Wednesday, June 1, 2011


We live in a world in which people do not always fit into neat little boxes. (Hooray!) And that is just as true for gender as it is for any other label. Unfortunately, the English language forces us to try to smoosh everyone into a box through its insufficient supply of pronouns. And I assume it's one of the reasons everybody gets so worked up when a caring set of parents quite reasonably refuses to report the gender of their baby.

There's "he" and "she" and that's about it. "It," of course, is inappropriate for a person, which forces us to try and assign a gender to everyone regardless of whether we know a person's gender or whether or not they even have one; some individuals self-describe as agendered or non gendered.

This has been an irritating problem for some time, and there have been many attempts to rectify it, none really catching on. Using "he" as a gender-neutral as well as gendered pronoun is confusing and problematic, given that it reinforces our perception of male being the default and all other genders being deviations from the default. "He or she" is cumbersome, and "(s)he" is unpronounceable. Constructed pronouns like "zie" would work quite well ... if we could ever get people to use them.

Personally, I like the singular "they." It's already sort of in use; it just needs to be accepted as grammatically correct. It could be potentially confusing, but since "they" already refers to an indeterminate number of people I think we can reasonably add single persons to the list. And I believe it's how Facebook refers to me since I refuse to report my gender, so we already have that behemoth on our side. It's the usage I'll generally be using on this site, though I may throw in the occasional "zie" so we don't forget about it.

Our language reinforces the gender binary, but mostly through pronouns. With occasional exceptions (like "blond" and "blonde"), nouns and adjectives are not gendered. Some languages gender everything male or female, others don't, and others have more than two genders. It makes me wonder how trans experiences vary across cultures from language issues alone.

No comments:

Post a Comment