They’re Finally Recognized in Writing: APA Endorses Singular They/Them

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

Being able to use singular they/them pronouns in writing without consequence is a “big deal,” says AU student Mia Modafferi.

The 7th edition Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association was released last month and contains a chapter dedicated to “Bias-Free Language Guidelines.”

Since the beginning of the 21st century, an increased effort has been enacted worldwide to find gender-neutral terms to refer to an individual that doesn’t identify with a traditional male or female gender, or to refer to an individual without needing to mention their gender altogether. Alternatives to singular they, as outlined by University of Wisconsin’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Plus (LGBTQ+) Resource Center, include e/ey, per, ve, xe, and ze/zie. The endorsement of they/them singular pronouns is introduced on the American Psychology Association’s official blog for citation and writing, APA Style, by Content Development Manager Chelsea Lee, who wrote “it is officially good practice in scholarly writing to use the singular “they.”

The APA publication manual’s chapter on bias-free language contains 10 sections that include information on how to be sensitive to the identities of others, not only in gender identity but in age, disability, socioeconomic status, and more. This comes on the heels of Merriam-Webster's Dictionary’s addition of singular they/them to their dictionary in September. Both organizations are widely accepted sources, and APA’s publication manual has widespread use through all kinds of writing. In fact, it is one of the main three methods of citation that Alfred University educators request, according to the AU Writing Center. The other two are MLA which does not endorse the use of singular they/them, and CMS which suggests using singular they/them only in informal writing. Backing up their bias free language on APA Style, Lee explains that if a person tells you they prefer they/them pronouns “yes, you have to use it. Respectful and inclusive language is important. And it’s part of APA Style.”

All this is good news for Mia, who has been using singular they/them pronouns for about a year.

“I didn’t like the way it sounded when people used she/her pronouns because it felt demeaning and condescending,” said Mia. “My identity helps me feel more comfortable.”

Mia went on to talk about how the APA encouragement of they/them pronouns use is “really awesome,” explaining that limitation of bias in writing based on terminology will be a relief and that hopefully, it might even open the doors for more writings about non-traditionally gendered individuals.

“It’s going to be helpful because more people are using non-binary pronouns, and it’s going to be easier to write about them,” they said.

With activists and everyday individuals working to break the traditional gender binary, it’s easy to assume that APA’s Bias-Free Language Guidelines will not be the last to accept, endorse, and encourage the use of use of they/them pronouns in writing and in life.

“So what, we’re making something different.” Mia says “As a whole, as a society, I think it’s going to be helpful.”

By Dale Mott Slater


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