How transgender folk are fixing an age-old literary problem

Here’s something that you may not be aware of unless there is a transgender person in your life: Not everyone wants to be referred to as “he” or “she.” There are a number of reasons for this, which we won’t get into here, but it really opens a big can of worms in our language. What do we call these people if we can’t say “he” or “she” (and no one really wants to be called “it”)?The answer: Gender neutral pronouns! What are they? Well, there are a a few proposed options floating around, but here’s the set I’ve heard used the most:ze (pronounced “zee”)hir (pronounced “here”)For example:Ze is at the park.I called hir last night. Hir dog is adorable.The cat is also hirs.Ze made hirself dinner.These are, or course, not in common usage yet. But can you just imagine how much easier they’ll make our language if we pull them into common usage and reach total comfort with them? Think of all the times you’ve wanted to say “he/she” or “he or she.” You either settled on the awkward but accurate phrase, or you picked something easier. Maybe you said “he” and pissed off a feminist. Maybe you said “they” and pissed off a grammarian. Maybe you alternated between “he” and “she” in your paragraph and confused people. Maybe you totally restructured the entire sentence so you didn’t have to deal with the problem. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a gender neutral pronoun on hand?It happens all the time in hypothetical situations, especially in writing. It’s also an issue when you’re talking about someone in particular and hir gender hasn’t been identified yet. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just refer to hir as “ze,” come across as totally cool and non-offensive, and get to the point without floundering on word choice?I would argue that this isn’t about politics, or gender presentation, or wreaking havoc on our current system in any way. This is about a problem in our language, and a solution that’s just waiting for us to pick it up. It may be too early to start throwing the pronouns around in your daily speech and expecting people to understand them. But it’s not too early to start talking about it. That’s how it needs to spread. Tell someone you know about gender neutral pronouns, and why they will make hir life easier once we’re all comfortable with their usage. Ze may thank you.

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6 Responses to “How transgender folk are fixing an age-old literary problem”

  1. Rev. Nancy Says:

    Thanks for this Sarah. As usual, your mom thinks you are surely cutting edge and it is really a good thing to think about.

    Not sure if it will fly from the pulpit, but in time maybe God could be ZE or Hire, who knows?

    I have heard these words before but am wondering how the decision was made for these specific words. Was there a vote and is it cast in stone that these words are appropriate and all agree?

  2. Anonymous Says:

    I wasn’t going to bring religion into it, but you know i’ve also been thinking along the same god lines. A gender-neutral pronoun would make the concept a WHOLE lot clearer and less patriarchal.

    And no, the words aren’t set in stone. Different groups are using different pronoun sets still, and it will continue to spread slowly, evolving as it goes, like everything in language. So pay attention… :)

    Check these others out.

  3. melody Says:

    I don’t really like the gender-neutral pronouns. But then, I’m not transgendered, so my opinion on them might not matter. I just find them confusing, but even so, I prefer the “proper English” way of stating things: He/Him/His when gender is unknown and in groups of genders.

    Hopefully Ze and Hir won’t stick – and by that I mean hopefully better words for neutral genders will evolve – because those words make it sound like we’re talking about robots, not people.

  4. badgerbag Says:

    I’m a fan of “they” for singular uncertain or non-binary gender.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Apparently the LJ’ers got into an argument over this one. Check it out:

    http://syndicated.livejournal.com/sarahdoppblog/18327.html

  6. Tony Says:

    I’ve taken to simply using the female pronouns by default and nobody has given me any grief over it yet.