Opinion gender_neutral

Published on April 26th, 2013 | by Dani

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Time for Mainstream Non-Gendered Pronouns

An academic paper called “Gender in Twitter: Styles, Stances, and Social Networks,” about gender in communication was published in 2012. The article reads, “the performance of popular gender norms in language is but one aspect of a coherent gendered persona that shapes an individual’s social interactions.” Articles from New York Magazine and BuzzFeed gave a run-down.

Men tweet how we might expect: more swearing, less emotion, using “nah” and “ain’t.” Then, “female authors were more likely to use emoticons, ellipses (…), expressive lengthening (nooo waaay), repeated exclamation marks, puzzled punctuation (combinations of ? and !), the abbreviation omg…”

The article lines-up with my personal experience involving gender and language, which has been off-putting. I don’t want to send or receive either a girly bubble-letters tone, or the jerkish–“Nah, dude”–voice for maleness. No desire to be a pedophile to someone’s inner-child, or else an extra in the next ‘Expendables’ movie.

The point is, why not promote androgynous communication as a new default, a break away from the binary? Not just as a hypothetical, but here and now–see Maureen Dowd as zie in The New York Times, or hear gender-neutral language in the State of the Union.

Right now, gender-variant words appear on Tumblr or LGBTQ blogs, e.g. Emmi on Wild Gender uses “zhe/zir.” Even in these spaces, gender-variant terms are not widely used, and referring to others, who don’t self-identify as genderqueer, as non-gendered, it isn’t done or is a faux pas.

On March 15th, Hanna Rosin tweeted an article about high school students using “yo” as a pronoun in a unique way. The author explains, “the kids seem to have spontaneously filled a void in the English language” and “English doesn’t have a pronoun for cases where you don’t know a singular person’s sex.”

That this happened organically points to something antiquated about gendered language.

For me, it’s a no-brainer. As someone who’s uncomfortable with binary expectations, I want the ability to set a boundary, so I don’t have to present as either a male or female if I don’t want to. If others prefer to be boxed-in by M or F, that’s very nice, but please leave me out of it.

Here’s a quick example. I had posted an innocuous comment to a thread using a male-looking icon. Right away, someone says what I wrote ”don’t mean shit.” Had my photo been different, I might have gotten “OMG! Noooooo waaaaaaaaay” instead. Gender-variant language would give this kind of flexibility.

Maybe it sounds far-fetched, but why?

There’s a historical parallel, which was the introduction of “Ms”. Prior to Ms., women were locked into either Miss or Mrs. It signified availability, status, “ownership,” or some combination of all three. The Miss or Mrs. binary was oppressive. The New York Times started using “Ms.” in 1986. Widespread use was promoted by Ms. Magazine.

Are we headed toward a post-gendered future?

“We will have version 3.0 human bodies, which we will be able to modify and reinstate into new forms at will… in real reality in the mid 2040s,” writes Ray Kurzweil in The Singularity is Near. Kurzweil’s prediction has to do with exponential progress and nano-technology. So yay, 2040s!!

LGBTQ activist Zinnia Jones, said her ability to choose to transition is “a taste of apotheosis.” I want more than a taste and sooner than 30 years from now. Full-frontal apotheosis: freedom to actualize my gender identity and transcend the binary. Updating the lexicon with “he, she or ze” is an easy first step.

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About the Author

Atheist, genderqueer, generally conflicted. Dani has a background in Social Science (BA) and Advertising (career experience).

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