Ze, Hir, Hirs; He, She, They: Which Pronoun Are You?
More and more high school and college-age students who are choosing to check “other” instead of “male” or “female” are seeking out the P.G.P.’s (preferred gender pronouns) that is best for their gender identities. They are thereby questioning the gender roles society has heretofore automatically assigned to them, based on whether they were born male or female. If “she,” “her,” “he,” his,” “him,” “they,” “their” and “them” do not seem suitable, a number of new ones that connate both genders — “ze,” “hir” and “hirs” — now exist.
Katy, an Ann Arbor, Michigan, high school junior interviewed by the New York Times, describes her excitement at discovering that Google+ has “other” as a gender option, besides “male” and “female”:
For those of us in the nonconforming gender community, it is great to see Google make the option more mainstream.
Katy was at a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning and Allies (LGBTQQA) meeting when she first learned about “other” as a gender option:
“You have to understand, this has nothing to do with your sexuality and everything to do with who you feel like inside,” Katy said, explaining that at the start of every LGBTQQA meeting, participants are first asked if they would like to share their P.G.P.’s. “Mine are ‘she,’ ‘her’ and ‘hers’ and sometimes ‘they,’ ‘them’ and ‘theirs.’ ”
Dr. Ritch C. Savin-Williams, director of the Cornell University Sex and Gender Lab and author of the book “The New Gay Teenager,” says that the gender nonconformity movement is about “rejecting the boxes adults try to put kids in by assuming their sexual identity labels their personal identity.” Other adjectives that young people are using to describe themselves are, says Dr. Savin-Williams, “bi-curious,” “heteroflexible,” “polyamorous” and“wiggly.”
Indeed, some countries, colleges and universities are adopting nongender language as a way to find a “neutral ground” between male and female. Australians can list their gender as male, female or indeterminate on their passports and the British Home Office is reportedly considering a third gender option for passports. Students at southern California’s Pomona College have voted to revise the student constitution so it contains only gender-neutral and language. Two years ago, the University of Michigan Student Assembly passed a resolution to eliminate gender-specific pronouns from the Statement of Student Rights and Responsibilities. More and more high school students are learning about the transgender movement; there are now 5,000 Gay-Straight Alliance Clubs registered with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.
Ancient Greek and Latin, the languages that I teach, both have nouns in three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter. Neuter comes from the Latin words ne, “not,” and uter, “one of two” or “one or the other.” To be “neuter” in gender means that a word is “not one or the other,” i.e., not masculine or feminine; the neuter personal pronoun id is translated as “it.”
Ancient Greek and Latin’s use of the neuter gender suggest that other societies — ancient societies, at that — have conceived of another gender besides “male” and “female.” Indeed, classical mythology has more than a few figures who are both genders including the seer Tiresias (originally a man, he is turned into a woman by the goddess Hera and then back into a man) and Hermaphroditus, who comes to be after a nymph and a young man are, literally, fused together (the story is in Book 4 of the the Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses). As the transgender movement and the new P.G.P.’s show, there are genders besides “male” and “female” that one can be.
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