Genderless pronouns gain traction at US colleges


On high school and college campuses and in certain political and social media circles, the growing visibility of a small, but semantically committed cadre of young people who self-identify as "genderqueer" — neither male nor female but an androgynous hybrid or rejection of both — is challenging anew the limits of Western comprehension and the English language.

Inviting students to state their preferred gender pronouns and encouraging classmates to use ones such as "ze,'''sie," ''e," ''ou" and "ve" has become an accepted back-to-school practice for professors, dorm advisers, club sponsors, workshop leaders and health care providers at several schools.

Yahoo has the story, and devils advocategets thanks for the assist.

The weekly meetings of Mouthing Off!, a group for students at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, always start the same way. Members take turns going around the room saying their names and the personal pronouns they want others to use when referring to them — she, he or something else.

It's an exercise that might seem superfluous given that Mills, a small and leafy liberal arts school historically referred to as the Vassar of the West, only admits women as undergraduates. Yet increasingly, the "shes" and "hers" that dominate the introductions are keeping third-person company with "they," ''ze" and other neutral alternatives meant to convey a more generous notion of gender.

"Because I go to an all-women's college, a lot of people are like, 'If you don't identify as a woman, how did you get in?'" said sophomore Skylar Crownover, 19, who is president of Mouthing Off! and prefers to be mentioned as a singular they, but also answers to he. "I just tell them the application asks you to mark your sex and I did. It didn't ask me for my gender."

Though still in search of mainstream acceptance, students and staff members who describe themselves in terms such as agender, bigender, third gender or gender-fluid are requesting — and sometimes finding — linguistic recognition.

The phenomenon gained notice in the San Francisco Bay area in early November after an 18-year-old student at a private high school in Berkeley suffered severe burns when a 16-year-old boy set fire to the student's skirt while the two were riding a public bus. The parents of the injured student, Sascha Fleischman, said their son is biologically male but identifies as agender and favors they as a pronoun.

At the University of Vermont, students who elect to change their names and/or pronouns on class rosters now can choose from she, he and ze, as well as the option of being referred to by only their names. Hampshire College in Massachusetts advertises its inclusiveness by listing the gender pronouns of its tour guides on the school's web site. And intake forms at the University of California, Berkeley's student health center include spaces for male, female or other.

At Mills, the changes have included tweaking some long-standing traditions. New students are now called "first-years" instead of "freshwomen." The student government also has edited the college's historic chant — "Strong women! Proud women! All women! Mills women!" to "Strong, Proud, All, Mills!"

The nods to novel pronouns and nonconformity are an outgrowth of campaigns for gender-neutral bathrooms and housing that were aimed at making campuses more welcoming for transgender students moving from one side of the gender spectrum to the other. But as fewer young people choose to undergo sex reassignment surgery, such students are slowly being outnumbered by peers who refuse to be limited, said Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"Certainly we see students who are transitioning, particularly female to male, but the vast majority of students who identify under the trans umbrella identify in some way outside the binary, and that's really causing a shift on college campuses," said Beemyn, who recently traded ze for they. "Having role models and examples allows people to say 'Yes, what I am feeling is legitimate.'"

As neologisms like "ze" have moved beyond conversation and into students' academic papers, some professors have expressed annoyance and uncertainty about how to respond, said Lucy Ferriss, writer-in-residence at Trinity College in Connecticut and a frequent contributor to the Chronicle of Higher Education's language blog, Lingua Franca.

"There is an initial discomfort. I think it's probably hypocritical to pretend there isn't, to say, 'Ok, that's what they want to do' and leave it at that," Ferriss said. "The people I know who teach will say 'This is weird and it's cumbersome and it's not going to last because it's not organic.'"

At the same time, Ferris thinks it's a mistake for scholars and grammarians to dismiss the trend without considering whether English and society might be served by less-rigid ideas about gender.

"Mail carrier did not evolve organically and it's a lot easier to say mailman. Decades ago there were poets who refused to be called poetesses," she said. "Most language has evolved organically, but there have been times — and when it comes to issues of gender there probably have to be times — when there are people willing to push the envelope."

Mel Goodwin, youth program director at the gay and lesbian community center in Las Vegas, said getting the hang of alternative pronouns can be tricky in conversation. Goodwin, 28, claimed they as a preferred pronoun four years ago and it took time "to unlearn what I had been taught about gender."

Yet when people object to they as being grammatically incorrect, Goodwin counters that modern English is to blame and that scholars, writers and linguists have spent more than a century trying to come up with gender-neutral pronouns that stick. In public presentations, Goodwin also refers to a map that shows historic and contemporary cultures around the world that have recognized more than two genders.

"This is not about young people in the U.S. over the last 20 years kind of coming out of the woodwork and making up labels that aren't real," Goodwin said. "This is a real variation among humans, period."

Read entire article...

Sophomore Skylar Crownover, 19, who is president of Mouthing Off! prefers to be mentioned as a singular they, but also answers to he.

 Joss Ferguson - prefers "they."

Audre Mowry

Anyone having difficulty with the new pronounciations is invited to reach back in time, to the Three Stooges Alphabet Song.

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Recent Comments »

New2MMA site profile image  

12/4/13 5:32 PM by New2MMA

Bingo! VTFU

likwid site profile image  

12/4/13 5:12 PM by likwid

According to a 2010 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men in the United States have been raped. In 2008, the FBI reported 90,479 cases of rape. 91% of rape victims were female, 9% male, and 99% of the rapists were male.There is a HUGE difference in ratio between men and women being raped. I excluded prison, because that is not representative of America in general. Obviously women and men are segregated in prison, so this is not a fair comparison, which is why I excluded it in the first place.Also, the UK is not America, I am specifically talking about America in the context of this conversation, and I always have been. Bringing up anecdotal evidence from the UK is irrelevant to this discussion.

HULC site profile image  

12/4/13 4:43 PM by HULC

Just stop the nonsense. No it isn't accurate and no it isn't acceptable. It's a lie that he has used repeatedly to try and make strawman attacks about supposed privilege.You are the one going off about a tiny fragment of society not feeling happy about how they are treated, and yet completely discount the 3% of men who report being sexually assaulted as insignificant because it doesn't support your prejudices.Stop wasting my time.

HULC site profile image  

12/4/13 4:39 PM by HULC

1 - You made the claim that men don't get raped. You don't get to add provisos after the case, or get to tell me what i'm allowed to talk about (ie whether it's in prisons or not).2 - You asked for evidence. From the very first page of google search:"A study done by the CDC found that 1 in 71 men had been raped or had been the target of attempted rape. This study included oral and anal penetration in its definition and did not include men in prison.[20]Male-on-male rape has historically been shrouded in secrecy due to the stigma associated with males being raped by other males. According to psychologist Dr. Sarah Crome, fewer than 1 in 10 male-male rapes are reported. As a group, male rape victims reported a lack of services and support, and legal systems are often ill-equipped to deal with this type of crime.[22]Research from the UK suggests that almost 3% of men reported a non-consensual sexual experience as adults and over 5% of men reported sexual abuse as a child.[23] This does not take into account the possibility of underreporting.""Detectives are investigating possible links between the assault and a series of sexual attacks against men in the capital in recent months.In the latest incident, a 19-year- old man was raped on Hampstead Heath in north London on Tuesday after being forced off a Northern Line train.""On Saturday 22 June 2013 at around 03.30 a 21-year old male was walking home alone after a night out in Watford Town centre. He was approached by two males close to Riverside Road and the park area. They tried to take his mobile phone, he attempted to get away from them but they forced him to perform a sexual act. The two men then demanded money from him." you going to admit you were wrong or carry on lying?

Pura Vida site profile image  

12/4/13 2:41 PM by Pura Vida

People often speak in absolutes, when making generalizations. "Men don't get raped." is plenty accurate enough for an internet discussion like this. You're calling him a liar, but the one being willfully disingenuous is you.

likwid site profile image  

12/4/13 2:31 PM by likwid

When is this proving going to happen? Outside of prison, where do men get raped?I asked for proof, you have not supplied it. I have not moved any goal posts.Everything I have said has been targeted at explaining privilege. I have answered question after question, but plenty of people have failed to answer the ones I have posed.

HULC site profile image  

12/4/13 1:59 PM by HULC

Stop trying to shift the goalposts. You said that men don't get raped, it's as simple as that. I can prove that you are wrong. So you admit that you were either wrong to make that statement (which you have made repeatedly) or admit that you continue to lie in order to create strawman arguments.

warmonky site profile image  

12/4/13 1:51 PM by warmonky

Should we start giving them hormones(testosterone for boy estrogen for girls)at a young age when they start acting inappropriate for their gender? A friend told me I was wrong for thinking this but he's a liberal with no values.

Zenoplata site profile image  

12/4/13 12:36 PM by Zenoplata

I am not a fan of a deterministic model of the universe philosophically, so I can't agree to apply it socially.

Zenoplata site profile image  

12/4/13 12:33 PM by Zenoplata

It's gibberish because you're trying to equate human behavior with the behavior of molecules. Sociology is a not a science because humans does not demonstrate a strict adherance to behavioral laws, we are wildly unpredictable. Even if there were some scientific law which laid out our behavior there are too many variables, unlike a molecule, body or ocean of water. We have a very thin understanding on just how the human brain works individually, and even less of an understanding on how it works collectively - I honestly do not think a theory you've resurrected from the 1930s in light of a Neo-Civil Rights/Anti-"White" movement does any justice to the human condition.


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