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 everything. This intention of ours runs up against Standard English when it comes to pronouns.

In some languages, like Mandarin Chinese, one gender-neutral 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 “universal” he. Although the “universal” he claims to include all people, it treats female-bodied individuals, intersex people, and non-male-identified transgender people as an afterthought, and, on its surface, it does not include them.

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 female-bodied and transgender. 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.)

Let’s consider our pronoun options.

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

Another option is to use the “she or he” construction. 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 truth 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 truth 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 today 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 female-bodied 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?

When a person has made their preferred pronoun clear to us, we use their preferred pronoun. 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, “they” 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 sound. 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, in our day-to-day speech, habit-patterns are strong. Although our intentions are to use people’s preferred pronouns, we still make mistakes and ask for patience with us as we learn this new habit.

What pronoun do you use for God?

Because the term "God" has been overlaid with many conceptual layers over the centuries, and these concepts often prevent us from knowing the reality to which the word points, we prefer to use the words Life, Source, Being, or other synonyms to refer to this reality. Life refers to the infinite, indestructible, unconditioned, eternal, formlessness that animates, directs, and controls all finite, destroyable, conditioned, and temporary forms, including our physical bodies. As such, Life has no gender.

For now, our plan is to not use pronouns to refer to Life. We will simply say Life when referring to Life. When quoting others, unless we are already paraphrasing their words for other reasons, we will keep the authors’ original pronouns, whether they use she, he, or it.

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 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, and 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 feelings. Know that we love and care for you, and did make these decisions to upset you. It sounds as though you have been triggered. This is an opportunity for you to awaken. Please become very mindful. Focus your attention on the sensations of your breath for a few in- and out-breaths.

When you mind feels stable enough, calmly and lovingly investigate the thoughts in the mind and the emotions you feel in the body. Look to see which delusions are operational: do the thoughts contain aversion of some kind, such as judgment? Do the thoughts contain greed or clinging, maybe for things to be done according to the rules? Are any of the thoughts in the mind being mistaken for the truth (fixed-view)? Is self-view arising because you are mistaking your thoughts or emotions as being “me or mine,” or do our decisions make you feel judged in some way?

Whatever you find, calmly and with ease, notice how the emotions in the body are reflections of the thoughts in the mind, when those thoughts are mistaken to be the truth. Notice also how the emotions become less intense when you mindfully observe the thoughts in a relaxed and calm manner. Continue to compassionately and easefully observe any negative emotions until they go away on their own, as is their nature to do.

When you have regained your composure, please feel free to share your constructive criticism with us, either by posting below or sending an email message to us. We are doing our best and are open to learning. If you think there is a better way to be inclusive and show our love and respect for all life, please let us know. Thank you!

Can you please explain to me why you paraphrase quoets?

We have address this issue in the blog post, “Why and How We Paraphrase Quotes,” and we encourage you to read it.

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