We recently had a really good discussion about gender pronouns at Grease Rag, and I wanted to share some of the things we talked about. Please feel free to add to the conversation! This is by no means meant to be a complete resource.
Preferred Gender Pronouns are Important!
If you have ever been to a Grease Rag open shop night, you know about the 8pm "go-around." For the uninitiated, we like to take a moment in the middle of open shop to stop, put down our projects, and get to know each other a little. We gather in a circle, share our names, preferred gender pronouns if we feel comfortable sharing them, and answer a short question. It is a nice break from our projects that allow us to connect. I love go-arounds!
What is a Preferred Gender Pronoun?
Examples of preferred gender pronouns are "she/her/hers," "he/him/his," "they/them/their," and "zie/zim/zir*." Did you know that "female" and "male" are not the same as stating actual pronouns?? When we say that our preferred gender pronouns are "female," or "feminine" (instead of saying "I prefer 'she' and 'her'"), we are (unintentionally) reinforcing the gender binary. By stating our preferred gender pronouns we are not only allowing people to let us know how they identify, but we are also recognizing that there is a gender identity spectrum that includes, but is not limited to men and women.
Why Do We Ask for Preferred Gender Pronouns?
Which Genders Are Allowed at Grease Rag Open Shop Events?
At Grease Rag we make a sincere attempt to not judge people's bodies, because gender identity does not always match our assumptions! This is exactly why we use the term "WTF" to describe us. Rather than define Grease Rag is for "women" or "transgender" cyclists, we thought WTF (women/ trans/ femme) is more playful and open to our two-spirit, gender-queer, and trans* friends.
We do not have strict rules on what genders/ bodies are allowed at Grease Rag. We prefer to allow people to define themselves, so you are very much welcome to attend our events if you do not benefit from cismale privilege and will respect our safer space for WTFs. (Although we are flexible about gender identity we have a zero-tolerance policy for sexist or transphobic bullshit.) Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or concerns.
*Zie/zim/zir-whaa? What Is a Gender Neutral Pronoun?
Someone asked, "Could you tell me a little more about zie/zim/zir and also about the us of they? I understand that using they avoids using he or she but the English magor in me has a little difficulty understanding they as a singular pronoun. Thanks!"
What does English need a new pronoun for, anyway? Many people have expressed the need for a singular gender-neutral third-person pronoun: that is, a pronoun to use when someone’s gender is unknown or when the individual neither identifies as male or female. Such instances occur when addressing transgender and genderqueer people who don’t feel comfortable being addressed with male/ female pronouns, computers or robots with artificial intelligence, sexless fictional creatures, angels, and the God of many monotheistic religions.
4. Ze/Hir and its derivatives
(ze/hir/hir/hirs/hirself) (zie/hir/hir/hirs/hirself) (ze/zir/zir/zirs/zirself) (zie/zir/zir/zirs/zirself)
Ease of pronunciation: 3/5Distinction from other pronouns: 2/5Gender neutrality: 2.5/5
“Ze and hir” is the most popular form of gender-free pronoun in the online genderqueer community, derived from the earlier “sie and hir,” which were considered too feminine/female-sounding since “sie” is German for “she” (among other things), and “hir” was a feminine pronoun in Middle English. The current forms are still leaning on feminine, by using the same declensions as “she.” “Hir,” although it’s supposed to be pronounced “here,” is read as “her” by many people unfamiliar with the term, and the less-gendered alternative, “zir,” along with “ze” itself, often runs into problems when it follows a word ending in an “s” or “z” (or “th”) sound, sometimes sounding just like “her” and “he.” For example, read this sentence aloud: “As ze looked up at the stars, ze realized that this was zir favorite moment of them all.” This isn’t as much of a problem with “ze,” which doesn’t follow words ending in s/z terribly often, but the problem occurs much more often with “zir” than it did with any of the declensions of “ne” or “ve.”
However, the singular they is widely accepted in written British English, and it is well documented in the works of many great writers, including Auden, Austen, Byron, Chaucer, Dickens, Eliot, Shakespeare, Shaw, Thackeray, and Trollope. It was the singular pronoun of choice in English for hundreds of years before, in 1745, an otherwise-reasonable grammarian named Anne Fisher — yes, a woman — became possibly the first person to champion he as the universal pronoun of choice.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, “The use of they, their, them, and themselves as pronouns of indefinite gender and indefinite number is well established in speech and writing, even in literary and formal contexts.” Meanwhile, R.W. Burchfield, editor of The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, and Bryan A. Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, predict the inevitable dominance of the singular they.