1. MissBadWolf

    MissBadWolf Banned

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    Grammar Pronoun use for non-binary character

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MissBadWolf, Jan 2, 2020.

    I have a character who is a bit confusing for me to write the pronoun for. Using she might work but is not totally accurate.
    I created this character after reading a Star Trek book about a character who is both male and female. I forgot what term they used for that character and not sure what to use in my story. I am trying to figure out where to ask this but what pronouns do I use for a character who is not just female?
    My story multiverse is similar to a mixture of MCUand Doctor Who and other fictional multiverses mixed with the usual urban fantasy and Harry Potter like universe.

    Back to topic, my character Ejijah and I am creating a “brother” for Ejijah named Jijiah. Well Ejijah goes by EJ or the masquerade name Elizabeth Jorden. (Though I keep changing how to spell Jorden/Jordan)
    Ejijah is presented as mostly female but basically without going into the planned anatomy too much but has these “stones” which are basically how can I say make the character non-binary or gender fluid or something. Long way of saying, she can get pregnant and impregnate others.
    I feel like I am rambling but I am trying to figure out what pronouns to use for these two characters.
    Just trying to figure out what to do as I am about to introduce EJ to the story.
     
  2. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Active Member

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    We had multiple discussions on this topic with another member recently.

    You could you "they", but that's awfully confusing when there is more than one character in the scene.
    You could use "Xe", or invent your own pronoun.

    When I had a hermaphrodite character in a story, I used "he/she" but that's not sustainable in a long story.
     
  3. Dragonaut

    Dragonaut New Member

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    This topic has been discussed elsewhere in the forum (as @Naomasa298 said) and in the overall writing sphere. I know that non-binary folks use "they" and "them", despite those pronouns being plural, not singular, and I've read that some readers tend to get confused when those pronouns are used to refer to a single person. However, if your setting is more fantasy/sci-fi, then I don't see why you can't make-up your own pronouns for non-binary characters. Fantasy/sci-fi settings get away with more things than with other genres, and you mentioned a Star Trek novel that played around with the pronoun game, so maybe give it a shot? It'll be an interesting way to build your world, while also being inclusive, if that's your goal.
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    I’d go with singular “they” (I don’t agree that it’s confusing to readers) or use pronouns like ve, vir, vis or xe, xir, etc. I don’t think it makes a huge difference so long as you’re consistent.
     
  5. Richach

    Richach Senior Member

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    Any good world building books like LOTR, Potter, Star Wars don't dwell on detail yet don't confuse the reader either.

    My suggestion is it should appear to be the character's choice if they are he, she or they and not the narrator telling the reader.

    As long as it is not offensive or confusing to the reader they will go with it.
     
  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    the trouble with a singular they is if you are dealing with a character who is also in a group how does the reader tell when you mean it singularly and when you mean it plurally
     
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  7. Madman

    Madman Active Member

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    Make something up? You can use mine if you want, I made them for a short writing prompt, they work very fluently I've discovered:

    He/She = Hy
    His/Her = Hyr
    Him/Her = Hyn

    (Selfish promotion, yes.)
     
  8. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    By the context, of course. As I said elsewhere (another thread), I recently finished a book by Brandon Sanderson where he uses the singular 'they' in this way. In terms of Fantasy writers, it's hard to get more mainstream than him. There was nothing at all confusing about the use, and I reject the idea that your average reader is too thick to follow along. The English language has used singular 'they' for hundreds of years. Readers are smart. They'll follow it.
     
  9. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    they crossed the street and said hi to their friends bob bill and sue, they walked down the street to the diner and went inside.

    question - from the information presented who went inside the diner ?
     
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  10. Rockatansky

    Rockatansky Banned

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    They didn't understand the situation when it was presented to them.

    How many people are in this situation?
     
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  11. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    You're presuming the writer is too unskilled to avoid these kinds of situations. And this is a bad example, because there is no context.

    On some level it's a bit of a silly argument because I just read an entire book that uses singular they to refer to gender indeterminate individuals and it worked fine. So there's empirical evidence that it can be done (and I'm sure that's not the only book in which it has been done). The fact that you can construct a sentence in a vacuum where it doesn't work is irrelevant.

    Is your contention that readers are too stupid to follow along with singular they, or that writers are so ham-fisted and incapable of constructing sentences that they'll use it in incomprehensible ways? I reject both of those assertions--I don't see any evidence to support either one.
     
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  12. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    In the other thread on this the writer demonstrated that he was repeatedly constructing sentences where it wasn't clear... which was there evidence for the numerous people saying 'this doesn't work' ...

    that aside while i'd support the idea that you can do anything you want to do in writing... my question is why deliberately make things less clear if it can be avoided ?

    If using a plural pronoun for a singular is perfectly clear why do we have single and plural pronouns in the first place ?

    (Also frankly the fact that you've read one book where it worked in your opinion is not evidence that it works for everyone all the time)

    Long story short I fundamentally disagree that its sensible to use the plural pronoun they in the context where you'd usually use he or she... I'd suggest that if you want to make the gender fluid/non binary point it is better to use a new singular pronoun such as Xe
     
  13. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Active Member

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    The singular they is far better suited to (real life) speech, where the context is clear(er, rather than writing. It should be kept out of the written word. Personally, I fail to see why there is a need to co-opt an existing word, when it's just as easy to create a new word.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2020
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  14. Steve Rivers

    Steve Rivers Member

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    I tried to explain that to GirlWriter in PM, the problem is progress and compromise.
    The majority of "normies" in the world will never accept 'they' as a pronoun for non-binary people, and the problem is transgender people then take it to mean you're transphobic, which isn't the case at all.

    It's simply down to the fact that "they" is one of most crucial words to understanding the context in a scene or situation in the English language. And the whole POINT of every language ever made was the attempt at the most precise and concise sending of communication from one human being to another. You can say "oh, well languages evolve and words have different meanings now, some are the same" which is true, but mostly for less intrinsic words, not baseline pronouns.

    There are some languages out there that have error correction built-in, and some of the older ones wouldn't even let you parse a mistake like that as a phrase. It's not bias, it's the fact that people -need- to communicate properly to avoid misunderstanding.

    It's like if I came along and said, "Me and my friends have decided to co-opt the word 'And'. It's ours now, and we want it to replace the word 'Sing/Sang'."

    Now you have to read the following paragraph and accept it...
    "Laura and her heart out. She and so loudly that is annoyed the neighbours. She and all night and and all morning. What made the neighbours call the police was when she and so loud it broke the glass windows."

    It not only doesn't help the transgender cause, it makes it come off as arrogant to 'normies.'

    And to round this back off to my original point, its all about progress and compromise.

    Gay people wanted to get married - the churchs wouldnt allow it. The government (in the uk at least) set up civil partnerships. Gay people had to make the compromise of not getting married in a church, the priests didn't want them getting married at all, but didn't mind so much as long as it wasn't in a church.
    Both sides made comrpomises - and progress was made. Now? No one blinks an eye at two gay people getting married.

    If transgender people aren't willing to meet everyone else halfway, as a transgender person reading this, ask yourself, why should the masses compromise when you aren't willing to?

    People like me are on their side, and are trying to help, not hinder.

    Why would we be trying to get their work accepted, by suggesting alternatives? Why would we bother trying to help a transgender person get their work accepted if we were transphobic? Oh right, because in actual fact we want your voice, and your characters, to be seen and heard. And the only way to get that progress is to make a compromise.
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2020
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  15. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Active Member

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    I liken it to how Ms. was invented for women who didn't want to make their marital status part of their identity, which is fair enough. Both in spoken and written language, there's no chance for confusion if it's used (any more than there is with "Mr.".
     
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  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    We'll agree to disagree. This is the sort of thing people obsess over needlessly in writer's forums, and in the real world both writers and readers are able to handle it just fine. It's not a big deal.
     
  17. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    On a tangent - something that's worth saying is that non binary pronouns are not specifically a trans thing... by and large trans is about people who are born with male sexual characteristics identifying as female or female and identifying as male and changing their gender. This was getting confused in the other thread because GW was saying that he was trans whilst writing a non binary protag

    The appropriate pronoun for most trans people is he or she depending on which sex they identify as.

    The They/Xe thing is an issue with non binary people who don't identify as either gender (and in writing also aliens, fantasy beings, and so on who don't have an earth gender). A trans person can be non binary, but so can a person who is not transexual.

    It sounds pedantic but its important as writers that we don't conflate transsexual with non binary, in the same way as its important that we don't conflate Gay with Bi... or Black with Asian.

    At the end of the day in the real world it is respectful to use whatever pronoun a person wishes to identify with, while in writing it is more flexible because as authors we get to determine our protags wishes, and in my view it is sensible to make a choice which is not confusing to the reader.

    There are also two other options open to a writer in dealing with a non gendered character - they can use the character's name, or they can write in the first person and use the non gendered pronoun I
     
  18. Steve Rivers

    Steve Rivers Member

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    I didnt mean to imply it was, but thats what happens when you write about these things late at night. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2020
  19. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Active Member

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    Agreed. All my trams friends, including those who are not considering changing their physical sex, use the pronoun of the sex they identify with.
     
  20. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    and i didn't mean to imply a criticism of you for doing so - its just something that was bugging me on the other thread

    I'm hetero but I've got friends from across the LBGT etc community. - Personally my view is that it is entirely corrupt to judge another person based on what they do with their genitals in private, so long as everyone involved is a consenting adult , and i try to represent that view in my fiction... across my books I have gay, lesbian, and Bi characters, some good some bad some indifferent, because you know people are people.

    I havent so far written a non binary character per se - although I do have an ambulatory tree who is self fertile. I generally use his name when referring to him so the issue of gendered pronouns hasn't come up
     
  21. Steve Rivers

    Steve Rivers Member

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    I was actually pondering this subject a few weeks ago myself, since, with my novel being set 100 years from now I wanted a non-binary character. I thought of just replacing all the H's with Z's, and thought how clever I was. Then i googled it, and found i'd already been beaten.
    Damned convergent thinking..

    https://stayhipp.com/glossary/ze-zir-zem-pronouns/
     
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  22. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise New Member

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    Honestly, I'm always a little surprised at the opposition to a singular they. It is far more concise than having to use he/she, lacks the dehumanizing aspect of it, and is a word that exists and has been used in the singular context for years (though mostly in spoken word, not written).

    It also would not be the only singular and plural pronoun, though admittedly you isn't used as much as the others. But like you it can be clarified quite easily whether it is singular and plural. With you we would add words like: you all, you guys, or y'all. They aren't grammatically needed but they add clarification (which is always more important than grammar).

    They as a singular pronoun is becoming increasingly more official, and so instead of fighting against the tide, we should learn to swim with it.

    For the examples given of how its dual use can be confusing the solutions are rather simple:

    Becomes "They crossed the street and said hi to their friends Bob, Bill, and Sue; they all walked down the street to the diner and went inside," if plural and remains the same if singular.

    Becomes "None of them understood the situation when it was presented to them," if plural and stays the same when singular.

    Now to address the topic creator's question. There was a story I remember that had a hermaphrodite as a major character. She was always referred to with the she pronoun and her hermaphrodite nature only came up when it was relevant. If your character identifies as a woman you should use she as her pronoun. You can then introduce her physiological nature when it becomes important or when introducing her.
     
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  23. Rockatansky

    Rockatansky Banned

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    Please do not reply to me again, I put you on ignore so don't bother.

    The singular they is absurd

    Also, I find it fascinating that the OT is currently banned and you, only have two posts and this is the second place you come
     
  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Come on now, that isn't necessary - by all means ignore any poster you wish but you don't need to announce it
     
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  25. Rockatansky

    Rockatansky Banned

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    My apologies, BSM. I'll show more civility in the future
     
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