Merriam-Webster recently announced that it has provided an additional sense in the definition for the pronoun they: “used to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary.” What does this mean?
First, two more definitions: Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines gender identity as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female,” and nonbinary, in this context, means “relating to or being a person who identifies with or expresses a gender identity that is neither entirely male nor entirely female.”
Therefore, the publisher has updated the dictionary to reflect that gender identity is not a simple matter of gender assignment according to physical characteristics. As a post from a couple of years ago notes, usage is evolving in parallel with an evolution in scientific thought.
However, a complication arises. In journalism, and in other contexts in which a person is identified by gender, the writer should accurately describe that gender, and the way to do that is to ask that person to identify the pronoun by which they wish to be referred. (The choices are he, she and they.)