1. Trakaias
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    Trakaias Member

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    If not He/She/It then what?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Trakaias, Oct 19, 2009.

    In some of my books I have characters who are neither male or female. The easiest thing I know to do since I feel like using 'it' is disrespectful, is to make them more masculine or feminine depending on how they feel, or what they prefer to go by. The problem I have is sometimes it's not that simple. How do I go about making characters who have no real gender, how should I refer to them if it isn't appropriate? At one point they were in a genderless form and I trouble alternating between he/she, or using their names etc.

    What should I do? Are there any suggestions (that don't involve getting rid of them as beings who have no real gender only forms).
     
  2. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    Identify those characters as others see them. Even though they appear sexless, they may remind another character of female or male characteristics. Thus, this character would refer them as either he or she.

    Another alternative is to just avoid he/she whenever you can. But this doesn't seem like a practical. You would then have to refer to them by their names all the time.
     
  3. ManhattanMss
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    ManhattanMss Contributing Member

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    You could give them names (assuming they relate to each other) and/or identifiable monikers. Your belief that the third person pronoun "it" or "they" reduces them somehow to something they're more than suggests to me that they possess some ability to interact purposefully with each other (not entirely unlike fully gendered, or even transgendered or ambiguously gendered humans), which, in turn, would suggest they can be (and likely are) identified by each other in some way that's peculiar to your story. I can't quite imagine them being completely like all the other such genderless "characters," since being like all the others would render them unidentifiably "character"-less, and I'm not imagining the kind of story that would rely upon un-unique, character-less beings.

    I think of THE POPE'S RHINOCEROUS (Norfolk) as an interesting storyline that rises up out of a lengthy (and exquisite) description of herrings and how they behave in the sea surrounding the point where the story begins, but the herrings themselves are not the story, and it is their collective behavior that serves to set the stage for the novel. MIDDLESEX (Eugenides) is a good example of a transgender story that's told in 1st person (in part, to avoid choosing a gendered pronoun).

    It seems to me in your story, there must be some way these beings come to recognize one another, even in their genderless state. If not, you can underscore that period of their life by using a different vantagepoint, maybe, or by emphasizing a shift from "it" and "they" to something more gender- or feature-driven as their personas emerge.
     
  4. gitamo
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    gitamo Member

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    How about making up a gender neutral term of your own?

    There is a section on wikipedia: Gender-Neutral Pronouns, which has a table of "invented pronouns" such as ne/nir, ve/ver, xe/xem (he or she/him or her)

    It also says that there are two english dialect gender neutral pronouns which have long died out; "ou" and "a".

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun



    Or just use s/he, him/her but that seems to imply both genders rather than neutrality.

    If that's not a viable option then I cant think of anything other than writing around the need for 'it' by using their names but I can see how that could quickly get awkward.

    Good luck!
     
  5. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series, there is a third sex of a group of aliens which are called ooloi (the third gender, not the aliens themselves which are called Oankali). When referring to them with pronouns, Ms. Butler simply uses the gender neutral it. No disrespect comes off in the writing.

    In Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series, there is a new species of hermaphrodite humans which are all (until later on in the story) derived from men. Some are pure-borns and others are metamorphosed via a ritual where a blood transfusion is the vehicle of transformation. In this series, she invents a set of pronouns with all their varying forms and declensions to describe these new humans which are neither male nor female, but both in one. She uses the word har as the base pronoun.

    For example:

    "I have never seen that har in my life!"

    "Everyhar needs to come into the dining room. The food is getting cold."

    Both routes taken by these two very different authors worked very well in their own way.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    If there is a significant genderless presence in your story, invent or resurrect a genderless pronoun, but be sure to give your readers an introduction to it. Let them get comfortable with it.

    A few years ago, such a genderless pronoun set was created, but never really caught on. You might run across it on occasion. Ths subjective pronoun sie (pronounced like see) is the genderless but not inanimate equivalent or he or she, and the objective pronoun hir (pronounced somewhat like hear) similarly replaces him or her.
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I like ne and nim for neutral, where ne is like she/he and nim like her/him.

    Shan flexed his tentacle fingers and broke the glass window on the door. Ne reached through the jagged hole, careful not to cut nimhelf, and unlocked it.

    Yup, I like it.
     
  8. seije
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    seije Member

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    Of the suggestions i've seen, i think Cogito has the best set so far. they sound familiar enough that it's easy to pick up their meaning, and it's probably the most fairly split between the two sexes. some of the other pronouns suggested seem to lean too far to the male or female side of things.

    If you're going for truly genderless, i'd say use Cogito's, or make some up yourself. If you do make your own, though, keep in mind that making your words sound too masculine/feminine will set different tones, and possibly give the reader a different idea than the one you're trying to show.
     
  9. Trakaias
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    Trakaias Member

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    I write a lot of stories where a lot of my characters are sexless or where he/she isn't easy to classify them. But depending on which story I am writing the need for some things often change.

    For instance in one of my stories there are a few (but not enough) people who are hermaphrodites/intersexed. For those kinds of stories I like the below suggestion. Where one of the characters often observes the other character and what their gender is, is based on what that character sees, and I feel like the way thirdwind put it is the most natural for that particular story. I guess jumping back and fourth between what they saw I was finding difficult, but there's no reason I can't make it better.


    On the other hand I do have other stories, where there is a third gender (and even a 4th) where that sort of thing is the norm so the characters don't really look and go 'girl'/'boy' because they grew up with a different concept of gender and don't understand the two boxes of girl/boy. In that case it's really hard to use the above suggestion and I find that those who suggested either making up my own pronouns or looking into those already made was wise (case by case). I've thought about that for the stories where the main character is the one without a black and white gender. The idea I like the most is a cross between making my own pronouns and looking at the other combinations. I really like it.

    I like everyone's ideas and I am using them all for different situations, thank you, this has definitely helped me figure out what I can/should do.
     
  10. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I guess it all depends on the reader. Sie and hir sound feel feminine to me. Although, nim sounds like him, it doesn't feel masculin to me. Other words that sound like him that don't feel masculin to me: dim, rim, sim, kim, sin, tin, win.
     
  11. Fox Favinger
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    Fox Favinger Contributing Member

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    The correct form is sklee and sklim. (hopefully someone gets that joke)

    In all seriousness years ago I read in one of Stackpole's X-Wing books where he introduced an asexual species (evolution probably wasn't nice to them). The species claims they don't like to be referred to as he, she, or it. So the humanoid characters just use their names while the author just uses 'it'. I like Stackpole's solution, and his X-Wing books :) For me that just made things way easier than having some made up pronoun.
     
  12. Trakaias
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    Trakaias Member

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    For me it really depends on which story I am writing and what world it's based in. In the real world with humans I don't use made up pronouns. I mentioned earlier what I like for that.

    When I write in the worlds where girl/boy/neuter doesn't exist in their language or in 'my' language when I write, I consistently goes by terms relevant to the native language. In that world creating pronouns seems much more realistic since the readers are already introduced to words and culture that are unfamiliar to their own.

    I do have trouble when two different worlds with two different terms crash. Generally that's because I don't have a single point of view in those. But I'll examine those stories separately and later.

    I really believe everything is a case by case by case basis, and whether you make up or not make up pronouns is entirely based on what feels natural and right for the specific story you're writing.

    I guess for me the term 'it' does create a bit of distance if not for the reader than for me personally. Changing the feelings and meaning of what 'it' means/carries for a lot of people (in my mind) is difficult. When you call something an 'it', it generally is not to be kind. 'It' most of the time(black and white speaking lol) refers to a thing, an object, a 'creature'. And though I've redefined what 'creature' means often, redefining 'it' still feels like. "It walked to the park." in my mind using 'It' draws up images of a monster, some sort of creature that doesn't have a shape, or form or is unnatural it makes me think of that book called 'It' (lol). Or another story, "A Child called It". (or) the term...What is 'It'?

    I'm sure there are good writers who can pull it off, but for the kind of stories I write, 'it' just doesn't fit.
     
  13. Kas
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    Kas Contributing Member

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    I also like the "sie" and "hir" solution. I've never encountered them before, but they seem ideal, sound cool. . . Being so close to the originals, they're easy to pick up on and remember, and they flow naturally off the tongue. They feel the least foreign of all the alternatives presented so far.

    On the other hand, I really don't care for the sound of "nimself". It sounds like an awkward/clumsy kind of cutesiness, like Jarjar's irritating speech. But then, I haven't read the novel. I'd probably feel different about it in proper context.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Another approach is to adopt the pronoun from their language. Just remember, the most fundamental words in any language, the core concepts, are short and simple words. They are te words most frequently used, and become more condensed with time rather than more elaborate. In many cases, they will also have the most near-synonyms, but pronouns generally don't need finer variations.
     

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