Beyond the Gender Binary

The administration at my college is pushing hard for more sensitivity to gender-related issues among faculty and students. We now have gender-neutral bathrooms on campus, and faculty meetings have included sessions intended to raise our awareness of gender issues. I applaud these measures, and I think they’re especially important at an institution like mine which prides itself on its cultural diversity.

At a recent faculty meeting, two members gave a presentation on gender-neutral pronouns. You see, a problem with the English language is that its third-person pronouns are gender specific—he for males and she for females. But what pronoun should you use when referring to a person who prefers not to be identified as male or female?

We’re academics. Surely we can think up a solution. But why stop at one? Let’s come up with a dozen possible solutions, and then bicker amongst ourselves as to which one is the best.

“Here’s a table of gender-neutral pronouns,” said one of the presenters, clicking to next PowerPoint slide. It showed a long list in multiple columns with text too small to read from the back row where I was hanging out.

I’ve searched the Internet and can’t find the table they presented. What I give below pales in comparison—I suspect that, in true academic fashion, the presenters culled from multiple sources. Nevertheless, the following pronouns, which I found on the web site, gives you a sampling of the pronoun smorgasbord we feasted on that Tuesday afternoon.


She called me. I called her back. Her name is…

He called me. I called him back. His name is…


Ze called me. I called zim back. Zir name is…

Sie called me. I called hir back. Hir name is…

Zie called me. I called zir back. Zir name is…

Ey called me. I called em back. Eir name is…

Per called me. I called per back. Per name is…


They called me. I called them back. Their names are…

Certain communities have adopted various species from the gender-neutral-pronoun zoo, even making it part of the self-introduction ritual to state your preferred pronouns. However, such a practice is unlikely to catch on among the general public for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with inherent gender bias. And even more important, the problem we academics are twisting ourselves into contortions to solve is one of our own making.


Continue reading the full article at Psychology Today


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