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The Importance of Pronouns

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I’m about a week late in learning that October 19th 2022 was International Pronouns Day.

Pronouns are something that, as a writer and wordsmith, I find absolutely fascinating; particularly since the discourse around them has really ramped up over the last few years. Of course, the variety of pronouns now in use, and that can feel so startling to us nowadays, are not actually anything new. Humans have been expanding, playing with and taking ownership of language, outside of its standardised use, for as long as language has existed. It’s how languages form. The Bard himself is famous for coining many a word that we wouldn’t be without; though at the time I imagine there were lots of people who found his inventions a bit… Uncomfortable? Unusual? Difficult to swallow?

The truth is, while an adaptive creature by nature, humans can also be obstinate in the face of newness and change. That same survival mechanism that forces us to adapt to a new environment can also make us feel queasy when faced with something that challenges the way we percieve things to be. As part of our identity, pronouns can cause a deep stirring inside all of us because they challenge us to consider the way we identify ourselves.

My pronouns are she/they. I identify as a woman but also acknowledge that there is a large and valid part of me that is simply a being, without a fixed gender expression and open to all kinds of expression and presentation. I’ve always been aware of this ‘neutral’ part of myself. It’s the place where I am tethered to the Web of All Things, the part of me that chimes perfectly with the same neutral part in every other being on this planet. Some people call it spirit. It’s likely where my animism is rooted. And despite the implications of the word ‘neutral’ it isn’t a merging of all things into a blank monolith; it’s the opposite. My ‘they’ incorporates my potential to be everything and anything I want to be and – as a human raised as a woman in a patriachal society – I can tell you that that is an incredibly intoxicating and freeing sensation.

I shifted to she/they pronouns around the time I started the final edit of Walk The Wheel. Well in advance of this personal milestone, I had already begun dismantling the gender binary within my own perceptions of life, nature and spirituality. For a long time, some traditional pagan traditions had felt incongruous with my understanding of the variety inherent to life, because of the binary quality of the God/Goddess archetypes. Since becoming a parent, I had been actively battling the gendered stereotypes enforced on babies and young children, for the sake of my own child’s freedom and expression. And it became vital that these stories, which centred around archetypal characters experiencing the magic of the seasons, included representation for everyone; not just for boys and girls, but for all children and all people, whatever or however they experience their gender.

Stories shape our reality. Walk The Wheel takes inspiration from fairy and folk tales of old, which have long formed part of the moral and ethical foundation, built through the joy of school carpet time and bedtime stories, upon which we stand and perceieve the world as children; and which in turn shapes the world we curate for ourselves, and others, as adults. I did not want to write a story about why pronouns are important, or how it is so easy and respectful to refer to someone with whichever ones they choose, because those books already exist. They are also didactic in their methods and, while they can be hugely helpful in expanding a conversation, they aren’t always the best way to plant a seed of curiosity, to help the an idea take root. This requires subtlety. The subtlety of Little Red’s brush with the Wolf in the woods introducing stranger danger, or John Barleycorn‘s song evoking the bittersweet sacrifice of Harvest time. I wanted to subtly entwine these ‘new’ pronouns into stories that felt old as time, so that anyone who read them could either start to assimilate them as ‘normal’ or begin to see themselves as present and foundational too.

Language is best learned creatively, while laughing or gasping or cheering on the hero in a beloved tale. Shakspeare knew this; he put new words into his plays and had the actors speak them as easily as if they had always existed in common tongue… until they did. The more stories we create and tell that use all the pronouns, as easily as we currently use ‘he’ or ‘she’, the more they will embed as part of our lexicon, until it is no longer remarkable or uncomfortable or unsettling. It will simply be.

Trans and gender queer/fluid/non-binary/agender people all exist, have always existed, and they deserve to see themselves in our stories. That’s why Walk The Wheel includes two tales with gender-non-specific characters.

In Wren and the Cave we follow Wren as they discover the magic of Imbolc in a dark cave full of unexpected animals. In Farmer and the Wheat, a crop before harvest makes trouble for a Farmer, whose gender is undisclosed. Both stories took the longest to edit and recieved some uncertain feedback from my first few readers. There was concern that without the usual binary pronouns, the characters could not be fully realised or understood by the reader.

But then I began to get feedback from others, from those who do identify outside the gender binary or who love those who do, and their words were hugely encouraging:

the use of they/them pronouns for Wren enabled me to sense that this wasn’t going to be a set of tales that leaned into traditional gender roles. I was hugely grateful for that as so much folklore is presented in a very binarised way in terms of gender and it’s refreshing to see that challenged here but with the lightest of touches. I love how Farmer is a ‘they’ too and how all the characters in each story gently expand beyond the usual stereotypes that we might expect.

Lottie Randomly, Faciltator and Educator, @lottierandomly

These are stories that evoke the magical nature of what it is to be alive and in connection with the seasons and all other beings we encounter. If they are to truly represent that, there had to be space in these stories for everyone to find themselves; to find a reflection of their own unique and vital part in the beautiful Web of All Things.

I am hoping that my use of non-binaried pronouns can be a part of that.

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