Deeply Impersonal Pronouns

Today, I’ve been reading about Scout Schultz, a 21-year-old computer engineering student at Georgia Tech who was shot and killed on campus on Saturday.

There had been a 911 call to report someone carrying a knife or gun.  Scout was confronted by officers but, after refusing to put down the weapon, was shot in full view of a dormitory.

I originally started reading more about the story because a lot of headlines ran along the lines of, “LGBT student shot by police,” which somewhat gives the implication that the student was shot for reasons of gender identity.  Scout ran the university’s Pride Alliance and, in their online profile, identified as “bisexual, nonbinary, and intersex” before going on to tell of a love for Dungeons and Dragons.

However, it was a quote from Scout’s mother than caught my eye as I was skimming the report in the Independent.

“They seemed fine. Friends said they seemed fine,” Lynne Schultz told the New York Daily News, using the pronoun “they” for her child, as the student asked people to do.

There’s nothing particularly unexpected here, and I understand the request to use a gender neutral pronoun.  However, using “they” seemed to feel deeply impersonal to me in the context in which I read it.

I know that, as pronouns go, “they” isn’t grammatically “personal” but its context for me has always in plurality, when talking about a group or entity.  Using it to reference one person with such non-specificity seems to strip away the reference to a person at all.

I wondered why Scout’s mother did not just refer to Scout as “Scout”.

When I was three feet tall
I loved the mall
And lived life for myself
Fallin’ down for laughs
Your photograph
Some puppets made of felt

Watching life in Oz Thanksgivin’ Eve on Grandma’s old TV
Dancing roundabout, I’d twist and shout for everyone to see

It’s leanin’ hard on me

Mama’s in a shop
Watching little sister by myself
Robbed a wishing pond
In a fleeting bond
Vowed to share the wealth

Scooping up the coins
A warning shot from some authority
Doesn’t matter now, but I’ll shout out loud for everyone to see

Never got to know you
Did you ever wonder why?
Now it’s nice to know ya
And I’m glad you’re doing fine
Think of all the time lost
Was it really lost at all?
Now I’m so proud of ya
I’d love to tell you all I see
Listen hard to your reality

It’s leanin’ hard on me
It’s leanin’ hard on me

Impersonality by The Goo Goo Dolls

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