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Posted by Craig Markou on May 11, 2018

 

With increased awareness and broader acceptance of people who identify as genderqueer, transgender, or gender-nonconforming, it’s about time we gave some serious thought to some of the ways we can make our language reflect this same spirit of inclusion. Gender-neutral pronouns are an obvious place to start.

Wait…why do we need new pronouns?

Until only a couple of decades ago, people widely defaulted to the use of he when referring to someone they didn’t know specifically:

“If anyone brings an umbrella on the trip, he will have to leave it on the bus.”

To many a modern ear, this casual male bias might sound completely shocking. Only slightly better is the phrase he or she - meant to be inclusive, but cumbersome when used repeatedly:

“I’m not sure who will be working on this project, but he or she will need to prepare well ahead of time, and he or she will need to present results on Tuesday.”

Add to this difficulty the fact that modern society is increasingly recognizing gender as non-binary, and it becomes obvious that we need to be more nuanced with our language than ever before. It’s both an issue of accuracy and one of respect for those whose gender identity is neither strictly male nor female.

Guess what? You’re already using gender-neutral pronouns.

You may already be familiar with the idea of gender-neutral pronouns but feel unsure about how to use them - or even what choices you have. In fact, most of us have unwittingly opted for gender-neutral pronouns all our lives:

“I need someone to lead the presentation for me, and I hope they are prepared to answer any questions that come up.”

In this context, we don’t know who our hypothetical leader will be, so we use they out of courtesy. They is a great option - and it is one quite often used by gender-nonconforming people - but there are also several other newly created pronouns that are entering into common usage. The following list shows traditional pronouns in five familiar grammatical cases, and several increasingly common, gender-neutral options as well.

 

Nominative

Objective

Possessive Adjective

Possessive Pronoun

Reflexive Pronoun

Some Traditional Pronouns

He

He yawned

I touched him

His hair shone

That home is his

He washes himself

She

She yawned

I touched her

Her hair shone

That home is hers

She washes herself

They

They yawned

I touched them

Their hair shone

That home is theirs

They wash themselves

Some Gender-Neutral Pronoun Options

Ne

Ne yawned

I touched nem

Nir hair shone

That home is nirs

Ne washes nemself

Ey

Ey yawned

I touched em

Eir hair shone

That home is eirs

Ey washes emself

Ze (or zie) and hir

Ze yawned

I touched hir

Hir hair shone

That home is hirs

Ze washes hirself

Ze (or zie) and zir

Ze yawned

I touched zir

Zir hair shone

That home is zirs

Ze washes zirself

Xe

Xe yawned

I touched xem

Xyr hair shone

That home is xyrs

Xe washes xemself

This table was taken and edited from this Wikipedia page.

 

So how do I know which pronouns to choose?

All of these options, and a few others, too, have appeared in usage, so how do you know which is best for the person or people you are with? Asking someone directly can lead to awkwardness. Consider, for example, someone whose non-binary identity is not something they have shared in their workplace. Asking them to tell you their non-traditional pronouns might force an unwanted personal conversation in this professional context. The whole subject can be handled easily and diplomatically, though. Just share your own pronouns when introducing yourself, or include them in writing, along with your name, in a group situation when you might be wearing a nametag. This allows others to do the same in a way that is comfortable for everybody. As an example:

“My name is Donna, and my pronouns are she and her.” Or, “My name is Shaun, and my pronouns are Ne and Nem.”

It’s all about inclusion.

The objective is that each individual be able to express the specific language they are most comfortable with and have their feelings about this respected by those around them. By making just the small effort required, we can all help ensure that people of any gender identity feel at ease - rather than locked into a binary gender system by the use of traditional, binary language. It’s a matter of consideration. We are extremely fortunate to live in a society that values inclusion. Understanding and using gender-neutral pronouns is one way we can all support this idea of acceptance.

Find out how BTI can help you develop inclusive advertising and design, email parveen@teambti.com.