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Gender-neutral pronouns

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Wulvaine, Sep 30, 2012.

  1. Wulvaine

    Wulvaine Dreamer

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    I'm currently writing a story centered on Aeron, a character who is biologically female but Twinsouled, an in-universe term I'm using to mean that s/he has both a male and a female soul contained within a single mind. This is loosely based on the real-world Native American concept of Two Spirit people, an umbrella term used for LGBT/intersex individuals.

    I'm a little uncertain how to go about writing his/r pronouns since English doesn't seem to have a gender-neutral pronoun that isn't depersonalizing (like 'it') or vague (like singular they). Simply referring to him/r by biological sex isn't right for the character, but I don't really want to go through the whole story using the slashed 'his/r' style, which somehow gives me an overly modern vibe. I feel that alternating between male and female gendered pronouns would only be confusing. As for the alternatives, there are many proposed and invented pronouns, but none of them are in common use, and that could make the prose a little muddy.

    I'm just curious how other scribes would handle this matter.
     
  2. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    If Aeron's the protagonist, you may be able to cheat by using first-person narration. In third-person, but from the perspective of a bigender character . . . I actually have no idea. I've only written bigender characters in third-person from the perspectives of characters who didn't 'get' the concept of being bigender, and who just thought in terms of biological sex.

    (As a side note, I'm a little iffy on the concept of spirits being male and female. You can account for bigender characters that way, but where does that leave agender folks like me?)
     
  3. Wulvaine

    Wulvaine Dreamer

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    The matter of agender individuals could easily be accounted for in the setting, though not dealt with in this story; not all single spirits have to be gendered or even straightforward in gender, and not all Twinsouled have to have 'one of each'. In the real world, the two-spirit concept is more a way to explain alternate gender identities and sexual preferences within the context of Native American tradition than anything else. I simply thought it would be interesting to extrapolate that to a setting where it can be taken literally (i.e., spirits provably exist and some people have two of them).

    Aeron isn't exactly bigender; s/he doesn't move between masculine/feminine behavior by context, nor have separate en homme and en femme personas. The way spirits work in Twinsouled people is widely varied; some fuse together in one way or another, some remain distinct and manifest as multiple personae or aspects of a single persona, etc. In Aeron's case, a male and female spirit fused without one taking dominance, and s/he's closer to androgyne than bigender.

    Honestly, though, his/r gender identity isn't really a plot point so much as a character trait, so I don't have to deal with it too directly or even talk about it much; I'm just not sure how to convey his/r personality, identity, and experience in a way that's true to the character but also doesn't bog down the flow of the story.

    As for first-person narration, I'm not too fond of writing in it, haha. I'll probably just decide that Aeron has chosen a basic pronoun and move forward, making his/r identity clear through other references.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2012
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    What does the character prefer in ordinary usage? In other words, people around the character have to make use of pronouns, so which does the character prefer?
     
  5. Wulvaine

    Wulvaine Dreamer

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    For the sake of clarity, I might decide that Aeron has accepted the feminine pronoun. That's probably the easiest way; it brings with it the assumption that s/he's biologically female, and I can make it clear in the text that s/he identifies differently.

    Even with that as a solution, though, it seems unusual to me that we haven't standardized any pronouns in English for alternate gender identities yet. While people who don't identify traditionally are certainly going to be in the minority overall, that still must mean a significant number of people when you consider the scale of the English-speaking world.
     
  6. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I think the number would have to grow quite a bit for the language to change.

    In this case, I'd go with how the character self-identifies. Establishing early on that she is Twinsouled should be enough for the reader to understand what you are trying to convey, and it sounds like it will come up at various times throughout the text.
     
  7. Mindfire

    Mindfire Istar

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    I think that this is because, despite the increasing vocality of the LGBTQ community, hetero & gender binary are seen as normative, so a bi or neuter gender pronoun is unlikely to catch on. It would take a massive event to shake that status quo. YMMV on whether that's a good thing or not.
     
  8. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog - might help you out.

    There are combined pronouns - heshe, s/he...

    And there are several invented pronouns that have come about to try and solve this issue. Co - to replace the he/she said (co said) is one that was coined and used by Mary Orovan in 1970 (according to [dare I say it] Wikipedia) Gender-neutral pronoun - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (is under the heading 'invented promouns')

    Appendix:English third-person singular pronouns - Wiktionary (found a second table on the issue).

    I think if I had to use one I would go with the 'co'. It looks like the least clumsy to deal with, and has been used before, and to me looks like the most logical. Co - company, co-author sort of things.
     
    Last edited: Oct 1, 2012
  9. Aravelle

    Aravelle Sage

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    ze xir xe, zir, hir, zim... just a few.

    I know they sound silly, but people do use them in real life. I agree with what someone said previously, just try to figure out what pronouns ze prefers. :]
     
  10. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    I've seen all those alternate pronouns as well, but to be honest the number of people who will be put off the story probably outweighs any advantage of using them unless you have a real work of genius on your hands.
     
  11. JCFarnham

    JCFarnham Auror

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    In the serial I will be working on in Novemeber I have a neutral third sex for one alien species and another seemingly sexless "unknown" species. I started off using the alternate pronouns (zir, zim, etc.) but recently I decided to simply switch to it. It was reading an Iain M Banks novel that did it to me really. In his Culture novels, the artificial citizens of the Culture are refered to almost solely as it--with "drone" and side stepping the issue used to soften the blow for us uneducated lot who can't cope with stuff we don't understand. (That's not patronisation by the way, that's paraphrasing the Culture attitudes towards "barbarians" haha.)

    The point is I had no trouble with those characters lacking a gendered pronoun, so I figured--Why am I making it difficult for myself? I may flip-flop, but we'll see what happens during NaNoWriMo :p
     
  12. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    I can only cite a couple of examples of what authors I know of have done:

    Bel Thorne is a hermaphrodite character in some of Lois McMaster Bujold's sci-fi novels; the pronoun used for such people in those stories is it. I've never liked that. It has a feel of 'this is not a person' (even though I know the author didn't mean that).

    In Mary Gentle's novel Golden Witchbreed, the people don't have gender until they reach puberty, so children are referred to by the (invented) pronoun ke: Ke got into a fight with ker sibling and was sent to ker room. Once a person is an adult, the usual pronouns are used. (Ke is also used for animals, but it is used for inanimate objects.)
     
  13. Weaver

    Weaver Sage

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    There's a futuristic fantasy novel called Bone Dance in which (this could be a plot spoiler) the main character Sparrow has no gender. The author did the most logical thing under the circumstances: she wrote the story in first person.
     
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