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Gender neutral is a term used when referring to a person of neutral gender, someone who is neither male nor female, but genderless.[1] It is also another term for agender, with the words often being used in conjunction with one another as both an identity and a describing characteristic.[2][3] It is also a term used to signal a safe and inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ individual, and a term used to describe pronouns or language that defies the binary.[4]

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Etymology

As an adjective, gender neutral describes the use of words wherever appropriate that are free of reference to gender: firefighter, police officer, and flight attendant are gender neutral terms.[1]

Pronouns

Gender-neutral pronouns are similar to binary pronouns (she/her and he/him) but are altered to individual preference. One might prefer the commonly used gender neutral pronouns they/them. In place of Mr. or Mrs./Ms., a gender-neutral title would be Mx.[5] Mx was first recorded in April 1977 in an edition of The Single Parent.[6]

Community

History

Gender-neutral language has existed for hundreds of years. One of the first usages of gender neutral language in literature is in the 1386 novel of Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales and also in famous literary works such as Shakespeare's Hamlet in 1599. Jane Austen used they/them pronouns in her infamous novel, Pride and Prejudice.[7] By 1841, there were several pronouns that were used, many of which were gender neutral.[8] The first notable use of gender neutral pronouns came in 1911 by Fred S. Pond, an insurance broker. They grew in popularity in January 1912, when Ella Fagg Young - the first female superintendent of Chicago schools, proposed a new term that would end the awkwardness of speech. Her idea was "he'er, his'er, and 'him'er".[9]

In recent years, gender neutral has expanded beyond pronouns and language to include fashion. The uptick in demand for gender neutral fashion increased in 2019, which inspired many companies to create new fashion lines. This allowed people to wear clothing that were not inherently made for a masculine or feminine individual.[10]

Distinction

Controversy

One of the largest arguments around gender neutral language is the role it plays in "proper grammar". The traditional gender agreement rule states that pronouns must agree with the nouns they stand for both in gender and in number. While everyone loves their mother is grammatically correct, using they/them in a singular context is considered grammatically incorrect.[11]

In 2015, when the University of Tennessee updated their website to include a guide to gender-neutral pronouns, many conservative politicians were angered. Hundreds of calls were placed to the university's president to protest the addition. Because of the backlash and intense scrutiny given by the lawmakers in the state, including two special meetings to review the governance, the president of the university chose to remove the guide. Other colleges across the United States had begun to implement a similar guide. Vanderbilt University, Harvard University, and the University of California each include gender neutral pronouns and language in their handbooks. The latter universities even allowed students to specify their gender identities on documents.[12]

Restrooms

The use of gendered restrooms makes many LGBTQIA+ individuals feel uncomfortable or as if they aren't being seen, especially in the workplace. By offering a third or additional option of a gender neutral bathroom, a workplace is seen as taking action toward diversity and inclusion.[13] In 2009, 67% of transgender and non-binary people felt unsafe in a public gendered bathroom.[14] Gender neutral restrooms have been called an important alternative for non-binary, gender non-conforming, agender, transgender, and others on the gender spectrum.[15]

In April 2014, Vancouver Park board installed gender neutral restrooms in their public buildings. They were not the first to do this, as gender neutral facilities had existed in many regions. However, Vancouver was the first municipality to require buildings have gender neutral restrooms.[16] Trevor Loke, the commissioner, stated that their goal was use more inclusive language based on the BC Human Rights Code. They also used a pink triangle, a sign commonly used in the LGBTQIA+ community, to signal the gender neutral restrooms. They even called for public opinion on the signage.[17]

In 2014 and following years, China, India, Japan, and Nepal followed suit in implementing gender neutral restrooms.[18][19]

Media

Public Figures

Trivia

  • In 2020, Trevor Project ran a survey that found one in four LGBTQ youths (ages 13–24) use gender neutral pronouns. 4% of those surveyed used neopronouns such as xe/xim and ze/zir.[21]
  • In a study down by Outandequal.org, they found that 78% of respondents (all from Generation Z) defined gender as being fluid. Of those same respondents, 56% of them knew someone with gender neutral pronouns.[22]
  • In a study conducted by researchers, using gender-neutral language and pronouns to describe individuals reduces biases in the workplace. It improved positive feelings between women and LGBTQIA+ people.[23]
  • The word "they" was Merriam Webster's online Dictionary word of the year, after adding the singular use of the word to their website.[24]

Resources

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 https://www.dictionary.com/browse/gender-neutral
  2. https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/sexuality-definitions.pdf
  3. https://www.healthline.com/health/agender
  4. https://lgbtq.smcgov.org/lgbtq-glossary
  5. https://lgbt.foundation/who-we-help/trans-people/non-binary
  6. https://practicalandrogyny.com/2014/08/28/when-was-the-mx-gender-inclusive-title-created/
  7. https://www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-49754930
  8. https://las.illinois.edu/news/2020-01-29/tracing-history-gender-neutral-pronouns
  9. https://books.google.com/books?id=SCqfDwAAQBAJ&pg=PT84&lpg=PT84#v=onepage&q&f=false
  10. https://www.cnn.com/2021/06/23/business/gender-neutral-fashion/index.html
  11. https://blog.oup.com/2010/08/gender-neutral-pronoun/
  12. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/09/09/ut-president-gender-neutral-pronoun-controversy-like-nothing-ve-seen/71976946/
  13. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/gender-neutral-bathrooms-in-the-workplace.aspx
  14. https://ggwash.org/view/70800/why-the-washington-region-needs-more-gender-neutral-bathrooms
  15. https://www.teenvogue.com/story/we-need-gender-neutral-bathrooms-everywhere
  16. https://globalnews.ca/news/1298000/vancouver-park-board-votes-to-install-gender-neutral-washrooms/
  17. https://globalnews.ca/news/1237581/vancouver-park-board-asking-for-input-on-universal-washrooms-and-signage/
  18. https://asiatimes.com/2016/11/unisex-public-toilets-china-get-warm-reception/
  19. http://www.scmp.com/week-asia/business/article/2024111/why-japanese-businesses-are-embracing-lgbt-community
  20. Miley Cyrus Cover Story May 2017 | Billboard – Billboard
  21. https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/beyond-he-she-1-4-lgbtq-youths-use-nonbinary-pronouns-n1235204
  22. https://outandequal.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/OE-Non-Binary-Best-Practices.pdf
  23. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2019/aug/05/he-she-or-gender-neutral-pronouns-reduce-biases-study
  24. https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/word-of-the-year
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