The AP Has Announced The Adoption Of 'They' As A Singular Pronoun For Nonbinary Subjects

This rule and several others mark historic progress for millions of nonbinary people

On Friday, the Associated Press, creators as the prevailing style guide for news reporting, announced the adoption of the pronoun “they” when referring to a singular person who identifies as neither male nor female. The rule is set for inclusion in the 2017 edition of the AP Stylebook, but will be adopted as policy immediately.

As questions regarding gender identity and sexuality have come to the forefront of mainstream culture, so too have questions among reporters and publications on how to address them in a formal, consistent fashion reflective of the evolving social landscape. To that end, the AP’s edict will go a long way—not only in providing clarity, but also promoting adoption among the many news and media outlets completely adherent to AP style in their writing.

Here’s the language the AP has implemented regarding use of the pronoun, taken from the group’s blog:

In stories about people who identify as neither male nor female or ask not to be referred to as he/she/him/her: Use the person’s name in place of a pronoun, or otherwise reword the sentence, whenever possible. If they/them/their use is essential, explain in the text that the person prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Be sure that the phrasing does not imply more than one person …

It merits noting that if the subject identifies as a man or a woman, the singular “they” remains unacceptable and the gender-specific pronoun is still the correct way to reference that person.

Further to the issue, the AP Stylebook states that writers should avoid using language that insinuates the male and female genders or sexes encompass the totality of a population. The blog post states:

Not all people fall under one of two categories for sex or gender, according to leading medical organizations, so avoid references to both, either, or opposite sexes or genders as a way to encompass all people.”

More simply put:

While social change, especially in the realm of gender identity, will elicit a large number of detractors, the response on social media has been largely positive, thanks to both the clarity and inclusivity of this new edict.

It’s important to note that the AP, along with dictionaries and other definitive guides, aims to be reactive to social change and trends, rather than proactive in helping define it. Questions will always abound as long as progress is made, but it’s nice to see the AP pick this up, both for the legitimacy it gives those who identify as nonbinary and, as a writer, for the guidance it gives in how to refer to such subjects.

That said, there’s always going to be pressure on the AP coming from both directions on any number of issues.

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