The They and the Them of it: Understanding the Non-Binary Pronouns and Characters in Keeping House

Since my usage of the pronouns they/them in Cleaning House put some readers on edge to the point of pushback, I’m going to address the issue before the second title in the series, Keeping House, is released on July 8th. Keeping House, like the other titles in the Appalachian Elementals series, is set in Southern Appalachia. The characters, faiths, and spiritual paths presented in the series are diverse on multiple fronts. This includes my usage of the pronouns they and them. I’ve chosen to use they and them to identify both the elemental spirits along with some human or formerly human characters and here’s why.

I’ll address the elementals first. Yes, most species on Earth have two sexes (please note that I did not say genders, which is a separate issue), but Earth, Air, Wind, Fire, and Death are not species and don’t have a sex; they aren’t male or female, so why should I apply binary limits on them?

Yes, media frequently does so by gender-based naming storms and other such things, but I openly defy that because it makes no sense. My elementals can take any shape they wish, humanoid or not, though they often choose a human-like form whenever they’re dealing with humans. They’ll also shape into whatever form their human companion/lover prefers. For Keeping House’s protagonist, Centenary Rhodes, that form is androgynous, so Cent’s earth elemental spouse, Stowne, often takes an androgynous form though with a soft, what we humans would call, male tilt because earth elementals have difficulty maintaining highly feminine shapes for extended time periods.

Yes, my elementals frequently change shape around those who understand their capabilities. That’s part of the fun of writing elementals… anything is possible.

Now on to the human characters I use they/them pronouns for. In Keeping House, I’ve several non-binary characters but two choose to use their assigned-at-birth pronouns, at least to some extent, and for their own reasons. My main character, Cent, is in her early 30s and AFAB (assigned female at birth) and the other, Bea, is well over 200 years old and intersex though she too was AFAB. My third character, Brinn, is eighteen years old and their assigned at birth pronouns really aren’t important, though it does come up in a courtroom context late in the novel. Why write a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns? Because that’s Brinn. They/them is how they wish to be referred to, and I respect their choice. Yes, I have non-binary characters who use non-binary pronouns and those who go by ones they either choose or the ones of their birth, but hang around non-binary people for long and you’ll know this is perfectly normal. Accept the pronouns and go on. Trying to analyze and possibly correct someone for their choices, especially when it’s a fictional character, says a lot about the person trying to do the correcting. But still, that is the hill some choose to die on.

As for me, I go by she/her or they/them because that’s my choice. Yes, it makes me a lot like Cent Rhodes, but I identify with her in many ways. My pronouns are really just the beginning. That said, enjoy Keeping House for its diversity, for its magic, for all the things that make the Appalachian Elementals series unique, and don’t let pronouns and how they’re applied interfere with your reading enjoyment.
– 💖 Jeanne 😊


P.S. If you still don’t understand at this point, it’s only because you don’t want to and, therefore, this series simply isn’t for you. (Hint: that’s your cue to exit.)