Gender In Writing

A_TransGender-Symbol_Plain1 I’ve been studying both French and Spanish over the last few months. I was fluent in French at one point and am working to regain that. I’ve never studied Spanish, but I’m finding that the dribs and drabs I’ve picked up over the years is leaking out of my brain and gaining flesh as I study. I’m using a combination of the Duolingo app/website and the podcasts produced by Radio Lingua.

One thing this study has reminded me of is the concept of gendered nouns (regardless of whether or not the physical object has a gender), and the fact that both languages change the spelling of adjectives based on the gender of that noun they describe. I wondered if that was changing at all in practice the way that it is, to a lesser degree, in English. While we don’t have gendred nouns per se, I can’t help but think how I’ve gone from saying “fireman” to “fire fighter” and “policeman” to “police officer”. There’s another change in usage that I’ve noticed. Certain masculine words like “waiter” are supplanting their feminine versions entirely, in spite of efforts to create words like “waitron“. Then there’s the question of pronouns. All three languages I speak have “him” and “her”, but the only gender neutral term I know of is the English word “it”.

The more I read when it comes to gender issues and the use of descriptors like cis-gendred and genderqueer to name but two that are new to me, the more I wonder if this neutrality trend is good or bad (or neither). As someone who writes some science fiction, I think about how to use language like this in my stories. It’s somewhat pointless to try and be accurate about how we’ll speak in twenty, fifty, or a hundred years. No one can be sure how language will evolve in the coming decades. We only know that it will. Still, it’s fun to think about. Then there’s the matter of respect for the communities that use those terms currently.

Given the choice between using words that are gender neutral, gender specific, or applying the current gender specific masculine (or feminine) term to the broader group; how do you address that in your writing? Does that depend on your genre and audience, or do you have a rule that applies to all of your writing?

“A TransGender-Symbol Plain1”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Wikimedia Commons –

2 thoughts on “Gender In Writing”

  1. “…how do you address that in your writing?”

    For most of my writing, I use the existing he/she pronouns from common usage. On rare occasions, I’ll write a character who prefers ze/zim/zir or some other alternate pronoun, but that comes out feeling quite stilted and artificial and I’m not sure I have the skill yet to smoothe it out.

    As for changing -man words to non -man (chairman to chair, fireman to firefighter, etc.) I see that as common enough usage that it’s not going to get clunky.

    I think we’ll need to have a whole generation of writers growing up with alternative non-gender-specific pronouns for them to really catch on.

    1. I’m definitely interested to see what sort of gender language my children will be using when they’re our age.

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