Saturday, November 12, 2011


In one of my very first posts, I said that I would post about pronouns later and I have started this post at least five times and just not been able to finish it, so I'm just going to try to get it done.

I would like to preface this post by saying that I have not actually ever met someone who told me that they were genderqueer.

My friends and I joke about how English is an inadequate way to express ourselves and the way that I have found most inadequate is in regard to pronouns.  English has "he", "she", "you", "they", and "it" (and I guess, technically one).  "He" and "she" are fine, but they obviously promote a gender binary.  "You" is both accusatory and only for use when directly talking to a person.  I am really fond of "they" but proper grammar conventions insist that the word "they" is plural (I'll discuss singular they in just a second).  "It" is used to refer strictly to inanimate objects and thus would be extremely offensive in regard to a person.  "One" sounds like you are trying to write a paper without using singular they; it's stiff and formal.  Those are the problems with the pronouns currently in use in English.

Now, people are creative and have come up with all sorts of ways to get around gendered language.  Singular "they" is the most popular and according to Wikipedia, has been in use since the 15th Century (you would think that since it has been used in the singular for so long, the grammar police would just let it go).  And in papers and just casual use I tend to use it in the singular.  The problem becomes when you are referring to someone specific and say: "They like to read."  That becomes an extremely ambiguous statement.  Do you mean that you know several people who like to read or that you have a genderqueer friend who likes to read?

Another common solution that is used (at least in writing) to solve the gender neutral language is the construction she/he or s/he.  This is a construction I have never been fond of and thus had never used.  It is ugly and more importantly, it still has the problem of enforcing a gender binary.

Another solution I have run into (on the internet, not in person) is invented pronouns.  There is a very long list of them on Wikipedia (which actually does encompass all of the pronouns I've encountered) which is worth looking over because I learned a few new gender neutral pronouns.  My biggest problem with invented pronouns is that they're invented.  As my linguist friend would say, pronouns are a close class of language and thus adding to them is far, far more difficult than just coining or borrowing a new word.  Unless you raise a new generation of children with using the gender neutral pronouns, it won't really become a natural part of English.  As an addendum, I also have the problem with a lot of invented pronouns sounding too similar aloud to he and she.

That being said, if a person asks me to use a particular set of pronouns, including invented pronouns, I will do it.  If that is how that person identifies, I'm not going to say no, I can't honor your simple request of using the pronouns you feel best with.

My favorite new non-conventional pronoun I found in the list I linked to above is: Per(son).  Which conjugates like this:

Per laughed. I called per.  Pers dog.  That is pers.  Per likes perself.

Why do I like it?  It feels natural to me.  It's just an abbreviation of person (which is about as gender neutral as it gets).  It's not easily verbally confused with he or she.  I really like it.

Related: I have a friend (I never know when it's okay to use names so I'll let per speak for perself) who has a friend who isn't partial to just one particular pronoun.  Thus my friend has used he, she, and they in relation to the person and I find that really cool.

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