Gender Bending Language

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Last week I examined the issue of gender-neutral language, and demurred at the tendency of the English language to fall back on male-dominant pronouns. Having poked around in a few writing style guides, I concluded that their rules negate the need to pander to linguists looking to strip our pronouns of any association with gender or sex. What my heterocentrist discussion—similar to that of most people—overlooked is how our current construct of language fails to accommodate or even recognize the marginalized transgender or “gender nonconforming” population. An article in New York Times Magazine featuring Rey, a transmale (born female but identifies as male) student, finds that on gender-sensitive campuses “students will often use gender-neutral pronouns like ‘ze’ and ‘hir’—especially if they post on campus message boards.” And the appearance of terms such as “gender nonconforming” and “genderqueer” in the article signifies that our relationship to gender is transforming.

“…today many students who identify as trans are seeking not simply to change their sex but to create an identity outside or between established genders—they may refuse to use any gender pronouns whatsoever or take a gender-neutral name…”

Mother Jones took a look at the evolution of gender-neutral pronouns in our March/April 2008 issue. So although our writing style guides allow us to circumvent the current, although heterocentrist, gender pronoun debate, in the future—as our discussions evolve—they might need an update as well.

—Joyce Tang

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