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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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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