Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Words don't work so well: Pronoun problems

The English language has more that 2x more word than the next language, yet the words we do have are inadequate when someone with an unconventional identity. This is not a problem for those who identify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual. It's not even a problem right now for people who identify as transgender men or women. But it's not always that simple. Sexuality and gender are both spectrums, and there are not labels for all of those degrees of difference.

So, what do you call someone who identifies as neither man or woman? Or both man and woman? Or somewhere in-between?

Some identity words for the individuals who identify outside of the gender binary are; queer, genderqueer, intergender, androgyne/androgynous, third gender, genderless, or, in first nations traditions, two-spirit.

The problem comes when the individuals who use these identities are referred to. Pronouns, ugh. Even if someone is being considerate and asks, "what pronouns do you prefer?" what would they say?

The pronouns used for people in conventional society are he/him/his, she/her/hers and they/them/their. Until recently, they/them/their was used to refer to multiple people. Now, it is grammatically correct to call an individual person "they" but, would you agree that it sounds weird?

So, not everybody likes they/them/their, what now? There are some lesser known gender neutral pronouns out there such as ze/hir or co/co's.

Ze/hir is used within some trans* communities, but many people find it clunky and hard to use. Co is a gender neutral pronoun coined by feminist writer Mary Orovan in 1970, and is used by intentional egalitarian communities that strive to create a genderless society, such as Twin Oaks in Virginia.

I like co as a pronoun, but not everybody does. The problem is that there is no real gender neutral pronoun that works for everybody, or works in mainstream society.

What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. i agree, always awkward. I like the idea of inventing a new pronoun, but it needs to flow well in a sentence or it will be super obvious that it's different and unusual.