Can you use pronouns for a non-binary character without confusing readers? I recently read a ghost story (link below) by Nadine Rodriguez that successfully uses they/them for the protagonist. The story works because:
• Rodriguez almost always keeps plural items and multiple persons grammatically isolated from the protagonist’s they.
• The author is non-binary themself, so that probably helped create the smooth prose.
• The story is confusing, initially. I stumbled on the first two they/them, but then I had zero trouble reading the rest of the story.
• The protagonist’s non-binary gender is germane to the story.
• I personally don’t like xe/xem/xir/xirs/xirself as non-binary pronouns because they don’t disappear in a text like he/her/his/theirs/hers do. If I came across: “Grief was a silent and solitary thing for xem, but it was an animated affair for xir mother,” I would falter. It would slow me down. But my eyes went smoothly over Rodriguez’s sentences such as: “Rosa’s breath, thick and unmoving like the crystallized honey they’d seen their grandmother warm on the stove, was caught in their throat.”
I can’t relate to the non-binary gender identity, so I won’t be writing a they/them protagonist. (Of course, I can’t relate to a serial killer or a lingering ghost, either, but I’ve used both of those as protagonists. Never say never!) However, I can enjoy reading a well written story with a non-binary protagonist.
Anyway, it’s obvious I think Rodriguez did a good job with their story, incorporating they/them and not confusing me. If you’d like to check out their ghost story, “A Lively Place,” it’s in the latest issue of the free online literary magazine 34 Orchard.