I don’t remember the exact year. Elementary school, definitely. Let’s say it was fourth grade. We were learning about grammar, and pronouns, and how to signify people.

“So, if you’re talking about one person, you use either ‘he’ or ‘she,’” said the teacher leading the lesson. To my smartass fourth-grade mind, this teacher was clearly wrong, and her mistake brings me out of my daydreams.

“What about 'they?' You forgot ‘they?'" I repeat from the back of the class. In my pre-Strunk & White naiveté, I often used “they” as a singular pronoun. My friends and family also used “they,” to refer to a third person with unknown or indeterminate gender. Naturally, I wanted to prove my fourth grade teacher wrong. I don’t recall the response to my protest. I remember repeating, “What about they? What about they?” to my teacher’s authoritative rejection.

According to a Washington Post blog by Jeff Guo published earlier this month, "The singular ‘they’ has been declared Word of the Year.” Guo cites the “200 linguists at the American Dialect Society's annual meeting” who voted on 2015’s most important word, and applauds these experts for accepting a common speech pattern.

Good, great, wonderful. Alternative ways of speaking are becoming part of mainstream culture. This is especially important for agender, genderqueer and gender-non-conforming people.

Guo quotes linguist Ben Zimmer, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal, who says that choosing “they” as word of the year “is bringing it to the fore in a more conscious way, and also playing into emerging ideas about gender identity.” This is an important step towards public recognition and acceptance of people who don’t fit the gender binary.

But consider the other words these linguists had considered. Guo says that the Society chose “they” over “thanks, Obama,” “ammosexual” and “on fleek.” At a glance, “ammosexual” may appear to be an oppressed sexual identity that deserves as much acceptance as a gender-neutral pronoun. Actually, “ammosexual” is “a term for someone who feels affection for firearms." The first page of Google image results include a pink camouflage fist with the words “Stop Ammophobia” and a t-shirt with the words “It wasn’t a choice. I was born this way” printed around a picture of three bullets crudely drawn to resemble a penis.

The article you’re reading isn’t about gun rights, so I’ll let the absurdity of “ammosexuality” speak for itself. Being memes, “Thanks, Obama” and “on fleek” are equally ridiculous, phrases taken from others and turned into jokes. (“Thanks, Obama” was co-opted by liberals who make fun of knee-jerk generalizations by conservatives, and “on fleek” was appropriated from Black culture.)

In the article, Guo mentions one potential "Word of the Year" that frustrated me more than any other. Citing a tweet by Gretchen McColluch, there was a “Big controversies at #woty15: do you spell it yass, yaas, yaass, yaasss, yaaaaasss, yasssssss...?” Regardless of how you write it, this is an onomatopoeic expletive, not a word that shapes a fundamental part of one’s identity. Dozens of trans people were murdered last year. In the U.S., 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT (compared with 10 percent nationally). Nobody is suffering, or dying, over the spelling of “yaaaassss.”

I don’t mean to single out an individual WaPo blogger. Rather, Guo’s article indicates how mainstream media measures “success” through assimilation, ceding power to the institutions that inhibit true progress. As someone who prefers “they” pronouns for myself, I’ve experienced how language can radically configure physical and social space. Fitness apps, family parties and pharmacy shampoo aisles reveal their sharp borders when you don’t feel comfortable within a single gender.

Gendered violence and oppression doesn’t end because the American Dialect Society accepts and condones my word choice. People continue to suffer because bureaucratic authority limits and polices individual freedom. Institutional recognition is important for many people with marginalized identities. But what if an identity rejects people who signify others and classify them into a hierarchy? Expert linguists can gloss over substantive issues with the same power of a fourth grade teacher’s silent dismissal. And I will continue, forever the contrarian, asking, “What about ‘they?’”