Sie Hir, Now:
Terms for Gender Variant People


From Gender Terms: Words We Speak, Words We Tweak
<http://alisha_clarke.tripod.com/readings/gender_terms.htm>:
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[. . .]

ADDITIONAL PRONOUNS: Pronouns such as "ze," "hir," and "per," which do not denote rigid masculinity or femininity. Coined by trans activists and scholars, such gender-bending pronouns emerged (and may continue to emerge) in opposition to, and in recognition of, the insufficiency of gender-specific pronouns (i.e., him, her, his, hers, she, and he) to refer to trans and gender-variant people. (See also ZE, HIR, PER.)

[. . .]

HIR: (pronounced "here") Used in place of "him/her," a pronoun coined by trans activists to refer to individuals who identify as existing/presenting outside of a binary gender system and its rigid delineations of "male" and "female."

[. . .]

PER: (pronounced "purr") Abbreviated form of the word "person." Like HIR, used in place of "him" or "her." A pronoun coined by trans activists to refer to individuals who identify as existing/presenting outside of a binary gender system and its rigid delineations of "male" and "female."

[. . .]

ZE: (pronounced "sea") Used in place of "she/he," a pronoun coined by trans activists to refer to individuals who identify as existing/presenting outside of a binary gender system and its rigid delineations of "male" and "female." (See also ADDITIONAL PRONOUNS.)



From Androgyny RAQ: The Angel's Dictionary
<http://www.chaparraltree.com/raq/angels.shtml>
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[. . .]

Sie, hir
pron. Gender-free pronouns, used chiefly on the Internet. See the Gender-Free Pronouns FAQ

[. . .]

Zie, zir
Another set of non-gendered pronouns used chiefly on the Internet. See the Gender-Free Pronouns FAQ. These fit more smoothly into sentences if you pronounce them with a tz sound instead of plain z.


From GNP [Gender Neutral Pronoun] FAQ - Technical
<http://www.aetherlumina.com/gnp/technical.html>:
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[. . .]

5.2. Declension of the Major Gender-Neutral Pronouns

I only consider the "sie", "zie", and "ey" sets to be serious contenders, since i've never seen any groups of people using anything else. Some vote for "per", but I believe its use is limited to small groups or individuals. I've never heard of it in use on the net.

I propose the following as the standards, and recommend that all other alternative GNPs or declensions be allowed to sink into the dust of time:

Subject Object Possessive
Adjective
Possessive
Pronoun
Reflexive Number Notes
THIRD PERSON  
sie hir hir hirs hirself singular neutral
zie zir zir zirs zirself singular neutral
ey em eir eirs eirself singular neutral
they them their theirs themself
theirself
SINGULAR neutral

The first two sets come naturally, and some people on the net already use them that way. The last set has some variation, with "ey" sometimes being replaced by "e". I object to "e" for three reasons: first, it breaks the rule of "chop off the 'th' from the plural to get the singular"; secondly, single-letter words can get lost in the flow of text and thus some people would want to capitalize it like "I" usually is, while others would object to it — no sense in creating that debate; and third, people would likely tend to pronounce the bare "e" to rhyme with "he", giving it a taint of gender. "Ey" is superior. Another area of debate in the third set is whether or not to use "eirself" or "emself". I prefer "eirself" for two reasons: it's more logically sound, being the possessive form applied to "self", and "emself" is very close in pronunciation to "himself". However, "emself" sounds a little nicer to me, more homey, so i could easily reverse on it. Since the reflexive form isn't often used, possible confusion in adoptees on this point isn't too significant.
 

5.3. A Single Standard?

Some people have argued for the creation of a standard, with most everyone agreeing to use only one of the sets. There's a couple reasons why this would be good.

If one actively advocates the adoption of GNPs (for political / feminist or other reasons), one might appear to have more credibility if backed by some consensus. Divided we fall and all that. Even if one doesn't care about advocacy, having a standard means that more people are likely to understand what one is saying when one uses GNPs: the general populace will have less pronouns to juggle and deal with, and the chosen standard will be capable of greater name recognition without competition from other pronoun sets.

One problem with the idea of choosing a standard pronoun set is the fact that many people have already adopted different sets, and they might be as reluctant to change as most people are reluctant to adopt GNPs in the first place. This would be especially true, i think, of people who use GNPs mainly out of personal inclination and not from some sociopolitical purpose. They might be resentful about having their writing style seemingly put up to a vote. But i don't think it a serious problem — i think most standards supporters on the net would be violently apposed to any form of coercion in the matter, and posts whining about others not adopting the Chosen Pronouns would probably go down in a flurry of flames. The more serious problem would be, i think, the simple fact that most current GNP users might be strongly attached to the ones they've been using, and might completely ignore any standard even if they were sympathetic to it. (I myself have become rather attached to ey eir and em, and don't think i could bring myself to use zie or zir, though i could probably manage sie and hir if i had to.) I'll pretend that it is possible to create a standard, and will hereby heavily lobby for my favorites. People can choose as they see fit: one sort of freedom is that of individual expression, another is that which comes with widespread comprehension due to a common, agreed upon language. The currently agreed upon language, which uses gendered pronouns, has been irritating people for centuries. And as the explosive growth of GNPs on the net has demonstrated, the time has come for an alternative standard.

Problems with "sie" and "hir":

  • "Hir" is actually a Middle English feminine pronoun (some have claimed that Chaucer used it as neutral-gender, but this doesn't seem to be the case); "Sie" is German for "she" (amongst other things) and will be seen as female by most native German speakers.
  • "Sie" can be pronounced to rhyme with "she"; "hir" can be pronounced to rhyme with "her". This is sort of a blessing/curse situation: the similarity to the existing feminine pronouns that people grew up with probably aided them in becoming as widespread as they are on the net now, but it also gives them a taint of gender that may make people resistant to using them. That's probably not a big problem, certainly not as big as the problem of trying to use "he" as the generic. But having "hir" be pronounced the same as "her" could cause confusion and snickers if the GNPs move out of the world of ASCII and into the world of speech.
  • Pronunciation is a problem. First, it's ambiguous: do they rhyme with "her" or "hear", "see" or "sigh"? Second, no matter what they rhyme with, they sound the same as already existing words, which could cause confusion. Third, to avoid the feminine pronunciation, one could use "hear", but that has an uncomfortable feeling in my mouth, and i bet the vowel would be pulled towards a schwa and would sound more feminine. (Not that it's bad to have a feminine feeling, but it seems likely that antagonistic nitpickers that want everything cleaved right down the middle (or kept the same) would come to be a problem if the GNPs started to work their way out into the general populace.

Anyway, some of the above complaints seem to be validated by the fact that the alternative set "zie, zir" was felt to be needed. Spellingwise, this is a nicer set, since they all start with "z", and don't bear a strong resemblance to either the masculine or the feminine. And in pronunciation, there is no danger of mistaking them for other words. But speakers of English don't tend to like the letter "z". In the dictionary i have handy here, there are 57 pages of words that start with "e", 60 "h" pages, 170 "s" pages, and only 4.5 "z" pages. The system would have been much better if "f" or "l" had been used instead (though other problems would have erupted then). I personally really dislike the feeling that "zie" has in my mouth, and feel the need to soften the "z" to an "s" sound. Widespread adoption "zie" and "zir" therefore seem unlikely to me.

"Ey, eir, em" have the following problems:

  • Uncertainty in the reflexive form, as mentioned above.
  • Possible disagreement on whether the subject should be "ey", "E", or "e". (Hopefully settled to "ey" by my argument above.)
  • A slight weird feeling when using "eir" in some cases (though it's similar in sound to "her"). But i've pretty much gotten over it.
  • The other GNPs have a head-start in the newsgroups, and it may be hard to catch up. (But then, a large number of "sie/hir" folk seem to have migrated to "zie/zir" based on a single German speaker in soc.singles, so maybe GNP folk aren't so resistive to change.)
  • "Em" sounds similar to "him", but the fact that it comes from the neutral "them" should satisfy the previously mentioned cleaving nitpickers.
None of those seem too serious to me. They have the following good points:
  • Easy mnemonic: just chop off the "th" from the plural. People uncertain about proper usage can start out with plural sentences and then convert them.
  • Has five unique forms, unlike the others.
  • They all start with "e", a popular and comfortable letter of the alphabet.
  • Based on existing language, rather than being artificial constructs. (The same could perhaps be said of "sie, hir", but if one grants that then one has to admit that they come from the feminine.)
  • Has support from areas other than the newsgroups.
  • No real possibility of complaint about it being too masculine or feminine in form or history.
  • Pronunciation is easy to learn and remember: just drop the "th-" from the plural.
  • People have been using singular "they, their, them" for centuries as an indefinite form, and the transition to using "ey" in these cases for singular beings is very natural. Part of the battle is already won.

And so, i recommend "ey, eir, em" as the ultimate standard. If that turns out to not happen some how, then i would recommend "sie" and "hir" as second choices. I honestly don't think i could ever feel comfortable using "zie" and "zir", but if there's a strong net consensus in that direction i could hand my FAQ over to one of those users and spend the rest of my days in my own private land of ey eir and em. If no consensus of any sort is forthcoming, then i imagine that things will evolve as such things tend to do.

As for the standard pronunciation, my current feeling is to rhyme "sie" or "zie" with "see", "hir" or "zir" with "her", and the "ey, eir, em" with "they, their, them". I assume the zie/zir crowd already does that, but there might be disagreement from the sie/hir realm.

[. . .]


[ Contents . Introduction . FAQ . History . Technical . References . Administrivia ]


John Williams | john@aetherlumina.com | Æther Lumina Home



Another good technical page, Footnotes: Pronouns
<http://willow.dyndns.org/footnotes/pronouns.html>:
please note that this page and site is no longer online
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Also: Footnotes: Pronouns 2003-07-15 update
<http://footnotes.jinkies.org.uk/pronouns.html>
this is an external link / opens in a new window

Footnotes: Pronouns
Footnotes, where hypertext runs free [index | footnotes | links]

Pronouns [2001-12-10|1.0]
[Androgyne]
gender-free

A pronoun is a word which refers to an object without naming it. This page is interested in looking at third person pronouns with the hope of finding some gender-free alternatives to the singular animates 'he' and 'she'.

In the english language there are a number of accepted third person pronouns for example:

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Inanimate

it

it

its

its

itself

Masculine

he

him

his

his

himself
(hisself)

Feminine

she

her

her

hers

herself

Plural

they

them

their

theirs

themselves
(theirselves)

As 'it' is inanimate and 'they' is plural, when refering to an animate object (person or animal) in the third person using the english language we are forced to classify the subject in terms of their sex/gender and then state that gender. For a number of reasons an increasingly large group of people are looking for an alternative animate third person pronoun which is free of gender. The motivations are many and varied but in essence they believe that it's not always possible to gender a person and, perhaps more importantly, that it is desirable to only make reference to characteristics in other people when they are absolutely relevant to the information being conveyed. These people see an unnecessary reference to the gender of a person no different to superfluously refering to their religion or social class; it is an invitation for the other person to think of them differently. The implication is that a man doing something is in some way inherently different to the same task performed by a woman.

Ideally a gender-free pronoun set will fulfill a certain set of criteria. Primarily we should consider essential criteria, these must be met in order for a pronoun set to qualify as gender-free. A gender-free pronoun set must have no obviously gendered linguistic root, be it from this language or borrowed from, or influenced by, another. A gender-free pronoun must be applicable to all people rather than generally being used to only refer to one specific group. Regardless of whether this group is something which is conventionally considered a gender, if use of the pronoun implies something about the person in question then it may not be considered gender-free. Once a pronoun set qualifies as gender-free there are a number of desirable criteria which may be used to rate it against others. Our pronouns should be just one syllable long and easily pronounced. The set should be intuitive and easy to remember, this is helped if the set has some kind of internal logic. The set should be interchangable with the existing singular animate third person pronouns. Using our pronouns should not require rewording or restructuring of the rest of the sentence. Each of the pronouns in the set should be unique from each other while still appearing connected (we are only interested in making the gender of our subject ambiguous not anything else). It should be obvious where each pronoun in the set fits, this can be helped by the pronoun set having some kind of non-gendered linguistic root. Ideally our pronouns should be recognisable as pronouns. Our chosen gender-free pronoun set should meet as many desired criteria as possible. With this in mind we will now move on to an examination of the most currently popular and well known gender-free and potentially gender-free pronouns.

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Singular
They

they

them

their

theirs

themself
(theirself)

Spivak
Varient

ey

em

eir

eirs

emself
(eirself)

Ze/hir

ze

hir

hir

hirs

hirself

Sie/hir

sie

hir

hir

hirs

hirself

Zie/zir

zie

zir

zir

zirs

zirself

Singular They

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Singular
They

they

them

their

theirs

themself
(theirself)

The singular they has the benefit of using words already in the language (themself being the exception) and of being an accepted method of making an animate third person reference under some circumstances. However both of these apparent advantages are also serious disadvantages. Using words already accepted as plurals leads to ambiguity. It is desirable to have distinctly singular words rather than those which may be mistakenly interpreted as a plural. Words which are accepted as and expected to be plurals do not sit right in sentances where all other words are singular. 'They' seems to beg to be paired with 'were' rather than 'was'. A desirable characteristic of our gender-free pronouns is that they should be interchangable with the masculine and feminine pronouns and not require any other sentance restructuring. By contradicting current usage of the words we are producing a gender-free pronoun that will be extremely unintuitive to those wishing to adapt their speech to use it. The most frequent mistake I have observed in novice users of the singular they is mixed use of 'were' and 'was' and other confusions with pluralisation. Finally the singular they is only currently accepted when used to refer to an unnamed individual or an individual who is part of an organisation. "I talked to the bank and they said it might be possible." This limited acceptance actually works against us when we try to extend it to cover named individuals. This may be worked past with time and repeated use but to those unfamiliar with our usage it will seem as if we are tying our tongues in knots.

"My friend Jay said that they would be happy to help. In fact they was so pleased their face lit up and I hugged them."

Spivak Varient

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Spivak
Varient

ey

em

eir

eirs

emself
(eirself)

I will begin by saying that this is my personal preference and my experience of using it in text and (to a limited degree) in speech has been very favourable. I call this set the Spivak varient because it is based on the pronoun set used by Michael Spivak in the book The Joy of TeX. The main difference between this and Spivak's set is that the subject has been changed from 'e' back to 'ey'. I say 'back to' because this set derived from the singular they (the 'th' has simply been removed from each word). By being based on an existing and semi-accepted gender-free pronoun in the english language the Spivak varient gains many of the advantages of the singular they. However by adjusting the original set in order to create new (but easily pronounced and natural sounding) words we overcome many of the disadvantages of duality, ambiguity and limitations of acceptance produced by the original set. There is a minor disadvantage that the 'em' sounds somewhat similar to 'him' however this is not due to the pronoun set being based on 'him' (a crime many of the others are guilty of but with 'she'/'her') and is overruled (in my opinion) by the fact that the pronoun genuinely is derived from a gender-free root (unlike many of the others appear to be). The Spivak and it's varients have been in use since approximately 1975. They have been used in at least one published book with a subject other than gender or linguistics. Many internet based social groups use them (although not always as their first preference) or are at least aware of their existance. The Spivak varient is this author's personal preference at this time.

"My friend Jay said that ey would be happy to help. In fact ey was so pleased eir face lit up and I hugged em."

Ze/hir

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Ze/hir

ze

hir

hir

hirs

hirself

At this time I would estimate that this is the most commonly used non-gendered pronoun in 'gender varient' space. It is routinely used in forums such as the Sphere mailing list and throughout Kate Bornstein's My Gender Workbook. It has grown out of the two previously popular gender-free pronoun attempts below and attempted to overcome their limitations to some degree of success. Ze/hir is no longer obviously based on the feminine pronouns and not quite so easily rhymed with 'See here'. I would say that the 'z' sound is still ugly but less so now coupled with just one vowel. Unfortunately it has now developed the unfortunate quality of causing the speaker's speech to resemble some cross between the comedy english speaking 'French' characters from such films and television series as 'The Pink Panther', 'Allo Allo' and the cartoons of 'Pepe Le Pew' and the German accents of english language second world war films. Some people, most notably the usenet group alt.support.intergendered, replace 'ze' with 'xe'. This doesn't really change the pronounciation at all but may be more asethetically pleasing.

I would suggest that the most serious limitation of the Ze/hir pair is that gradually over time its meaning on the forums in which it is generally used has mutated into something quite different to its original intention. While Ze/hir may have been originally intended as a means of refering to a person without stating their gender it has since through common usage shifted to being a way of refering to a person who identifies as some 'third gendered' identity (while referring to all other people with either 'he' or 'she'). In effect Ze/hir is now the third gendered pronoun. To call a person 'ze' is to say that they identify as bi-, trans-, third-, poly-, other- or non-gendered. Ze/hir is not a gender-free pronoun. It has become the gendered pronoun of people who are gendered in a way which transcends the conventional binary gender system. I am not suggesting that this is in any way a negative thing. I'm sure for people who wish to maintain gendered pronouns having a gendered pronoun for people who don't fit male or female is very useful. However our stated aim is to find a gender-free pronoun set and to use it as a method of removing unneccesary gendering from our minds and language. With this in mind a third-gendered pronoun set is useless to us. For a truly gender-free pronoun to be successful it must be adopted and used for all people otherwise it will simply become another alternative 'third gendered' pronoun.

"My friend Jay said that ze would be happy to help. In fact ze was so pleased hir face lit up and I hugged hir."

Sie/hir

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Sie/hir

sie

hir

hir

hirs

hirself

Pre-dating both the above and below Sie/hir was one of the first gender-free pronoun sets to be adopted on the internet. While having the benefit of being interchangable with the current third person animate pronouns it is also rather obviously derived from the female pronouns (they've simply replaced the middle letter of each with an 'i') and therefore has a slightly dubious claim to being 'gender-free'. I would suggest that any pronoun set obviously based on just one or the other gendered pronouns should be skipped over as a nice try that didn't really make it. The next most obvious problem is that they sound like existing english words. 'Sie' rhymes with 'see' or 'sigh', 'hir' rhymes with 'hear' and 'here'. These words are far too common in the language to be ignored. Using Sie/hir will be confusing. In the defence of 'sie' I will say that it is supposedly derived from the german 'sie' meaning both 'they' and 'she'. However this is s till in my mind derivation from a feminine root (note that the german 'sie' is not also equivalent to 'he').

"My friend Jay said that sie would be happy to help. In fact sie was so pleased hir face lit up and I hugged hir."

Zie/zir

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Zie/zir

zie

zir

zir

zirs

zirself

Taking Sie/hir away from it's obvious feminine roots and (supposedly) making the pronounciation sound more german, Zie/zir is a valient attempt. However it falls short of our ideal by being fustratingly difficult to pronounce and feeling entirely alien to the rest of the english language. As the (unfortunately out of date) Gender Neutral Pronoun FAQ points out there are many magnitudes more english words beginning with 'e' than there are beginning with 'z'. There's a very good reason for that, people just don't like them. A 'z' followed by two different vowels is just one tongue tie too far for the average english speaker. Some attempts at alternative pronounciations have been made. Some say try placing an implied 't' to the start and pronouncing it as you would with the russian 'tzar'. I say give up. If a gender-free pronoun is to succeed outside of the internet and the written word it has to be easy and natural to say. Zie/zir is not.

"My friend Jay said that zie would be happy to help. In fact zie was so pleased zir face lit up and I hugged zir."

The Unviables

  Subject Object Posessive
Adjective
Posessive
Pronoun
Reflexive
Animate It

it

it

its

its

itself

Non-Gender
-Specific He

he

him

his

his

himself
(hisself)

He Or She

he/she

him/her

his/her

his/hers

him/herself
(his/herself)

One

one

one

ones

ones

oneself

Per

per

per

per

pers

perself

These are put together in the same place because I do not consider them to be viable gender-free pronouns but are often cited by others during gender-free pronoun discussions.

The animate it may seem to have some of the same benefits as the singular they however, while not only having all the ambiguity problems of singular they, it is also intensely emotive to many people. When someone is emotionally abused often the first thing that is stripped from them is the right to be treated as animate. By being referred to as an inanimate people will feel they are reduced to valueless objects. This is not acceptable when referring to others. Some individuals may wish to 'reclaim' 'it', maybe as a form of rebellion against a society which inflicts the binary gender system upon them, but for reference to unconcenting people the emotive power of 'it' should not be underestimated.

Non-gender-specific He is dragged out by certain linguistic purists when it is stated that there is no gender non-specific third person pronoun in the english language. It is often used in arguement against singular they or 'he/she'. 'He' is not a gender-free pronoun. It only works in situations where we are discussing a hypothetical person (it is accepted in the same situations singular they is currently allowed). As soon as the person in question is named we are very obviously suggesting that they are a man. "Sandra said he could spare some of his time." The female suggestion of the name coupled with the male pronoun leads us to assume Sandra was talking about someone else. Non-gender-specific He is very ambiguous indeed and just does not work in modern english.

'He or she' is often used as a polite alternative to the acceptable use of singular they. This is not only ugly, difficult and long winded to pronounce and useless when referring to a named person but it also makes the rather presumptious assertion that the person in question would be either a male or a female if only they'd tell us. All I can say is 'yuck' and the same goes to 'S/he' and all other varients.

'One' is often suggested as a gender-free or gender non-specific pronoun when discussions on this subject arise. The arguement is that it is an already accepted part of the english language. These suggestions imply that the person involved does not quite understand how gender-free pronouns are intended to be used. 'One' is again only usable when the person in question is hypothetical. As soon as the person is named the whole sentance falls to pieces.

Per was used in 1972 in Marge Piercy's book Woman on the Edge of Time. It is a shortening of 'person'. I am afraid I find myself dismissing it because it not only repeats (which I think makes the meaning ambiguous when we only wish to make gender ambiguous) but is also difficult and unnatural to pronounce. Previously to Per a small group of people experimented with 'person'. Frankly when your pronouns get more than one syllable long you might as well be using the person's name.

"My friend Jay said that it would be happy to help. In fact it was so pleased its face lit up and I hugged it."
"My friend Jay said that he would be happy to help. In fact he was so pleased his face lit up and I hugged him."
"My friend Jay said that he/she would be happy to help. In fact he/she was so pleased his/her face lit up and I hugged him/her."
"My friend Jay said that one would be happy to help. In fact one was so pleased ones face lit up and I hugged one."
"My friend Jay said that per would be happy to help. In fact per was so pleased per face lit up and I hugged per."

Conclusions

While Ze/hir is the most commonly used non-gender pronoun I would suggest that it can no longer claim to be gender-free. Of the currently available crop I suggest that the Spivak varient is the most viable and most desirable. At this point we need to decide if our Spivak varient is good enough or if we should produce our own superior gender-free pronoun set building on some of the criticisms raised both here and elsewhere. Whatever pronoun set we do eventually adopt it is important that the adoptees use it to refer to all people and not just those living 'gender varient lifestyles'. If we fail to do this then any gender-free pronoun set will quickly become yet another third gendered pronoun.

Footnotes
[foot]
within

Gender-Free
Reasons why you may wish to adopt gender-free language.

Annoying Gender
A somewhat lighthearted look at how gender can be an irksome distraction to those of us who otherwise live without reference to the attached roles and stereotypes.

External links

The Gender Neutral Pronoun FAQ
Unfortunately now approximately five years out of date. A useful discussion of the benefits of gender-free language and the history and development of many of the pronoun sets discussed on this page.

GNP FAQ - Listing of Neologisms
An alphabetical list of gender neutral pronoun neologisms with dates, origin and precedents. The most recent listed pronoun dates from 1993.

Gender-Neutral language
A discussion of gender-neutral language when making reference to hypothetical and unnamed individuals.

DMOZ Open Directory - Transgendered: Academic: Pronouns
Articles on the subject of pronouns and gender neutral language.

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This page first created 3/25/02. Copyright Stephe Feldman, 2002. Last update: 6/19/08.