With all the recent news about transgender and gender issues, I watched and listened with fascination as radio and TV hosts struggle to find the right nouns, adjectives and pronouns to use when talking to or about different individuals.
If you have been on the moon for the last couple of years and don’t know what being transgender or ‘cis’ means, then you should know that the term ‘transgender’ refers to people who may not feel comfortable with the bodies they were born with, may have dressed, behaved and believed they were the opposite sex as children, react more like the opposite sex emotionally and, generally, question their gender identity. “Cisgender” is the opposite of transgender and is used to describe someone whose gender identity matches their anatomical gender at birth.
You may also not be aware of the existence of gender-neutral pronouns, or if you do know about them, you may avoid them because you don’t know how to use them correctly. As a language professional, it’s important to get up to speed with issues like this, and as the world shifts towards inclusivity, they are becoming more widely used.
Perhaps you haven’t realised it, but you already use gender neutral pronouns when referring to individuals or groups of individuals of mixed gender. How often have you changed a sentence about to avoid using ‘he’ or ‘she’ or ‘her’ or ‘his’ and made everything plural instead? And although I’ve always been scrupulous about avoiding the use of ‘they’ for ‘he’ or ‘she’ apparently it is appropriate as a single pronoun and is also approved by the Associated Press Stylebook.
However, there are other gender-neutral pronouns that you may be required to use some time in the future, such as ey/em/eir/eirs, ne/nem/nir/nirs, xe/xem/xyr/xyrs, ze/hir/hir/hirs and ze/zir/zir/zirs.
Yes, it looks difficult, and in the past I don’t think I would have bothered much, until a fascinating, amazing and extremely touching (it has reduced me to tears on more than one occasion) podcast brought my attention to the implications of being transgender. I cannot recommend it highly enough. How to Be a Girl is an audio podcast made by a very engaging mother with young transgender daughter, as they attempt together to sort out just what it means to be a girl. To listen and to see a cartoon about how it all began, visit http://www.howtobeagirlpodcast.com/.
Writer: Juliet Allaway