How We Handle Pronouns and Why We Handle Them This Way

The Boundless Love Project loves, values, and appreciates all people, all beings, and all life. To the best of our ability, we want our words to explicitly reflect that respect for everyone. This intention of ours runs up against Standard English when it comes to pronouns.

In some languages, like Mandarin Chinese, the spoken pronoun (pronounced “Ta”) is used to refer to all people. In English, our primary pronouns for individual people are gendered: “she,” “her,” “hers,” and “he,” “him, “his.”

Because of English’s gendered pronouns, writing in an explicitly inclusive manner is challenging. When referencing a generic anybody, the English language adopted using the supposedly-universal “he.” Although the universal he claims to include all people, on its surface, it does not include cisgender female (cisgender refers to people who identify as the same sex that was assigned to them at birth) people, intersex people, and non-male-identified transgender people.

On its own, this lack of inclusion may not be of any concern. However, it is coupled with the fact that English-speaking cultures have a history of prejudice towards, and the devaluing of, people who are cisgender female, transgender, and intersex. Coincidence? Probably not. Especially when we consider how frequently the ego mistakes our thoughts to be the literal truth (which is the delusion of fixed-view.)

Given this, let’s consider our pronoun options for being more explicitly inclusive.

Why not use the “she or he” construction? Wouldn’t using that be inclusive?

One common option that people use to be more inclusive is to replace “he” with “she or he.” Let’s try using this construction with Gandhi’s quote, “He who harps on his woes, multiplies them manifold.” If we did this, we get, «She or he who harps on her or his woes, magnifies them manifold.» As this quote shows, the “she or he” construction quickly becomes unwieldy, confuses the message, and distracts the reader from the truth of Gandhi’s words.

In addition, “she or he” is not inclusive. A rough estimate of 1 in 1,500 people are born intersex, which according to the Intersex Society of North America, “is a general term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn’t seem to fit the typical definitions of female or male.”

In addition to intersex people, there are people who are transgender, which is defined by The Center for Equality as, “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity vary from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.”

For example, a person with a male anatomy, identifies as female. Based on the lived experiences of transgender people, gender identity is fixed and trying to change it causes psychological harm and doesn’t work. Many transgender people identify as neither male nor female, and for them, the “she or he” construction does not include them.

The Boundless Love Project loves and cherishes our intersex and transgender siblings and wants to reflect that in the pronouns we use.

What pronouns are left for you to use?

Ideally, we prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns as they are most inclusive. Gender-neutral pronouns include: you, your, we, our, one, ones, they (both singular and plural), them, their, and so on.

If we paraphrase Gandhi’s quote, using non-gendered pronouns, one possibility is for it to read, «All who harp on their woes, multiplies them manifold.» In this instance, the quote becomes inclusive to all people, while allowing the focus of the readers’ attention to be on the wisdom and meaning of his words.

Unfortunately, just as “she or he” constructions can distract from the truth or be confusing to use, sometimes the gender-neutral pronouns can muddle the meaning so badly that again the wisdom gets lost in the confusion. In those cases where clarity requires the use of a gendered pronoun, we will use a “universal she.” This is not because we believe women are better than men, but because historically and presently our culture has devalued the female. Our use of the universal she, her, hers – which, in intention, refers to all people regardless of gender identity or expression – is our small way of showing cis female individuals and transgender people who identify as female that they are loved and cherished as equals.

What is “ze” and why do you use “they” as a singular pronoun?

Many of us who are cisgender, become confused when confronted with transgender issues. We want to know why transgender people are the way they are. Given the societal challenges and discrimination that transgender people face, a more skillful question to ask ourselves is, “How can I make your life more wonderful?”

This question embodies the loving intention to show transgender people that they are loved, valued, and respected as they are, regardless of if we understand their situation or not. We can patiently and peacefully remain in the realm of “not knowing,” and still treat them with kindness and compassion.

One way to make a transgender person’s life more wonderful is by using the pronoun which they prefer people use for them. Some common pronoun options are:

• They/them/theirs. For example: Sen took their blanket and went to the other room so they could meditate. Although confusing at first, the pronouns “they,” “them,” and “their” can be used in the singular.

• Ze/zir/zir. For example: Scottie took zir blanket and went to the other room so ze could meditate. Ze is pronounced like “zee,” and replaces she/he/they. Zir rhymes with “her” and “sir,” but starts with a “z” as in zebra. Zir replaces her/hers/him/his/they/theirs.

• Just my name please! Some people prefer you not use pronouns at all. For example: Chris took Chris’ blanket and went to the other room so Chris could meditate.

If using a person’s preferred pronoun aids them in feeling respected and appreciated, and makes their life more wonderful, then we are happy to oblige.

However, we also recognize that our day-to-day speech habit-patterns are strong. Although we intend to use people’s preferred pronouns, we will make mistakes, and ask our transgender friends for patience and understanding with us as we learn this new habit.

What pronoun do you use for God?

The term "God" has been given many conceptual layers over the centuries, and these concepts often prevent us from knowing the reality to which the word points. A common conceptual metaphor for God that many people take literally is: God the father. This has caused people to use the pronouns He and His to refer to God.

But how we conceptualize God is not important. What is important is the reality that the word points to. It points to that which is infinite, indestructible, eternal, and formless. It points to that which is the source of all life, all love, and all wisdom. It points to that which animates and directs all forms. It points to our most fundamental nature of what’s left when we strip away from ourselves all that is finite, conditioned, and temporary. It is the great mystery. As such, God has no gender.

To make the wisdom from various theistic religious traditions more inclusive and available to people from all wisdom traditions, be they secular or religious, we prefer to use the words “life,” “source,” “being,” “love” or other synonyms in place of the word God. We also encourage you to substitute whatever word you most prefer, given your own wisdom tradition. If you come from a theistic tradition, then use Great Spirit, Allah, Jehovah, Brahman, YHWH, God or whatever words coincides with your tradition. If you are more secular, then use source, universe, being, life, or whatever word or phrase best helps point you to this reality.

For now, our plan is to avoid using pronouns when we to refer to life. We will simply say life when referring to life. When quoting others talking about God, we will generally paraphrase their words to make the quote more inclusive to people of all secular and religious wisdom traditions.

Why is the pronoun for animals and other life forms “she”?

In Standard English, the pronouns “it” and “its” refers to inanimate objects and human artifacts like cars, tables, and chairs, as well as to babies whose sex is unknown, animals whose sex is not known, and life forms such as trees, lakes, mountains, and clouds.

The word “it” has long been used in a pejorative manner towards aboriginal people, drag queens and kings, transgender people, and other despised groups of people. Given the words’ history of being used to denigrate others, and the reality that those labeled “it,” (with the possible exception of babies) have historically been devalued, mistreated, and harmed by the wider culture, we avoid using this pronoun to refer to life forms.

The Boundless Love Project loves, values, and appreciates all people, all beings, and all life and we want to make this clear in our writing. As with human beings, when we can do so while maintaining clarity, we use gender-neutral pronouns when we refer to animals and other life forms.

When deemed necessary for clarity’s sake, or because their sex is unknown, we use the universal “she” to refer to them. This is done as our humble way of encouraging more respect and appreciation for these lives which have all-too-often been taken for granted and mistreated. Thank you for your willingness to be open-minded and for any understanding and patience you are willing to offer us about these decisions we have made.

Your choices around pronoun use really angers and upsets me.

Thank you for your willingness to be honest about your thoughts and feelings. We realize that our attempts to be fully inclusive may trigger stress, anger, frustration, and other disturbing emotions in some people. Please know that we love and care about your well-being.

If anything we do or say upsets you, then please ignore it. It is not important. Take from our teachings what supports you in connecting with your inner peace, happiness, and well-being, and set aside all of those things that don’t. If this article upsets you, then act as if it does not exist. If our use of pronouns upset you, then feel free to substitute in whatever pronouns or words you prefer. Focus on those teachings that do help and serve you and go deeper into them.

If you know this article can upset people, why do you share it?

We share this article because it can be of benefit to many people who read it, while we also realize that others will not be served by it at all. Let me explain.

Helping people shed their ego is a delicate dance. Because each of us has unique conditioning, different things trigger the ego to arise in each of us. When our ego is triggered, we cannot see clearly: what’s unskillful seems skillful, what’s wise seems foolish, what’s foolish seems wise, and so on. The tell-tale sign that we are lost in ego is when we feel emotional or mental disturbances such as fear, worry, anxiety, anger, greed, and so on.

Because everyone’s triggers are unique, we can’t say what will put you into an egoic mode. Thus, when any content from our teachings triggers a strong egoic reaction, we encourage you to ignore those teachings, let them go, and set them aside for now. When we are lost in ego, we can’t see clearly, so it does not serve us to wrestle with that information, as this typically keeps us lost in ego.

Instead, focus on information that does serve, support, help, and benefit you. Go deeper into that information. Because everyone’s triggers are unique, we approach these teachings from a variety of different avenues so that you will find some teachings that do resonate for you and call you to go deeper. As your practice grows and deepens, you may eventually be able to revisit triggering information and appreciate it from a new perspective.

How is this so? Because all words and actions can always be interpreted from two very distinct and polar-opposite views: an egoic view and a wise view. When we interpret words or actions from an egoic view, they lead us to become emotionally disturbed and trigger unskillful actions in ways that harm ourselves and others. When we interpret the same words or actions from a wise view, we feel peaceful, calm, open, loving, and mindful, and respond skillfully in a way that benefits all life.

Some people will read this article from a wise-view perspective. They will understand the realities the article points to and gain benefits and wisdom from reading it. Others of us will read it, and it will trigger a strong egoic reaction in us which will upset and disturbs us. Lost in ego, we gain nothing from this information, and so we set it aside for now, doing our best to accept that this is the way it is, and focusing are attention on the information that does help and serve us.

Moreover, seeing something from an egoic view does not represent a moral failing on our part. The conditioning that shapes our reality, has all been outside of our control, and is thus not our fault. If our conditioning helps us maintain a wise view, that is due to impersonal good fortune. If our conditioning encourages us to see the world from an egoic view, that is due to impersonal bad fortune. Either way, it is impersonal and neither our fault nor something to be proud about.

To summarize, we wrote this article to benefit those who can benefit from it. If, however, this article upsets you then please ignore it and focus on what serves you. We wish you peace, wisdom, clarity and love.

Can you please explain to me why you paraphrase quotes?

Please read the article, “Why and How We Paraphrase Quotes,” to find the answer to this question.

Feedback Appreciated

We are here to serve, so let us know how we can make your life more wonderful! If you are having and problem with the site, audio files, or so on, let us know. If you have a comment or question about the content, let us know. Thank you! May you know your deepest essence to be boundless love, peace, joy, and compassion.