Challenge of Gender Neutral Pronouns

One of the challenges of creating the Popinjay world is the choice of which non-gender third person single pronouns to use with those characters who have yet to select their True Gender.

During the research phase, I came across many attempts throughout the 20th Century to create gender neutral pronouns. Some of these creations came from well meaning grammarians in an attempt to clear up the use of the plural third person pronouns such as they, them, their as single third person pronouns, as in “Everyone brought their book to class” or “The clerk took their break at ten o’clock”. Both examples exclude the reference to gender so as not offend or exclude a gender–primarily Female. This battle has raged for decades. Use of “he” as the generic pronoun has been deemed sexist and evidence of inequality in language and culture.

I won’t go into all the variations of Gender Neutral Pronouns. You can read the Wikipedia article here. .

“Ze” looked promising at first. However, the possessive and reflexive of “ze”, “hir”, “hirs”, and “hirself” is pronounced in such a way that connotes the feminine prounouns “her”, “hers”, and “herself”.

I had the same problem with other gender neutral suggestions.

So, I came up with my own: xai (he/she), xaim (him, her), xais (his, her), and xaiself (himself, herself). I liked the use of the “x” because the X chromosome is shared by males and females. The “ai” rhymes with “play”. None of my pronouns, then, vocally connoted a gender.

But, I sensed a much bigger problem than sound connotation.

All the variations I looked at and even my own “xai” are just too foreign to the English speaking reader and would probably be even more bizarre to the non-English speaking reader. I’d have to have a prologue or index, and I didn’t want my readers to have to learn another “language” before they could dive right into this riveting story.

I tried using the third person plural, but that was quite awkward and confusing, as evidenced in the following example:

“Jaden thought they would go to the movies. They called Peyton, their best friend. Peyton was excited. They wanted to see a horror flick, but Jaden wanted to see an action movie. They decided on a comedy instead.”

See the problem in the above example? Although the plurals “they” and “their” have been used by Chaucer and Shakespeare as third person singular, exclusive use of the third person plurals leads to confusion. Even though the average person does not recall the pronoun-antecedent school exercises of proper grammar usage, the average person does use pronoun-antecedent in speaking and writing to articulate who is doing what.

The solution: One.

“One” is gender neutral, it’s familiar, and it’s accessible. It’s singular, subjective, objective, and reflexive.

To see how “one” looked and read on the page, I wrote the following paragraph concerning my main character, Jaden, read it silently, and then read it out loud.

“Jaden loved to look at oneself in the mirror. One thought one had better than average features, features that hinted at both male or female. Then again, that’s the way life should be—nongen until the Day of Choosing, the day one would tell the world if one is True Male or True Female. From one’s earliest memories, Jaden had a strong sense as to one’s True Gender. But, such thoughts were against Nature. True Gender was not a matter of thoughts or feelings. True Gender was a revelation, an epiphany that would reveal itself at the exact and proper moment in time, only after seven years of pre-GEAS* studies—of history, of the Gender Identity Wars, of the time when people were confused about True Gender, when people didn’t even know where to pee, of a time when men lay with men and women lay with women, of a time when some people were “single”, and the population was dwindling, when people were disobeying the Laws of Nature and Society to be Fruitful and Multiply.”

At first, using “one” instead of the more familiar “his/her, he/she” et cetera, is awkward, but as I continued reading, “one” felt more comfortable–perhaps sounding quite formal, but, at least not alien.

Another idea I like about using “one” is that the word used as a pronoun creates an impersonal aura around Jaden and the other nongens. In the society of Popinjay, one’s self worth is defined by one’s True Gender–the happiest day of a person’s life in this society is when one steps forth from the chrysalis chamber (after six months of gender transformation) and declares either “He is risen” or “She is risen”, depending on the True Gender revealed to the person after years of proper training, study, and examination.

Here’s the movie scenario rewritten using “one”:

Jaden thought one would go to the movies. One called Peyton, one’s best friend. Peyton was excited. One wanted to see a horror flick, but Jaden wanted to see an action movie. They decided on a comedy instead.

In this example, I had both singular Gender Neutral and plural Gender Neutral pronouns. Although still a bit confusing, restating a character’s name to clear up the pronoun-antecedent reference is easier then exclusively using the plural third person of they, their, theirs, them.

So, at least for now, I’ve settled on using “one” as my third person singular gender neutral pronoun.

Read the backstory of Popinjay, how one scientist’s well-meaning quest to solve the mystery of genetic gender birth defects was appropriated by social scientists, social engineers, and political eugenicists demagogues to create a totalitarian perfect True Gender world.

Aubrey’s Story, Part One

Aubrey’s Story, Part Two

GEAS: Gender Education and Assignment Seminary, the last stage of a nongen’s journey to discover one’s True Gender–For the secret within; For within is the Truth.

The word “seminary” does a religious connection. However, this future society is using the word according to its original Greek meaning: “a seed plot, a garden”, form the Gk. word for “seman”.


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