Merriam-Webster has been choosing Words of the Year since 2003. The Word is chosen based on the words most frequently searched for on their online dictionary that year. Consequently looking back on these words offers a glimpse as to the common cultural talking points of that period. “Socialism” has made it to the top ten five times over the years, which is still clearly not enough given how frequently it is misdefined in political discourse.
But this year the Word of the Year is the pronoun “they”, commonly used as a personal pronoun by nonbinary folx*, myself included. Its usage as a singular gender-neutral pronoun dates back to the 13th century and has been in common usage since. And yet in recent years, this usage has been a matter of controversy fueled by transphobes hiding behind the nonsense cause of “correct grammar”. Against the backdrop of increasing virulent transphobia, this choice for Word of the Year is worth celebrating. And perhaps the best way to celebrate is by reading some books by people who use “they” pronouns, either exclusively or alongside other pronouns. Here are a few to get you started.
*“They/them/their” pronouns are not the only gender-neutral pronouns in usage. Other pronouns include “xe/xem/xyr” and “ae/aer/aer” among at least a dozen others.
Travis Alabanza is an English performance artist and poet creating art around queerness and blackness. Before I Step Outside (You Love Me) is their chapbook of poetry, essays, and photography.
Amrou Al-Kadhi is a British-Iraqi Muslim drag queen. Their memoir, Unicorn: Memoir of a Muslim Drag Queen, details disastrous coming out stories, being inspired by the fluidity of marine aquatic life when exploring their nonbinary gender, discovering the transformative power of drag, and much more.
Archie Bongiovanni is a queer Minneapolis cartoonist. Originally published on Autostraddle, Grease Bats stars a genderqueer individual and their cast of queer friends as they try to survive late capitalism and navigate the gay dating scene.
Bongiovanni is also the author of A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns.
Kacen Callender is a Black Queer Trans St Thomian author of children’s fiction and fantasy. Queen of the Conquered tells of a colonial Caribbean-inspired fantasy world in which a woman with the power to control minds takes vengeance on the royals who murdered and enslaved her family.
Rin Chupeco is a pansexual Filipino writer of YA fantasy. The Bone Witch trilogy is a lyrical tale of necromancy. After accidentally resurrecting her brother Tea is sent away to another land to train in elemental magic. In the face of darkness and danger, she must make a powerful choice.
Akwaeke Emezi is an Igbo and Tamil nonbinary trans writer. Their debut novel Freshwater tells of a protagonist occupied by ogbanje spirits. In startling beautiful prose, the novel explores and breaks down many false binaries including body/spirit, male/female, sane/insane, religious/non-religious.
Alex Gino is a genderqueer American children’s book writer. George is the story of a girl who everyone thinks is a boy. Banned from playing the girls part in the school play, George and her friend plot to get her that dream role and show everyone who she truly is.
Andrea Lawlor is the author of Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl. In 1993 Paul works at a gay bar with a dyke best friend and rich dating life. He’s also shapeshifting from riot grrrl to leather cub, women’s studies major to trade, through queer struggles and pleasures.
CN Lester is a British writer, classical musician, academic, and LGBTI activist. Trans Like Me: A Journey for All of Us explores the questions of what it means to be transgender and how best we can discuss this subject.
Anna-Marie McLemore is a queer Mexican American author of YA magical realism. When the Moon Was Ours tells of four beautiful sisters rumoured to be witches who will use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make her give up the roses that grow from her skin.
Eileen Myles is an American poet, performer, and writer. Their story of lesbian intimacy Inferno (A Poet’s Novel) tells of a young writer discovering her sexuality and creativity in New York City.
Raquel Salas Rivera
Raquel Salas Rivera is a nonbinary Puerto Rican poet writing in Spanish and English. Their collection lo terciario/the tertiary offers a queer decolonial critique and reconsideration of Marx. Writing in Spanish and English these poems force readers to consider the modern horrors of colonialism from a Puerto Rican perspective.
Danez Smith is a genderqueer African American poet. Their poetry collection Don’t Call Us Dead was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Awards. From imagining an afterlife for Black men killed by the police to exploring desire, mortality, and the realities of HIV diagnosis, this is urgent, groundbreaking poetry.
Rivers Solomon is an African American science fiction and fantasy writer living in the UK. An Unkindness of Ghosts places the slavery and segregation of the American South on a vessel in deep space. The neuroatypical protagonist must decide how hard they’re prepared to fight for a way off the ship.
Alok Vaid-Menon is a gender-nonconforming transfeminine Indian American performance artist, poet, and LGBTQ rights activist. Femme in Public is a poetry collection asking what feminine parts of ourselves we have to destroy in order to survive. It’s a dream of what it could look like to celebrate trans-femininity.
JY Yang is a Singaporean writer of speculative silkpunk fiction. In The Black Tides of Heaven, twin children were sold to the Monastery where they developed prophetic gifts. Now as one twin joins the growing rebellion will he be able to find peace without shattering his bond with his sister?