‘Billions’ Introduces Audiences To The ‘Pronoun Check’ With Non-Binary Character

When Asia Kate Dillon sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss their new role on Billions, it was to mark an event on televison: the first character to identify as non-binary. Dillon does not identify as either male or female, making their casting on the show particularly relevant. In the course of the interview, Dillon described the scene in the show where they discussed the “pronoun check,” or the discussion of an individual’s preferred gender identifiers.

Dillon revealed a bit about their real-life experience surrounding pronouns.

“There is a struggle involved, certainly, but then there’s also a lot more visibility and a lot more acceptance as well. I find that often when I tell people what pronoun I use, I don’t get a lot of backlash. I’m really lucky in that respect. That’s a credit to the visibility that we’re seeing and the conversations that are happening around the topic. I also think it’s because people actually have a much more innate understanding of gender being fluid and gender identity being on a spectrum than they even thought that they might. Those moments of conversation I find particularly exciting.”

So, what exactly is a pronoun check? It’s a way to ask an individual what pronouns are preferred. A person may answer “she/her/hers,” “he/him/his,” or “they/them/theirs,” or other terms like “ze.” CityLab recently explored the various potential combinations in a thoughtful article. Although the pronoun check has been around for some time, it’s still new to a lot of people, not just in Hollywood, but on college campuses and in everyday society.

But not everyone is on board with the pronoun check, including those who are supportive of non-binary or gender nonconforming people. In a New York Times editorial published in September 2016, professor Elizabeth Reis argued that a mandatory pronoun check, common in some classrooms, could have the effect of “outing” students before they were ready. Reis told the story about one student who had only begun thinking of a transition and, despite a male appearance, identified as female. That student faced curious looks when pressured to choose a preferred pronoun.

Reis’ criticism seemed to focus not on the pronoun check itself, but circumstances that make the process mandatory, in environments that may not be entirely welcoming or supportive. She solved the problem in her own class by giving students the option to disclose their preferred pronouns only if they chose. Otherwise, everyone was on a first-name basis, and everyone was referred to as “they.”

Other criticism of the pronoun check comes from an unexpected source: grammar nerds. An Evening Standard article from late last year called upon a language expert, Tony Thorne, to argue that the word “they” is perfectly acceptable to use to refer to an individual person and not a group.

“There are a lot of grammar pedants out there saying it’s wrong, but this is nonsense, we’ve always done this. Using ‘they’ as a gender neutral for a singular is standard practice.”

Asia Kate Dillon poses with the cast of ‘Billions’ in February 2017. [Image by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images]

As for Dillon, they told THR positive stories of queer and LGBTQ individuals were particularly important. Too often, tales of queer characters are tragic or sad. Their role in Billions offers a new perspective on non-binary and gender nonconforming people who, as Dillon says, have “been here since the beginning of time.”

Billions airs Sunday nights at 10 pm on Showtime.

[Featured Image by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images]

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