Thursday, 11 July 2013

The hindrance with hermaphrodites, or, the problem with gender-neutral pronouns

... is that there aren't any in the English language. (He/Him/His is often used, but I see them as purely masculine).

Seriously, I have a species which breeds asexually, by budding off a child, and therefore has no gender distinction.

So how to refer to them in singular, since 'they' is most definitely plural?

I've always been of the impression that him/her or he/she is an abomination. Fine in a contract, but they do not belong in a work of fiction. I hear that Gary Jennings circumvented this problem by using him or her interchangeably. Although I consider this to be an effective workaround, I feel it doesn't actually help the issue.

(I, I, I, I'm being very egotistical today, methinks)

I recently read a terms of service (and promptly lost the damned site), which used 'xe' in place of he/she, and 'xir' in place of him/her (her/him always seemed more appropriate to me, being in alphabetical order and all). With very little extra research (thank you wikipedia. You may be too unreliable for academic papers, but you're good enough for me), I stumbled across this site, which rates the various proposed systems according to Ease of Pronunciation, Distinction From Other Pronouns, and Gender Neutrality.

It doesn't draw any definitive conclusions, but it certainly helped as a guide (it even has a table of usage for each system, and reproduces the first chapter of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland using each). It drew me to Spivak pronouns (ey/eir/em), which although were not rated highly, seemed to be the most understandable with no exposure to such pronouns (think they/their/them, it's basically singularisation of the plurals).

And so, ey/eir/em it is. I liked the aesthetic appeal of xe/xyr/xem (for science fiction it looks appropriately alien), but I have to think of an eventual standard, and fathomability to other readers. I mean, they're not all going to be me. I mean, I hope not.

Crikey that would kind of creepy. A Moon-esque scenario, perhaps? Or a future populated entirely of different versions of myself, à la Red Dwarf? NOTHING WOULD EVER GET DONE! Constant arguments, attempted one-upmanship, debating, and despite understanding that working together would be beneficial, no trust could be placed in the other for reasons of "that's what I would do in his shoes".

"But I'm YOU!"
"We're all me."
"Wait, does that mean I am you, or you are me?"
"Ow. Who lost a knife?"
"Oh, there it is."
"What was that for?"
"He would've done the same to me!"
"I've just set my hand on fire again. Or is it the first time, I'm not sure. Which of us is prime?"
"Fucking Spartacus."

Interestingly enough, 'à la' is actually a shortening of 'à la manière de' which, if my sources are to be believed, means 'in the manner of'. So it's English usage is correct. Although apparently it also translates as 'how to' (loved that show).

I'm going to sign off now, before things get weird.

Mike 9 (or is it 6? They really need to underline these post-its)