Monday, April 04, 2016

Ils sont

My current WIP features a gender-neutral protagonist, and because of this I refer to them as...well, them. Instead of he or she or it, I refer to the MC with they/them. So, for example, instead of saying “Dusk turned his/her head’ I say “Dusk turned their head”.

While the story wouldn’t exactly be destroyed if they were to take on a gender, I think their agender identity is very important for the overall story and their character, but I can see how the use of singular they/them could lead to confusion if I sent this out to an agent.

It is proper English (even Shakespeare used singular they), and the MC is alone throughout most of the book (they’re never a member of a group which would make the use of the word ‘they’ especially confusing), but I’m a little concerned as to how this might be received. 

Would you yourself arch a sharkly eyebrow if I sent you a manuscript featuring an MC who only went by ‘They’? Will this be a problem while submitting in general?

Are you nutso?
This is cool!

I love the idea of a character being "agender."
I have no idea about the actual story of course, so I'm praying it's terrific because I can see agents falling all over themselves to read this.

To my eye, it's the kind of unusual thing that attracts initial interest.
Maybe it's been done before, but I haven't seen it so I'd read it. (Well, ok there was Left Hand of Darkness but that wasn't no gender, that was BOTH)

As for your actual question: you mention this in the query. If I know what you're doing, I can adjust my eyeballs.


Lucie Witt said...

This is exactly the kind of thing that would draw my interest as a reader - I love stories and writing that challenge my default way of thinking (which is gender binary).


Catching up on yesterday's comments - huge congrats, Panda!

Anonymous said...


Delilah Dawson wrote Wake of Vultures similar a gender protag. It's like a western Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Anyway. Cool concept.

Is 'cool concept' or 'never seen that before' something to aim for? I mean most of what I hear is that there is nothing new under the sun. So just write a good story and it won't matter. But even if I have a good story am I going to be trumped by someone who has something they have never seen before?

AJ Blythe said...

Well, if nothing else, your response will get OP dancing a jig, JR. I have nothing much to add, 'cept fo rthe age old line of "as long as you do it well you can do anything".

Just read Lucie's comment so went hunting through yesterday's comments to find Panda's... Woot! Congratulations, Panda. That is fabulous news. Can't wait to hear the call story.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I'm going to be honest here, which means I'm going to show my ageism/bias/lack-of-knowledge.
Agender, (new word for me), as a MC sounds so interesting that I would tackle the writer to read pages. That the idea/choice/born-that way-character actually exists in literature shows my small town, naïve way of thinking. I love it. Makes my mind swirl.

Asexual, both genders, I get that, but agender, OP you are on to something. How does an agender being procreate, if they are not a robot?
Okay so I'm showing how uninformed I am.
I may be stupid but I am interested.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Yes, I immediately thought of Left Hand of Darkness, although I'd forgotten it was about ambisexual people. It's been many years since I've read it (for a theology class at seminary!) And I see it was published in 1969.

InkStainedWench said...

The a-gender aspect is certainly interesting, but the use of "they" as a singular would make me itch and reach for my red pencil.

(I know some reputable editors are coming around to accept it, but I am not a reputable editor.)

Maybe you can invent a new pronoun just for your character.

DLM said...

ISW, "they" has been in use as a singular pronoun for centuries. I've been curious about the recent proscription by prescriptivists calling this wrong ... whence comes this supposed rule?

Unknown said...

Oh, I love, love, love Left Hand of Darkness. That book actually uses he/him for the ambisexual Gethenian characters, but I believe Ursula K. Le Guin has said she would take a different approach were she to do it again. I'm guessing that for 1969, choosing alternative pronouns would have been pushing the envelope even more than Left Hand of Darkness already did.

I recently read Alex Gino's terrific middle-grade book GEORGE, which uses she/her for the main character, a transgender girl named George. I remember reading somewhere that Alex's agent Jennifer Laughran said at least one publisher balked at the pronoun usage, but she and Alex were quite rightly not willing to budge on that point! (I'll look for a link later.)

Good luck, OP, on what sounds like an interesting story!

Colin Smith said...

All I have to offer on-topic is the suggestion that, if Opie is concerned "they" would be confusing, create a pronoun, and use writerly skill so the reader will intuit the meaning of that pronoun.

Diane: You're right about the long history of "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun. However, using it in a story as a constant pronoun for the MC and to designate a plurality of people could cause reader confusion. And that's something we generally want to avoid... unless Opie wants to create that ambiguity, in which case, fine, but Opie needs to do it well, and with story purpose, not just being gimmicky for the sake of being different.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Congratulations, OP, on what sounds like a VERY interesting novel! Also on our Queen's response - it sounds like you're on to a winner here :)

Claire said...

Just caught up on yesterday's comments now. Congratulation, Panda! What fabulous news. Hope all goes smoothly.

I'm glad they/their as singular pronouns have got the official stamp of approval - I've always used them as the alternative (he/she) is so clumsy. Would be interested to see how it would work in a novel, though - I'd be concerned that it would be jarring.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

It's too bad English doesn't offer a more neutral pronoun than it. I don't think the use of "they" would bother me once I understood the lack of gender identification and that it refers to a singular person. It sounds like a cool concept. If there is a great story around it, sounds like you'll have quite a few agents salivating over it. Good luck, OP.

Now for coffee. More editing. Such a very weary woodland creature.

Donnaeve said...

Yes, the OP definitely made the Shark swim a little faster with excitement, it would seem.

Even that sentence used as an example, "Dusk turned their head," is fascinating, and if OP has a story that supports this method for telling their story, something tells me they would be hitting it out of the ballpark.

Agender is a new term for me too, 2N's, and I'm not sure how that would translate - physically? Mentally? Both? Ignorant questions, likely, but I'm curious too!

LynnRodz said...

OP, if you don't want to use 'they' there is the pronoun 've' as in ve, vir, vis, verself for agender characters which has been used. A google search will also bring up a whole bunch of other pronouns, or you can make up your own as well.

DLM said...

Lynn, exactly!

Colin, actually, I'd think the very consistency would eliminate any confusion within a couple of pages. You get used to these things.

I realize some part of the recent upset about they as a singular pronoun is because of its being chosen as word of the year. But that uproar seems to be an example of political/social freighting of a word which, in itself, isn't an agenda, and far predates the value judgments now being loaded onto it. As I often do, I turned to the Arrant Pedant - and I like his take -

"The problem with not using it until it becomes accepted is that it won’t become accepted until enough people—especially people with some authority in the field of usage—use it and say it’s okay to use it."

We have an overwhelming desire to believe the English language is a standardized, set entity - even as we adore looking at how it's evolved in the past. It's still evolving. It will never stop; no language will. People forget - evolution is not a past act, completed and culminated in the perfect Now.

Celia Reaves said...

As much as I'm a strict grammarian in many ways, I have no trouble with "they" as a singular pronoun. It's only been relatively recently that this became verboten, and now this stricture is relaxing again. We're already using "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun in everyday speech after all. Yes, there is a potential for confusion over whether it refers to a group or an individual. So what? We've dealt with that successfully with "you" forever, and being careful about the antecedents of our pronouns is part of what we writers need to do.

Still, I find I have a hard time dealing with a non-gendered character. I recognize this as a flaw in myself (more than 60 years of putting people into strict gender categories doesn't fade easily). Ann Leckie's amazing SF novel Ancillary Justice is from the POV of a character whose culture doesn't make gender distinctions. In this character's thoughts, everyone is referred to with feminine pronouns, and I kept getting yanked out of the story by my brain's determination to figure out who was male and translate the pronouns "correctly." I would like to be someone who can let a character exist without a gender box, but sadly, I am not that person.

RachelErin said...

I just finished an MG book (Tale of Two Castles) where the most important side character is a agender dragon. So IT is referred to as IT throughout. And Masteress, instead of Master or Mitress. This is a feature of dragons throughout her world, not just this character.

I've also seen xe, xir, xim as agender pronouns. There are many, many forum threads about this topic on the NaNoWriMo website, so that's one place for inspiration on how to play with pronouns. Lot's of great authors make up words all the time, from Raold Dahl to The Clockwork Orange.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Oh yeah, OT.
Go Panda, go Panda, I'm jealous, go Panda, I'm a slacker, go Panda...!

Lucie Witt said...

Donnaeve and 2Ns, the wiki page for agender is actually pretty helpful! Also try

**off topic**
It's Sexual Assault Awareness Month. I REALLY don't want to be a creepy self promoting jerk, but I posted on my blog about my experiences as a teen, believing it was my fault, and how I ended up teaching about sexual assault today. If you're a survivor it might mean something to you. It's the hardest thing I've ever written, terrifying to share, but y'all mean a lot to me and on the off chance it might mean something to one of you ... It's there. ♡

Karen McCoy said...

In addition to Delilah Dawson, Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin has a gender fluid protagonist, and the story is brilliant.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

The first thing that popped into my mind after reading this post was David Levithan's YA novel, Every Day. I'm not sure if it handles the exact issue mentioned here, but it's an excellent book.

And yeh for Panda!

Stephen G Parks said...

I don't know that I understand the difference between agender and ungendered.

For ungendered, we already have 'it.'

I know that I've used "they" for times when there would be a gender but the gender is unknown ("If anyone thinks they can do that, they're in for a surprise"). Is that what's meant by agender?

Formally, we have 'one' although I think that's more often a substitute for 'you.'

Recently a co-worker has referred to some of us as cis-male or cis-female, meaning that we aren't LGBT. Sometimes, we just complicate things too much, methinks.

Lucie Witt said...

I think cis actually refers to not being transgender, you could for example be cis (identify as your biological gender ) and a lesbian.

Stephen G Parks said...

Lucie, you could very well be right. There's no guarantee that my co-worker is using the prefix properly. I'd simply never heard of it before last week.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I get all the suggestions here to use a new pronoun or a more obscure word we already have, but I don't think OP should change it from they. And please, please do not use 'it'. Referring to a human as 'it', even with good intentions, has too many negative, dehumanizing connotations - unless, of course, the individual has specifically asked to be referred to that way. Then go for it.

There may also be a age gap issue here. I wouldn't blink twice at a singular they, nor would most of the people I went to school with. Depending on OPs target market, there may be a need for a brief explanation toward the beginning of the story or on the back jacket or something. But I think most readers would get it pretty quickly without help. We're a smart bunch. :)

I've heard both terms 'cissexual' and 'cisgender', so it could be either. But I agree with Lucie that just 'cis' probably refers to gender.

Anyway, I'm with Janet - this idea is super intriguing! So is a character named Dusk. I want to know about that world. :)

BJ Muntain said...

I really doubt that 'they' would be confusing, any more than 'you' can be confusing. 'You' is another pronoun that is both plural and singular, yet when it's ambiguous which it is, we've developed means of clarity - 'y'all' is one such means, or simply 'you all'.

I've been called a grammar nazi, but I have no problems with a singular 'they', as long as it's clear.

Just remember: when you've got two men talking, you have to be clear about who is talking all the time - you can't just say 'he said' all the time. There are ways of clearing up pronoun confusion, no matter which pronouns you're using.

Personally, I don't like the 'alternate' pronouns. 'They' is easy enough to understand, and outside of a grammatical box, 99% of people understand 'they' when used as singular. They say 'Ain't ain't a word', but everyone knows what it means. And that's what communication is all about.

DLM said...

BJM: bravo!! Perfectly put.

Kae Bell said...

OP: As a reader, my first and probably only interpretation of 'they' would be that there are multiple beings/personalities existing in a single body. Not related to gender at all, not how I read 'they'. But I'm both old and old-school. If you are making a point about agender through 'they', you'd need to clear up that confusion for the old fuddy-duddy reader like me. Otherwise, I'll be waiting for the different personalities to express themselves on the page.

I think in Thailand there is an officially recognized third gender, don't know the pronoun. Those are boys (XY) who dress as girls, often called katooeys.

From comment above, the notion of a dragon even needing a gender or being explicitly genderless is rocking my middle-aged world this morning. Must read further.

Unknown said...

Hey all! OP here! Wow! So many positive reactions, even from the QOTKU herself! I’m go giddy right now!


For all of y’all who were confused by what I meant when I said my MC was agender, let me explain: the MC has gender dysphoria, not unlike the sort of dysphoria that occurs when someone is transsexual except, while transsexuals are dysphoric about their bodies in the sense that their mind is programmed to regard itself as the opposite sex to what they were born as, an agendered individual’s dysphoria causes them to regard themselves as sexless, as belonging to neither gender, and oftentimes this involves a different from of transitioning. While a trans individual would, obviously, transition to their preferred gender via surgery, an agender person might (not always, but might) have surgical alterations to remove sexual characteristics from their body. In addition to that they would dress in an ungendered fashion and refer to themselves without gendered pronouns.


As to the point about making up a pronoun…that’s a bad idea. Let me tell you, every legitimate agendered person I’ve ever met (as in “Not an experimental teenager who really wants to be different”) and all of my agender friends HATE those made-up pronouns. Partially because they’re just impossible to use in everyday language (TRY to use the word ‘Xie’ to refer to someone in casual conversation, I dare you), partially because they sound ridiculous half the time and thus tend to take away from the seriousness of the issue at hand, and partially because pronouns are a closed section of the English language (my agender friends are also writers. One of them bluntly told me once “The point of a pronoun is to make things easier---if you just make it up you might as well just use your name”) We of the English tongue are already blessed with having TWO gender-neutral pronouns (unlike in Hebrew, which has gendered everything…Oy…)


On your point, Bethany, on the use of ‘it’…that is generally correct, but I have known two agender folks who were fine with it/itself pronouns. It just depends on the individual. Just be polite, that’s the big thing.


‘Cis’ is a term I hate. A transsexual man is a man, a transsexual woman is a woman. I don’t see why anyone would want to separate them into different categories.


Of course, Dusk’s story takes place during a nuclear apocalypse (hence why they’re alone for so much of the book), so they have other problems to worry about besides their preferred pronouns ;-)


But all that’s beside the point; thanks to everyone for commenting and giving your opinion, and thanks to Janet! Now this little woodland creature must skitter forth…

Gin said...

Someone else mentioned Ann Leckie's series -- I too was kicked out of the story at times with everyone being referred to as "she," but I actually thought that was a GOOD thing. It made me aware of how much I felt the absolute need to know the gender, which is, in itself, interesting. Once I knew what a character's gender was, I had no problem with them being referred to as "she." But I think that discomfort is part and parcel of the story's meaning.

And it all really works -- it's not just a gimmick. The main character is, essentially, an AI inside a human body, so the gender of its body is entirely meaningless to it. Humans around her are aware of gender differences, and IIRC, there's even one community where gender differences are critical to correctly addressing someone (sort of like sir or madam before a name), and the AI worries about getting the gender right for the person she's speaking to. Added to the genderlessness is that the narrator doesn't spend much time on physical description of the characters, so you can't use that to determine gender.

After a while, I stopped noticing the genderlessness (and it helped that by then, I knew to my own satisfaction what gender the main characters were) and got into the story. Anyway, it's a thought-provoking read, as well as a great, fun story (the first book is a bit heavy on info dump, but well worth sticking with or skimming the infodumps).

I highly recommend it, especially if you'd like to see what a (mostly) genderless story would be like, since the "she" encompassing all genders renders it as neutral as "they."

Janice Grinyer said...

I'm also on board wth DLM: languages and cultures evolve, so there's many who would be interested in reading this also. Use brings on acceptability, but there is always that fateful first step! And Anthropology, after all, is one of the "newest" sciences.

I certainly don't want to become the writing police and clutch our pearls; otherwise, we stifle creativity in others.

Good job, Opie, hope to see it in print one day!

Unknown said...

“Are you nutso?
This is cool!”


Dare to be different. Dare to be first. Dare to take risk.

Who thought you could invent a whole universe with a whole mythology before JRR Tolkien.
Who thought you could write about a teen's struggle with Hasidic Judaism before Chaim Potak.
Who thought you could invent a new religion in a Sci Fi novel before Frank Herbert.

Some people will hate it. Relish the thought. That’s the risk, but some people might love it, and that’s what makes for a great book.

Just my two cents.

The Sleepy One said...

David Levithan's Every Day has an agender character, called "A". But A body jumps. This means A wakes up in a different body every day, almost Quantum Leap-ish except this has happened every day of A's life. So A has been in both male and female bodies.

Looking at Levithan deals with pronouns might be interesting for the OP.

Unknown said...

In case anyone is interested, Ursula K. Le Guin wrote a fascinating afterword to the 1994 edition of Left Hand of Darkness, in which she discusses how she wrestled with the gender of pronouns.

John Williamson said...

Following up on comments by Stephen G. Parks and Bethany Elizabeth, there is at least one universally used locution in standard English where "it" is used to refer to a human:

"We're having a baby!"
"That's wonderful! Is it a boy or a girl?"

So when the sex is unknown by the questioner, neuter "it" is correct.

If the mother knows the answer, she says "It's a girl!" not "She's a girl!", because the latter would be a tautology, which is a stylistic fault. So logic, style and universal usage might support the use of "it" in reference to humans.

ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist) said...

Alice, "they/them" is definitely the term to use, especially if that is how that person identifies themselves. I don't think it will be an issue. I suppose you could put in an explanatory note in the query that explains how self-identifying pronouns work, but I also think it will be quite telling in who expresses interest in your manuscript without it. Those who do are probably more likely to embrace it, be excited about it, and understand it... and therefore be able to sell it.

As a side note to your comment... I understand your dislike of the term "cis", but I think, really, it's only used (or meant to be used) when, say, I as a commenter about issues where gender norm comes into play want to help qualify my privilege. I agree that it needn't be an automatic descriptor. (Also, transsexual is different than transgender, which is why "cis"plays a larger role in identity, maybe?)

I love that you have this character. Hurrah for marginalized populations represented in fiction, especially in starring roles. Good luck! I look forward to reading it one day.

Adib Khorram said...

I've been very glad to see the singular 'they' gaining traction.

I think it's important to distinguish between writing about fictional people (in which case the author should strive for clarity in the usage of pronouns that will be understood by the most people possible—thus the singular 'they') and dealing with real people in our lives (in which case, each person deserves to be addressed as they like and should be respected for their choices, even the ones that are hard to understand or pronounce).

Also, Lucie: Thank you for pointing out your blog post. It was a powerful read and I'm so grateful to you for sharing it.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I think so much of it comes down to respecting the person who has the 'non-standard' gender identity. My agender and gender fluid friends all understand that people typically will call you by the gender they see unless you ask them not to. The key is remembering and respecting. So if I had a friend who preferred to be referred to as 'it', I would refer to it that way. Even though that sentence feels really strange! :)

'They' feels more natural to me, because it's a pronoun we already use for people on a fairly regular basis (in the plural sense). We typically avoid saying it, unless whoever we're referring to is an unborn child. (For instance, I wouldn't probably ask a mother with a 4 month old what 'its' name was. I'd avoid a pronoun and ask what her baby's name was, if I couldn't tell the gender.)

But again, I'd defer to my friend's choice.

Kae Bell said...

BJ Muntain, having a very Monday Monday. I deleted my grumple-ful comment.

ACFranklin said...

Too bad your story couldn't be written in Swedish. Some tidbit I learned on the internet was that the original "Let the Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist had some of the suspense built up based on not knowing a/multiple characters' genders. No, I have no proof, so no, it did not happen, but someone ca go on this goose chase if they like.

John Frain said...

Thank you for a well-worded explanation. I'm slightly less ignorant than I was when the day started. As is often the case, tolerance and respect usually help you figure most things out.

I've given this some thought, although only just now, and it seems "they/their" is the logical solution. Moreover, Janet's explanation is just as logical: tell me in the query, so I'll understand in the manuscript.

You're sailing. Of course, you probably already know that's the easy part. Now comes the story, and that's what makes all the difference. Good luck to you!

Delaney said...

Your idea is interesting, but for me, there *would* be some confusion. Why can't you invent your own gender-neutral pronoun? ("Hen" is a gender-neutral personal pronoun in Swedish intended as an alternative to the gender-specific hon ("she") and han ("he").)

Lucie Witt said...

Adib - thank you for the kind words

Kate Larkindale said...

This is a great topic for discussion. I'm working on a piece with people across the gender spectrum and have been trying to figure out the least complicated and confusing way to use pronouns when characters don't want to be placed in a binary role. Avoiding pronouns and just using names gets clunky after a while!

Brigid said...

Lucie—thanks for writing that post. It's a good one. And it's important.

The Sleepy One said...

Arri - I'm not sure about Swedish, but Finnish is gender-neutral. There's one word for he and she. Items (and pets) don't have gender. It's the way the language developed, too, versus a modern attempt at equality. I thought Sweden recently introduced a gender neutral pro-noun, but I could be wrong.

There's an interesting twist in Let The Right One In related to gender, but I won't be any more specific. It's a really great book and worth reading. Now I'm interested in how that portion of the novel progressed in Swedish.

Joseph S. said...

I was going to write the man who officed next to me for a decade or so referred to himself as “we” – the royal we. After two years or so of that I pointed out that when he said “we” he meant “I” and he doesn’t increase his creditability by saying we.

And I was going to say when a student asked if they can do something I can say they can do whatever they want – show their individuality.

But I want to know more about agenders. Alice wrote: “every legitimate agendered person I’ve ever met.” New concept to me. I'm not sure I've ever met one or at least no one has ever told me they were one. Alice is not talking eunuchs. I assume they still have physical gender attributes. Or do they? As Alice wrote about Transsexuals, “A transsexual man is a man, a transsexual woman is a woman. I don’t see why anyone would want to separate them into different categories.” Why wouldn’t that apply equally to agenders?
How do agenders meet other agenders?

Also, what do you call people who don’t fit in with people? (this is a more personal question than the others.)

Joseph S. said...

I don't like "it" as a pronoun for agenders. "It" dehumanizes the agender, like the agender is not a person but some mutant subcreature.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Delaney: But in Scotland (and maybe England?) "hen" refers to a woman. My Manchester roommate had to explain to me when I guy referred to me that way.

I also think this question has opened up a wonderful conversation. One of my parishioners, who worked at one time in a children's hospital or unit, spoke about babies who were born with "ambiguous" genitals, as she phrased it. And it made me do doctors and parents deal with that issue. Everyone's first question for new parents if they can't tell the gender is as John Williamson noted: Is it a boy or a girl? And what if parents, who decided to go ahead with surgery so they could answer that question, picked the wrong sex?

The writer in mm mmm.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Although, gender is used as a synonym for those who find using the word sex awkward, that's another one of those convenient-solecisms. Bees have two sexes but three genders, two things can be demonstrated with that example, gender is defined as a division within a set and that division is not necessarily a bifurcation. So both genders is non sequitur, not that you can't use the term in that sense, alluding to either a genderless individual or one of indeterminate/ambiguous gender.

Genderless and impersonal pronouns, they, their, the informal you; they're a little bit awkward because of the obvious scope for misinterpretation but there's a particular semantic pitfall with genderless pronouns, in that they're understood as determinators. Personally, I don't think that should be a problem, if the gender of an individual is obscure, unknown or for some reason, off limits. Where it gets to be a problem is when some intimacy is inferred things like: 'I saw [name] the other day, they had a bad head cold and took to their bed'. Which made me shudder just typing it.

Unknown said...

To Joseph: It’s not shocking that you’ve never met someone who was agender. It’s a VERY rare sort of thing (transsexuals too are much rarer than the media would have you believe). Some people are born with ambiguous ‘gender details’ as it were and some agender people are like that, but not all. Some get surgery so that their body more suits their brain, some don’t have to or feel the need to. It’s all down to the brain (gender dysphoria is usually caused by an imbalance of hormones in the brain).

Well, agender is different from transsexual. When a trans person comes out, gets surgery, and becomes what their brain says they are…well, that’s what they are. Physically, mentally, emotionally, they are that gender. And prior to that, when they’re in transition, it’s just a matter of not being an a-hole by calling them what they are mentally and what they will be physically.

Most trans people don’t want to be something ‘different’; they just want to be a man or a woman and be respected as a man or woman, so (going to ProfeJMarie) differentiating based on whether someone was born with the right kind of junk is just nonsense to me unless you are SPECIFICALLY talking about trans issues…and even then, just say not-trans. Having a whole word for it just divides people into categories and groups. Unless it’s used in an essay or something I wouldn’t use it. I’d certainly never refer to myself as cis, just as I’d never say, “This is Rebecca, she’s a trans woman.” No, I’d say “This is Rebecca, she’s a woman”.

To Bethany: Totally agreed!

To Lisa: Yes, many people are born intersexual (with ambiguous genalia). Usually parents leave them be until they can decide to either have surgery to go to their preferred sex or leave it be. A lot who don’t have surgery also go by gender-neutral pronouns too.

Wow, though, I’m glad my little question managed to generate such discussion! It’s encouraging! Thanks so much to everyone. Oh, and a special thanks to Lucie for sharing her story. Too many people sadly don’t.

P.S., by the way, I don’t think there’s anything innately wrong with calling someone ‘it’ so long as its done with consent and so long as it’s not done with malice. ‘It’ gets a bad rap. Probably because of “A Child Called It”. That book tore me to shreds…

Bethany Elizabeth said...

The gender discussion is really interesting, because there are so many layers to how we define gender.

Lisa, you'd probably be interested in the story of David Reimer - a boy at birth whose penis was destroyed during a botched circumcision. The psychologist in charge of the case convinced David's parents to raise him as a girl. It's an extremely depressing story, and highlights the importance of gender identity. It's not quite what you were talking about - David was definitely born male - but it's still really interesting.

Lucie Witt said...

(Thanks Brigid, Alice.)

This is just general info because I've noticed many here seem new to some of this info and really interested in learning more: a lot of people are saying transsexual, which is an older term generally (but not always) now used by the med community (it specifically refers to people who seek to change their bodies through medical intervention, like surgery or hormones). It's less of a "blanket term" than transgender and some people find it really off-putting. I think that's another case of what many commenters have already noted - it's always good to find out what terms people prefer and use those.

Here's to another conversation that probably couldn't happen 99.9% of other places 'round the internet!

I have now talked about my own blog and commented 4x, so I'm packing my bags and heading off to Carkoon with Colin.

BJ Muntain said...

Kae: I hope your Monday is going better. I've deleted my response to your grumple-ful comment, too.

Janet will probably delete our posts about deleting our posts, too. :)

Cindy C said...

Wow, what a great --I've learned so much today! Thank you Alice for starting us off with your question, and I'll echo the congratulations from everyone here on exciting the Shark!

I'll also echo what Celia and Gin said about Ann Leckie's series, where "she" is the pronoun used for everyone since the main character has trouble identifying gender. For most of the first book it did pull me out of the story, which I found interesting rather than annoying. By the time I got to the second book, I'd grown used to it and it didn't bother me at all. Which is what I suspect would happen if I read a plural "they."

I also want to say again what a great community this is. The comments are open, honest, thoughtful, and respectful--much better than the bilge and bile this topic might generate on some other internet sites.

Anonymous said...

I have to say, that when we write about the emotional struggle of an individual, and the place they seek to have in the world, we often forget that we are talking about an individual; a person.

While we may focus on the things that make them different and the struggle they have with that difference, we forget to focus on what matters most. Not their struggle with their view of the human condition, but with the fact that they are themselves human.

Do we believe that these issues did not exist in the past, and that they are new, and that is why we are writing about them now. No, we are writing about them now because society has accepted that there are individuals that struggle with issues, which before, were not acceptable to be addressed.

But the greater failure here is not that we choose to write about their struggle, but that we fail to writer about their triumph, their similarities, their humanity. In the mind of the ones who struggles with the difference, that they feel make them unclassified, lies the desire to be like everyone else; to be classified.

We take for granted the normalcy of our daily lives and their in lies our failure. So let us not focus on the differences of these individuals, but on the similarities that these individuals bring to the world. For to them the dynamics of their lives are bent on being like everyone else, while we struggle to stand out and be different and herein lies the human condition.

While I commend the OP for their subject matter, whether fact or fiction, I do propose to have my opinion: that those who would be classified as a(abnormal) Gender would rather be classified as normal.

No one said being different was a bad thing, but everyone at some point, wants to be a part of something someone else calls the whole.

Theresa said...

Count me among the intrigued. Sounds like a cool story.

Congratulations, Panda.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Wow. Maybe I'm more worldly than I tend to think I am.

I've read at least two stories with agendered characters. I've used 'they' as a gender-neutral singular pronoun for years. Even got up in odds against an editor when they insisted on changing all my 'theys' to 'his and/or hers', which I found extremely awkward. I'll never work with that editor again if they can't accept a perfectly grammatical usage of the singular 'they'.

I have several acquaintances who protect their children online by referring to them with gender-neutral pronouns. Many of them use 'they', but a few use sie/zie. One of them, a new parent, responded to the question of "Congratulations! Is it a boy or a girl?" with "Probably."

Opie, do what you want. If you let the agent know that your character is agendered in the query, if they are the agent for you, they'll let your style ride.

(Still chuffed about Panda. Me, still on the query train. I keep getting a lot of 'this is not for me'. Am wondering if I need to revise my query letter, but my brain refuses to come up with any better ideas. Please, future agent, fall in love soon! My beta-readers will praise your good taste.)

Anonymous said...

Alice, I agree with those who say, "I'd get used to it." Tell a good story and minor details like this will fade into unimportance. I hope you'll come back and let us know when we can read it, somewhere.

What a great discussion. This is such an impressive group and I've never been more proud to be a part of it than when we communicate with and listen to each other like this. Makes me all hopeful and shit.

Lucie, I read the first paragraph of your post and can tell it deserves more attention than I'm able to give it right this moment. I'll read it later, but wanted to thank you for writing/posting it. Your bravery is commendable.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I wanted to say, man oh man I have learned a lot today, but that didn't sound right. Then I thought, oh boy, I have learned a lot today, and that didn't sound right. So I'll simply say, I learned a lot. Ain't nothin' neutral 'bout that.

Joseph S. said...

Off topic gender reference issue (I apologize beforehand)
Most of my WIP takes place in Brazil, and much of it on a boat in the Amazon. I asked a Brazilian student of mine to read my first draft. One of her corrections: Boats in Brazil are masculine, so the correct pronoun is "he" or "him." My whole life I've referred to boats as "she" or "her." I found it difficult, verging on impossible, to call a boat "he," so I used "it" or the name of the boat ("Sonho") or rewrote sentences to avoid the issue.

BJ Muntain said...

Lucie: I've shared your post on Twitter and Facebook. I know some who have been in similar positions as yours who will appreciate it, and others who empathize; all will help to spread it. It's an important message to share.

Noel (tell me now) said...

As a nonbinary person, I'm just gonna second everyone who said "they" pronouns are absolutely okay!

As a grammar person, I'm just going to ask that everyone in the world make sure their pronouns are clearly attached to the right antecedents. Some people can't even use "he" and "she" without confusing the reader!

Ryan Neely said...

I subscribe to the email list, so I see these posts a day late and don't often comment, but I actually have information which might apply ... so here it goes. There's a group of college students who have developed a group MBLGACC (they pronounce it Mumble-talk). Midwest Bisexual Lesbian Gay Ally College Conference. Four years ago they were trying to push for gender neutral pronouns to be added to the language. I can't find an official website, and I only remember Thon being gender neutral for they. The idea was ... specifically for someone in the process of transition ... if you weren't sure what pronoun to use and didn't know his or her name, you could use one of these gender neutral pronouns instead. Could be worth researching.

Bonnie Lynn said...

My first thought would be, could you change to first person? Everything becomes "I" and removes he/she/they/it/etc immediately.

I remember reading somewhere that there was a movement where some people have started using a unisex term,"ze." Here's a CNN article that says we may be moving toward "ze" or "they" in the future:

I also find a Wikipedia article that mentions different pronouns that have been used, and says that "ou" and "co" were more popular ones:

"In 1789, William H. Marshall records the existence of a dialectal English epicene pronoun, singular "ou": "'Ou will' expresses either he will, she will, or it will." Marshall traces "ou" to Middle English epicene "a", used by the 14th century English writer John of Trevisa, and both the OED and Wright's English Dialect Dictionary confirm the use of "a" for he, she, it, they, and even I. This "a" is a reduced form of the Anglo-Saxon he = "he" and heo = "she"."

Good luck! This idea definitely has the potential to change things and create industry buzz!!! And if you do use a newer term such as Ze, which is embraced more and more as people find out about it, it might start to standardize a unisex gender and make positive changes in real life, too!

Anonymous said...

Is it just me, or has the term 'androgynous' disappeared from the lexicon?

If so, wondering where it went. LOL

Expecting several references to Carkoon, here. Or maybe not.

Karen said...

In Sarah Caudwell's humorous mysteries, the Hilary Tamar series, we never find out whether Hilary is male or female. It's quite cleverly done. They're a good read.