It’s About Time We Agreed On A Gender-Neutral Pronoun
There’s a word pretty crucially missing from our language at the moment. It’s a word that we should really be using every day. Seriously — we really need a gender-neutral pronoun.
At the moment, our language forces people to identify as one gender or the other — but we know by now that gender is much more fluid than that. Let’s have a quick run-down of what that means.
The first thing to understand is that there’s a distinction between sex and gender. Your sex is determined by your genitalia; your gender is not. Gender is a social construct: it’s gender that has girls playing with dolls and boys playing with fire trucks. Of course, some argue that these preferences are influenced by your sex — but the biology of this has never been proved, or even really understood. The indisputable fact is that the majority of people will, at some point, feel out of sync with their gender roles — even cisgender people. If you’ve ever been a “tomboy” as a woman, or you’ve ever enjoyed “chick flicks” and “girly talks” as a man, then you will have felt this clash.
Even biologically, whether you are male or female isn’t straightforward; the Intersex Society of North America suggests that 1% of babies are born with some level of sexual ambiguity. (That might sound a low number, but that’s 70 million people alive today.) And yet, from the moment a child is born, we pick the sex they most closely align with, and then assign them a gender (which brings with it a ton of rules and expectations). And let’s face it, that is ridiculous. That’s like telling a newborn baby that they have to be a ballet dancer just because they have small feet, and then making them feel bad about it if they don’t want to.
So we need to stop assigning genders at birth. And at the moment, there’s no easy way for us to do this. We can give our children unisex names and let them pick out their own clothes and play with whatever toys they’d like (thanks Target!) — but we’re still stuck referring to them as “he” or “she.” And the second our children pick up on the difference between these pronouns, they’ll start imposing gender rules on themselves. Which sucks.
And it doesn’t get much better when we’re older, either. By labeling each other as “him” or “her,” we form instant judgments about what that means. So an individual who identifies as male but actually enjoys dressing as a woman may feel prohibited from doing so, because of the rules that come with being a “him.” Equally, an individual who is biologically female, dresses in feminine clothes, and is attracted to men would be labeled by society as a “her” — and might thereby struggle to fully explore her (for lack of a better pronoun) genderqueer identity.
The spectrum of gender is fluid, complicated, and far beyond our current understanding. So dividing the world into male or female, with corresponding gender-specific pronouns to make sure nobody can make it through a sentence without being clearly labeled? That seems at best arbitrary, and at worst, incredibly damaging.
It’s time we remedied all this — and agreed on a gender-neutral pronoun. There are a bunch of options out there already—the pronouns “co,” “thon,” “ne,” “ey,” and “xe” are just a select few of the proposed alternatives — but none of them seem to be catching on.
This could be because pronouns are so deeply rooted into our language that they just can’t be changed. But hey, nobody says “thou” anymore so it’s obviously not impossible, right?
It could be because they’re too hard to pronounce. I mean, try saying “I called xem and xe is bringing xyr friend” in a hurry — I don’t even know where to start. But you know what? We manage just fine mumbling Alexander Skarsgård’s name in our sleep. I think we can handle this.
People may have failed to introduce gender neutral pronouns in the past, but we are living in the Internet age now, people. We made “bae” a thing, and I think we can all agree a gender-neutral pronoun would have been a better use of our time.
So let’s decide on one (how about “ne”? That’s nice and easy to pronounce!) and put it to use. Start by using it in your tweets. Write it on your blog. Text it to your friends. Your written language is much easier to change than spoken — so let’s start there. And if it’s anything like “LOL,” we’ll all be saying it out loud before long.