It’s sad, because I actually know people who prefer them, but I just can’t get the hang of third gender pronouns. When I read them, I get confused, and when I attempt to use them, invariably I manage to get them wrong. I mean it should be easy – it’s just a few extra words added to my vocabulary that by now must include dozens of words incorporated into my lingo since I began to speak. I think this is worth discussing, because I can’t be the only one.
Let me begin by getting all indignant if for no other reason than to preserve my trans cred. When I go and get all critical of things my sisters and brothers leap to embrace, some of them get a little prickly about it. Using gender neutral words that remove personhood status like “it” is never, ever OK. Seriously, never cool, even in jest. Even I have limits. I’m also never going to tout the idea of gender binary as being correct. I identify as female, but that is simply how I feel and think we should acknowledge and respect those who don’t feel like either male or female. Some cisgender people probably consider me to be neither male or female but something else, and it’s not something I take offense at. I think they are stupid, but I don’t perceive it as being called less than, even though we all know that is exactly what they mean.
I said all that so people don’t get all pissy and call me a cissexist when I say the third gender pronouns irritate me. To clarify further, it’s not the idea of them I hate, it’s the ones that got picked, the non-standardization, and the way they throw me when I encounter them in writing. Words like “zhe”, “hiz”, “zem”, “zim” and the like make me lost my train of thought as I momentarily struggle to remember what they specifically mean. Hearing them does the same, and when I try to work them in to accommodate someone’s preference, I become tongue tied and sound even more foolish than I usually do. They aren’t pretty words, nor are they in any way intuitive. I think they are supposed to be, but it didn’t seem to turn out that way.
It also doesn’t help that there are a multitude of varieties that cropped up over the past hundred years. It seems as though each time someone came up with this bright idea, they reinvented the wheel and didn’t bother to look up what had been done before. As people tend to latch on to the first thing they see, we have a proliferation of everything from the old Spivak pronouns, to over a dozen ways to say he or she: eir, hus, thons, vis, xyr, zir, zes, hir, zher, yos, and shklir. Holy shit. Every one of these has the standard variety of tenses and quantity to effectively add another order of complexity. Plus, most of them sound a lot alike. Granted, the ‘z’ based pronouns seem to be in vogue at the moment, but I would put good money on the fact that that something even ‘cooler’ will come along.
The other thing that bugs me about them is that much like Esperanto, they represent a good idea that has almost no chance of catching on. As we age it gets progressively more difficult to learn another language, or even incorporate foreign sounding words into a long set vocabulary. Perk your ears up in a Chinese restaurant sometime and I guarantee you will hear ‘General Tso’s chicken’ mispronounced in a dozen different ways. I love it, but have a great deal of doubt that I have ever pronounced it correctly even once. I think if we don’t learn it by the third grade, it will forever float on the surface of our set language paradigm to be plucked and misused when something tells us the situation calls for it. Then everyone feels awkward and uncomfortable; mutual assurance of uncertainty of correct usage.
“Well then Michelle, doesn’t it seem obvious that we should be lobbying hard to have the correct usage taught in schools? Hmm?” Yes, yes, that’s a nice smug answer that will never, ever happen in our lifetimes. First of all, we represent well under 1% of the population, and are still battling for acknowledgement that we even exist. We can win that battle and convince the world we do, or at least a slim majority, and that we deserve equal rights and treatment. This is no easy fight, even though it requires the great unwashed to do virtually nothing. Now go ahead and try to talk them into what they will perceive as inconveniencing themselves by having to learn something new. It represents changing something they have “always” done, and we all know how popular that idea is. It’s a nice thought, but we would be better served to keep our eye on achievable goals.
To sum it all up, yes, using third gender pronouns is more correct then the standard binary. That true standardization has yet to be achieved is problematic. That they are difficult to adopt even by many trans people is even more so. Having them adopted and used correctly by the cisgender world is next to impossible. Plus, I find them inelegant and aesthetically displeasing. (I know, that doesn’t really count, but this is my blog where I’m free to mouth off with abandon.) I just think our energy can be better spent elsewhere.