this makes you more comfortable in expression, but no.” why should we be able to do that, refuse changing our language to benefit others? A simple switch of pronounsーsomething so easy we do it for dogsーwe can’t do for other people?