Gender neutral pronouns (older thread)

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Zombie Kat

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Has anyone written/read any YA featuring a genderless society? Considering writing a story set in a futuristic society where men and women still exist but where no one is particularly interested in gender (sure the people will find other ways to marginalise each other though!). I'm stuck on pronouns though. Any thoughts?
 

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As far as I know, there isn't one. It's definitely a concept I'd be interested in reading about though. Pronouns would be tricky. Making it first person could help, so you wouldn't need a third person pronoun for the MC. As far as everyone else, there's the singular they/their. Various other nongendered pronouns have been tried (zie/zir etc) but never really caught on, but that's not to say you couldn't use one in a novel, or invent something entirely different.
 

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Interesting question - the one I think of is Ze/Zir but there are others that have been invented/created to format into english.

Since your society sounds speculative, I would think you can invent whatever seems to work in your world, and as long as you're consistent, people will go along with it.
 

Anna Iguana

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It's not YA, but you might look at Left Hand of Darkness.
 

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Oh hey. I wrote a short story that's nearly exactly this - YA dystopia where people are largely genderless, although genders do exist and mostly people don't care. I'm planning to expand it into a novel eventually.

For pronouns in my story, it's largely what the characters identify as. Some prefer they/their, some use xe/xir, and some have no biological gender but still identify as male/female and so prefer those pronouns.

You can pretty much make up whatever you want of nothing else fits.

And yes, they do find other ways to marginalize each other. XD
 

Zombie Kat

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Left hand of darkness is great but if I remember correctly she defaulted to he/him for the genderless characters? I was thinking they/their but it feels clunky to me. Maybe I'll make up my own, that's a good idea!
 

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Since it's SF you can create your own pronouns as well. Laurie Marks has an old series with a species of hermaphrodite peoples and she made pronouns for them. I think as long as they "sound" like pronouns and are used consistently, people will pick up on it. there is a short story that I can never recall the name of, that had many different genders (it was on a space ship) and the author made their own pronouns for the genders, but they were like modern pronouns in that they were single syllable and used consistently.
 

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In Golden Witchbreed, Mary Gentle used ke/ker - her aliens started out neutral and gained a gender at puberty.

And Anne Leckie, in her Ancillary series, uses "she" for everyone as the default.
 

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And Anne Leckie, in her Ancillary series, uses "she" for everyone as the default.

The "Ancillary" trilogy is brilliant. Leckie's use of "she" as the default genderless pronoun is brilliantly subversive and illuminating of how we actually think of gender, leading to some fascinating, not always comfortable reading.

Not sure if that's the way one would wish to go with YA, but it's worth mulling over.
 

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It's not an entire society, but Erica Cameron's ISLAND OF EXILES has a society where there's a third gender that's neither male or female and the pronouns they use are ey/em/eir (he/she/they) and they're called "ebets." They have gender neutral names and the one we get to know the most is in love with, and wants to marry, the MC's younger brother. It's a great book and the sequel's just come out (which I'm waiting on pins and needles to get) so I recommend giving it a looksie.
 

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I've tried to find this question already answered and it probably is here somewhere I haven't looked, but here's my question:

I'm using 'they' and 'them' as gender neutral pronouns but I am referring to one person. So writing 'they is', is awkward. But 'they are' isn't correct because I'm referring to one person.

I had to go back to he/she because the gender neutral pronoun confused the referred nouns:
There is no reason to attack [said person] for trying to get people to identify their links. I've never seen him/her do it when the link is identified in some other means than the means he/she is trying to get people to use.​

If I use they/them not only is it a problem with plurals, it also confuses the pronouns:
There is no reason to attack [said person] for trying to get people to identify their links. I've never seen them do it when the link is identified in some other means than the means they are trying to get people to use.​

I can see inserting [said person] to clarify the antecedent to the pronoun.
There is no reason to attack [said person] for trying to get people to identify their links. I've never seen [said person] do it when the link is identified in some other means than the means they are trying to get people to use.​
But even when 'they' refers to the antecedent [said person], using 'they are' which requires 'are' but 'is' is the correct verb makes it sound like you are referring to 'their', the persons using the links one is talking about.


I'm sure I'm overthinking this. Help, thanks.
 
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mccardey

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I've tried to find this question already answered and it probably is here somewhere I haven't looked, but here's my question:

I'm using 'they' and 'them' as gender neutral pronouns but I am referring to one person. So writing 'they is', is awkward. But 'they are' isn't correct because I'm referring to one person.

Help, thanks.
It's only awkward because it's new. What do you default to when speaking about people who take "they" pronouns? For me, it's "They're" rather than "They is".

"They're a friend of Dave's."

"They're a brilliant cook."
 

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In casual speech or writing I'd use 'they are, 'they were', 'they're' etc. when using they singular. It might not be completely grammatical, but it's the best option, because 'they is' just sounds MUCH more incorrect.
 

MaeZe

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Thanks. I went with he/she because my brain couldn't accept they is. But I'm sorry to find out there was no answer yet to this problem.
 

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If you go with "they" as the default pronoun, I'd definitely use "they are" and "they're," not "they is." I don't think I've ever seen "they is" used for the singular they in a work of fiction or by journalists. I believe "they are" for a singular they is stipulated by style guides.

http://cmosshoptalk.com/2017/04/03/chicago-style-for-the-singular-they/

https://style.mla.org/using-singula...7QRk08lpneOXFXTaj3ux0H8IfHQzocH0aAnErEALw_wcB

https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/grammar/singular-they

It's not YA, but you might look at Left Hand of Darkness.

But she just referred to all Gethnians as "he," which would definitely not work as well today and did earn her some criticism, even back then, because the concept of the male pronoun applying to everyone was already being called out as sexist. When I read it, it resulted in my imagining all the genderless characters as basically masculine without genitals, which was another issue. Though the novel was narrated by the gendered character who defaulted to assuming maleness, and I no longer recall whether the use of "he" was entirely his own viewpoint, or if it was used by the Gethenians as their generic pronoun as well.

In Ancillary Justice, Anne Leckie used "she" for everyone in her genderless society (note this society had biological sexes, but it didn't have gender identity or roles). That worked better, because it's still rare for people to use the feminine pronoun in a generic way, but even so, I tended to imagine everyone in the book as female. So when a "she" was described as having a beard, I'd do a double take. But the choice did call attention to the situation. As Alessandria Kelley stated up thread, using "she" as the generic pronoun is a subversive choice, while using "he" would simply reinforce the bias most English speakers still tend to have towards maleness being the generic human condition.

Another option is to invent a pronoun. CJ Cherryh did this for some alien species that had no gender, or whose genders were different from our own concept. Some people in the real world who are off the M/F binary use different pronouns, while others prefer "they."
 
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mccardey

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Thanks. I went with he/she because my brain couldn't accept they is. But I'm sorry to find out there was no answer yet to this problem.
he/she is much more complex than they're - which by the way, you've been using as a gender-neutral singular for years already, for a person you can't see clearly or identify easily. "I wonder what they want." etc
 
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he/she is much more complex than they're - which by the way, you've been using as a gender-neutral singular for years already, for a person you can't see clearly or identify easily. "I wonder what they want." etc

Exactly. Also, people tend to do this without thinking about it when referring to people as individuals within a mixed group. As when someone says, "The show will start as soon as everyone takes their seat" etc. or when I ask my class, "Has everyone turned in their homework?"

Use of "they" as a gender neutral singular pronoun goes back a long way in English (at least to the 14th century). The problem with using he/she for the generic is that it excludes folks who are neither. And in a novel where the characters have no gender anyway, or if they have a different gender concept, writing "they" is less cumbersome than writing he/she all the time anyway (in my opinion).
 
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neandermagnon

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It's completely grammatical and not new to use they as a gender neutral pronoun for someone whose gender isn't known or for an unspecified person. What people are less familiar with is using them for an individual whose name is known and whose gender is known to be non-binary. People may be unfamiliar with it but it's not grammatically incorrect.

For example, "Jack said he's bringing a friend to the party but I don't know their name or anything about them." No-one would bat an eyelid about that sentence. If you knew Joe's friend preferred they/them pronouns you'd use the exact same grammar: "Jack said he's bringing a friend to the party. Their name is Sam and they're from London."

I remember back in the 80s when people were losing their crap over including women. People going nuts over "his/her" and "their" instead of "his" and saying "police officer" instead of "policeman".

Apparently before that people were getting their knickers in a twist over people using "you" in the general sense, instead of "one", e.g. "if you put diesel in a petrol car it may damage your car", instead of "if one puts diesel in a petrol car it may damage one's car".

If you use they, it takes the grammar that goes with they, i.e. plural grammar. This isn't anything new, because "you" is actually a plural pronoun. The singular you is "thou" - so if you're talking to just one person you would say "thou art" instead of "you are". "You are" is plural. Language evolves so it's used as singular nowadays, but has kept the plural grammar. (Though in Dudley - a town in the Midlands of England - they say "you am" because dialects are wonderful.)

Also there's the Royal We... aka royalty using the plural pronouns for themselves because they're royal - e.g. "we are not amused" - Queen Victoria famously declaring that she, a singular person, was not amused.
 
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I remember reading a sci-fi short, quite a few years ago, that took place in a space colony where (if I recall correctly) the inhabitants had dispensed with gender by genetically modifying until the entire population was hermaphrodite. They all had gender-neutral names and used 'e' for pronouns.
 

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See Emma Bull's Bone Dance though it's not necessarily YA (it's categorized as YA; author did not conceive of it as YA)

Old English has a dual pronoun; used of royalty, pairs acting as a unit, and for being of unknown gender.

Linguistically, gender is not a substitute for sex.

Also from the POV of language; gender encompasses more than sex, and many language's gender concepts encompass not only m/f but a human neutral, age, class/occupation/status and gender can change.
 
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It's only awkward because it's new. What do you default to when speaking about people who take "they" pronouns? For me, it's "They're" rather than "They is".

"They're a friend of Dave's."

"They're a brilliant cook."

It's not even new. Shakespeare and Chaucer use the singular they.

And yes, mccardey has it exactly right.
 
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ChaseJxyz

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I would also like to add: Just because someone is nonbinary, doesn't mean that their pronouns are they/them. And just because someone is cis and/or binary, doesn't mean that they only use he or she. A cis man could use they instead of he, and a nonbinary person could use she. Any gender can use any set of pronouns, including neopronouns (ze, xyr, fae etc), it/its, or no pronouns at all (See: the Public Universal Friend).

A society that does not have gender may still have pronouns that denote groups by other factors. There's two forms of "you" in French, the casual/singular (tu) and the formal or plural (vous). Your teacher would be vous, your friend would be tu. Japanese has a ton of pronouns, including ones to sound tougher or younger. If, say, bees or ants had language, they might have different sets of pronouns for workers, soldiers, nurses, drones and queens, even though there are still just the two sexes (male/female). Pronouns are to help differentiate things without writing the full name out, so if every person had the same pronoun, then the language would be vague/confusing.
 

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If you go with "they" as the default pronoun, I'd definitely use "they are" and "they're," not "they is." I don't think I've ever seen "they is" used for the singular they in a work of fiction or by journalists. I believe "they are" for a singular they is stipulated by style guides.

I have a character who uses "they is" and "you is" when it refers to one person rather than many. I had reasons for that, but I'd note that readers generally didn't get what was going on. It was seen as an inconsistency in the dialect, not a marker of singular and plural. So expect to be explaining it forever if you make that choice. It's far more usual to use the plural versions in both contexts.

The whole thing about "you" is a good guide if you're having trouble with "they". You've been using "you" to refer to both individuals and groups since you learnt English. So use the same constructions when handling "they".
 
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frimble3

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And 'they is' and 'you is' sounds/looks odd in formal English, but it the spoken version 'They's over there' or 'You's standing right here' they merely sound like a local dialect. And, I believe are used that way in such old-fashioned variations as 'Youse guys'.
 

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