Vid's Space

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Passing Thoughts

Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Everyone likes pronouns. Those are the short little words that fill in for longer names or other ways of referring to people — like ‘he’, ‘them’, ‘her’. There's also non-person pronouns like ‘it’, but this post is about the personal ones. In English, there are male pronouns, female pronouns, and plural pronouns. But there aren't any singular, non-gendered pronouns. At least, not officially. Many people have invented some, and generally they fail to catch on. That's what I'm doing here. Except maybe mine have a better chance of catching on because they're systematic and therefore easy to remember, and also the Internet is great at spreading ideas people like.

So, why do we need singular gender-neutral personal pronouns? Sometimes we don't know, or for some reason don't want to reveal, the gender of the specific person to whom we're referring. Sometimes we need to refer to a non-specific person in a specific role, and that could be filled by either a male person or a female person. Sometimes we're referring to a specific person who would prefer not to be categorized as male or female. Or maybe we just want to make a point that gender is a non-issue in the current context — or almost every context, depending on whom you ask.

There have traditionally been three approaches to this problem. One is to assign arbitrary new words as the missing pronouns. One is to try to combine male and female singular pronouns to find a middle ground. Perhaps the most popular approach is to simply use the plural pronouns and pretend they can be singular as well. My approach is to apply a common simple modification to each plural pronoun:

Singular
Male
Singular
Female
Plural Singular
Neutral
He She They Phey
Him Her Them Phem
His Her Their Pheir
His Hers Theirs Pheirs
Himself Herself Theirselves Pheirself
see also phey on pronoun.is

Simple, right? Well of course I think so. Maybe now that I've put this online, it can gain some popularity.

Update

I've recently become aware of the sets e and ey, which are just about as logical and memorable as the set I've described above. As far as I can tell, they are (like ‘phey’) meant to be truly gender-neutral, rather than referring to a specific non-binary gender identity. Maybe the more confusing ones with exes and zees were created with a similar intention, but when one genderqueer person says “my pronouns are xe/xem” and another says “my pronouns are zie/zir”, it's hard not to get the impression that those have a more specific meaning.

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