Vancouver School Board Introduces Gender-Neutral Pronouns

Students and teachers in Vancouver, British Columbia, can now use the gender-neutral pronouns "xe," "xem," and "xyr." The move is designed to accommodate students for whom "he" and "she" does not fit or is deemed inappropriate.

It's taking forever for us to adopt gender-neutral pronouns, so this move is very encouraging. The best we've got at this point is "they," which is obviously quite awkward. Some Swedes, for example, have started to use "hen" instead of "han" (he) and "hon" (she). And German parents can now select an indeterminate gender for their children.

The newly coined pronouns — xe, xem, and xyr — are pronounced to rhyme with the genderless plurals "they," "them," and "their," and all starting with the "z" sound. So phonetically speaking, they're pronounced "zey, "zem", and "zare."

According to the board, the new words are meant to primarily apply to a tiny minority of students, namely transgender students. Additionally, however, they could also be used by intersexed individuals or anyone else who believes that gendered pronouns are inappropriate.

"We're standing up for kids and making our schools safer and more inclusive," board member Mike Lombardi told the Vancouver Sun. In addition to this change, students can now choose to use any toilet facilities they prefer, including a mandatory unisex option.

It's a fascinating move by the school board, but as Joseph Brean of the National Post points out, it may not stick.

Science fiction fans will of course recall similar attempts to change the language of gender, particularly in those futurist worlds that feature postgendered or uniquely gendered characters. Greg Egan, in his hard SF classic Diaspora, borrowed Keri Hulme's gender-neutral pronouns "ve", "vis", and "ver" to help his uploaded sexless characters get their language right. Klingons use "glach." In the collaborative Orion's Arm universe, pronouns such as "e", "em", and "eir" are commonly used to avoid confusion in a world featuring not just genetically-altered humans, aliens, and artificial lifeforms, but also characters with other possible genders beyond just male and female. And though not science fiction, the pandrogynous being named Breyer P-Orridge adopted the gender-neutral and alternating pronouns s/he, h/er, and h/erself.

Read more at the National Post.

Image: l i g h t p o e t/Shutterstock.