portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article portland metro

community building | gender & sexuality | human & civil rights

Gender neutral pronoun

Use "Ze"!
Most non-trans people haven't heard about the pronoun "ze" (mostly b/c trans people are constantly rendered invisible), but I am telling about it now, so you have no excuse. Ze is a pronoun that is non-gender specific, and is preferred by almost all of the trans people that I have met. It is not just for trannies, though. Myself and others encourage everyone to use it for everyone unless you know which pronoun someone prefers. Using the pronoun ze for everyone until you find out which pronoun they prefer helps out trans people b/c many trans people aren't recognized as trans, and therefore most people would automatically use the pronoun that they were assigned at birth and never care to find out their preference. It also helps out b/c if "ze" is only used for trans people it is going to make it a lot harder for the word to become used outside of small, trans-friendly queer circles.
sounds good... 27.May.2003 02:08


and "Ze" is also just a *lot* shorter than "he/she" or "(s)he" for writing.

? 27.May.2003 06:44


Checking dictionarys online this is all I could come up with for Ze,

Ze : Street Terms: Drugs and the Drug Trade

I guess if your going to make up a word, you may want to research it first. Of course if associating TG individuals with the above mentioned definition works for you, party on.

No thanks 27.May.2003 06:59


Looks foreign to me. It'll never fly.

he or she 27.May.2003 07:10


Being a woman, I prefer the "he/she" pronoun since it reminds others that it is no longer acceptable to simply assume "he" anymore.

They 27.May.2003 07:19


Or you could do away with all of this PC nonsense and realize that everybody that you write about is either a "he" or a "she" and should thus be referred to as such.

Instead of complicating your writing with "he and she", "s/he", or "(s)he", it is much better and completely appropriate (not to mention more elegant) when the gender of the subject is unknown to simply refer to the subject as "they".

grammar 27.May.2003 07:34


"They" is great, but not always grammatically correct. I like the s/he you suggested.

Grammar 27.May.2003 08:03


"They" is great, but not always grammatically correct.

Please explain, when can't "they" be used?

Grammar counts 27.May.2003 08:05

A dude with two English degrees

People use "they" all the time when they mean "he or she," but "they" is always a plural pronoun. It cannot be used to substitute for a singular pronoun in anything approaching proper English.

Oh please! 27.May.2003 08:28


A dude with two English degrees

People use "they" all the time when they mean "he or she," but "they" is always a plural pronoun. It cannot be used to substitute for a singular pronoun in anything approaching proper English.

While it may not agree with the rules of grammar you studied earning your two English degrees, "they" is still the most elegant solution to the problem of gender neutrality. Not only does it avoid the ackwardness (sp?) of "he or she", and not only can it easily be read aloud unlike "s/he", but it also avoids pushing one's attempt at gender neutrality into the forefront, and allows one's writing to be read continuously.

grammar DOES count 27.May.2003 11:50


I SO agree with the english major dude, that I am willing to carry on about this. The power of the word is nothing to be taken lightly. Lazy grammar makes us sound like idiots and it is time to tackle the issue of gender pronouns seriously. Listen to yourselves. (Do you wonder where it's at?) Be precise about your language and your message will make a lot more sense.

"they" might be where it's going 27.May.2003 12:29

another writing degree

it's important to recognize that language is constantly evolving, and that "rules" are always a bit behind the curve of where language is. language changes through usage -- speech and writing -- and what is "correct" changes with it. for example, appalachian english has retained many archaic irregular verb forms that went out of usage in "standard" english and are now considered "incorrect". [ see  http://www.westga.edu/~dnewton/engl2000/app.html -  http://www.geocities.com/igetstuff/reports/ozark.htm ] [ for examples of irregular verb forms (like "snew" for "snowed"!) see  http://www.bartleby.com/185/40.html ]

that is, language is its own communally-created creature, any "rules" are merely an attempt to describes its current state, and these rules are inevitably out-of-date with actual usage. at some point, the rules give up and recognize what's really going on (being said and written) and put their stamp fo approval on what people are already doing.

it's also important to recognize that attempts at steering language often fail. the artificial language esparanto has never caught on. attempts within languages of finding "logical" ways of expressing ideas often fail, too. why? because language is not logical, at least not in the philosphical sense of logic. language is organic, and has its own internal consistency and sense, though, which is in my mind more meaningful than the constructs placed upon it.

so, trying to come up with a gender-neutral pronoun like "ze" or "co" that "makes sense" doesn't make sense. instead, we must see how people are naturally dealing with the problem as they encounter it, and "they" is what's being used. yes, "they" is plural, so it's not "correct" to use it in reference to one person, but more and more, that's what folks are doing: "i was biking down 21st and almost got hit by a car. i didn't see if the driver was a man or a woman but they were going way too fast and not watching where they were going." such examples are becoming more commonplace and less conspicuous. as a writer who was trained in proper english and who has written for a variety of different publications (and now puts most of his stuff on indymedia) i have accepted that "they" is emerging and i now just use it like it's "correct". why not? it works. it really does.

"they" has become acceptable as singular pronoun 27.May.2003 13:20

jest thinkin'

I can't match 2 english degree dude with my MFA in writing, but I'd suggest that the beauty of English is its liquidity, its ability to change to reflect the changing culture. Since "you" is both a singular or plural pronoun depending on use, I personally have no problem with using "they" as either a singular or plural. So what if, in the past, it's been only used for plural. The grammar rules are not there for their own sake, but to help us communicate. I do believe in strong, correct grammar. But the rules alway follow usage, not the other way around, and I'd suggest in this case that the rules should be bent, to avoid the awkwardness of he/she or the unpronounceable s/he, or any of the other inventions ("ze" might sound a little French for the current climate). Use "they" when you aren't certain of the gender, and I doubt that anyone will mistake your meaning.

As far as apostrophe usage goes though, just get that shit right, okay?!

still concerned 27.May.2003 14:16


The beauty of this language is its adaptability, and I have no problem with watching it grow and flourish. Problems do occur in communication, though, when a wanton misuse of "rules" relegates your message to a confusing run on sentence. One only has to read a speech by Martin Luther King to realize that the splendid use of language is very powerful and inspirational.

Ask people first 27.May.2003 18:00


Some transgender people do not want to be outed, so I prefer to not use pronouns or use "ze" or just find out which pronoun a human wants used with every human I meet. Ask first! Ask first!

actually... 27.May.2003 19:28

journalism student

i love how we're all putting our qualifications as our author spot. anyway, "their" can occasionally be singular, depending on what it's referring to. will post examples if people would like.

ze is already used 27.May.2003 19:49


all conversations about correctness or incorrectness aside, and also all discussions about "inventing" a word aside, ze is already in somewhat widespread usage, especially within gender/queer communities. (which i think may have been the point of the origional poster-?).

zeke? 27.May.2003 21:44


"Most non-trans people haven't heard about the pronoun "ze" (mostly b/c trans people are constantly rendered invisible), but I am telling about it now, so you have no excuse."

By this I take it the writer is expecting me to follow their direction. This is a very arrogant and inadequate notion that they (or a group of people) can purposefully place a word into common usage in this manner. Foolish.

Homepage:  http://connectedpdx.blogspot.com/

To Abby 27.May.2003 22:11


"Or you could do away with all of this PC nonsense and realize that everybody that you write about is either a "he" or a "she" and should thus be referred to as such. "

Or you could do a little research about the trans/genderqueer/intersex communities and find out that you're entirely wrong.

"Ze" leaves much to be desired, but assuming that "he" and "she" fits everyone is naive.

18th century usage of "they" for singular 27.May.2003 22:34


I seem to remember reading that "they" was commonly used up until sometime in the late 1700's in England when an act of Parliment made only he and she acceptable.
It's been a long time since I was in college studying such things, but I am wondering if any of the younger generation of scholars -- or anyone who kept all of their text books -- might recall this usage or know how/where to research it?
I have used they as a gender neutral term ever since I first read that information somewhere...
and it does work nicely.

Just a piece of information 27.May.2003 22:44


There is at least one language that I know of that uses gender neutral pronouns; Finnish. Curiously enough, Finland also has both a woman President and woman Prime Minister...

it's time for gender-neutral words 27.May.2003 23:18

pc nyc

I'm all for it.

Language is decidedly male oriented by design. Those opposed to bias should advocate for new, gender-neutral words.

As was previously implied, language is alive. Don't discount the speed at which new words become mainstream.

The volume of internet terms is a good example.

- 28.May.2003 00:02


Mike Newdow, the guy behind the Pledge of Allegiance lawsuit, is a gender-neutral pronouns nut. In a profile in the New York Times he used his 15 minutes of fame to rant about two things: child custody and the need to replace English's gender-biased pronouns with neutral ones.

I'm certainly with him that in an ideal world, English would permit one to gracefully be ambiguous about gender in ordinary speech, as do many other languages (for instance, Chinese). But language planners have been tilting at this particular linguistic windmill at least since 1850 with little success. There have been dozens of attempts to introduce "epicene pronouns" (as they're called) into English, but English hasn't budged.

A bit of review. Standard English has five pronouns for four gender/number combinations:

      Subject                 he      she     it      they
      Object                  him     her     it      them
      Possessive Adjective    his     her     its     their 
      Possessive Pronoun      his     hers    its     theirs
      Reflexive               himself herself itself  themselves
Reformers have often looked at the he and she columns and proposed a new set of singular pronouns for animate objects which would not require the speaker to indicate a gender. The Gender-Neutral Pronoun FAQ lists 145 different forms in over 340 schemes, from "ae" to "zirself". Newdow's preferred scheme of "re/erm/rees" isn't even listed. A few examples:
                              1850      1970    ?       Newdow
      Subject                 hiser     co      sie     re
      Object                  hiser     co      hir     erm
      Possessive Adjective    hiser     cos     hir     rees
      Possessive Pronoun      hisers    cos     hirs    rees
      Reflexive               hiserself coself  hirself reeself

Supposedly the "co/co/cos/cos/coself" scheme had some actual use among alternative co-opters in the 1970's and occasionally some of the other schemes are used in written discussion on the Net. Otherwise, all these would-be language planners have been spinning their wheels.

Let's file this under "who cares" 28.May.2003 07:41


(almost) Every species on earth has two genders - male and female, as we've chosen to call them. You, personally, can call them whatever you want. Yin and yang, quirk and quark, whatever! Anyways, there are two of them. When they want to reproduce and perpetuate the species, they fuck.

Is biology really all that hard to understand? Apparently.

Subordinate, as usual 28.May.2003 11:24


S/he and (s)he. both the same and both objectional! It puts female subordinate to male and I don't like it.

Fuck all transphobic assholes 28.May.2003 12:52

volatile tranny

I'm fucking sick of all the assholes who think there are only two genders. I'm also sick of female-assigned women arguments for gender neutral pronouns only take in their own oppression, promoting gender dichotomy. This is why queer communities remain separate from mainstream activist communities. We refuse to be around people who constantly deny our existence. "Me" said it straight, that "ze" is already in widespread usage, especially among the people who need gender-neutral pronouns the most. The refusal to accept this term by non-trans people further shows how much you deny our existence and simply want to co-opt things for your own needs. Trying to decide what pronoun to use by looking at formal english only perpetuates white non-queer dominance, as the formalities of the english language (just like everything else) are controlled by those people. Grrrr. Why do I even bother to post here? I can't believe I still have hope for some of you.

She 29.May.2003 06:03


I went through a lot of hell for a long time to be recognized as "she." I'll thank you not to devalue my gender by calling me anything else.

Chris...learn about trans people before you speak about them 29.May.2003 15:07


This first comment is mainly for the person identified as Chris. Speaking as a trangender person, I can respectfully say that your ignorance is irritating.

There's the gender you're assigned at birth and then there's the gender someone identifies with as he/she/ze grows up, or maybe it happens later on in life. The sex organs one has at birth just aren't the whole story when it comes to gender.

Over the course of the 20th century, the definition in hospitals on whether a baby was a boy or girl changed 3 times. Now, 1 out of 200 babies are born with sex organs that are not definitively male or female. There's also the fact that there are 7 different combinations of chromosomes. This is just a piece of the biology story to gender.

In addition to biology, there's gender roles. What is considered female or male? Is it how short my hair is, what clothes I wear, whether I shave my legs, etc? Before you know it, the notion of what is male or female breaks down...whether you're talking about gender roles, biology, or a person's internal sense of gender identity.

The bottom line is how a person self identifies. Regardless of what anybody has heard, each person gets to self identify as whatever gender they want. The problem arises when society doesn't accept that gender identity and when people like Chris don't bother to understand the complexity of people.

Why should we care? I'm referring to the "who cares" comment. We ALL should care about gender. It serves as the basis upon which we are judged, accepted, discriminated against, and celebrated. The "good old boys" network rests it's laurels on the traditional male gender identity established somewhere in recent history. Note the word "boys" in this common place phrase. People in power often use someone's gender, whatever it may be, as a way to divide and conquer. People make so any assumptions about a person based on perceived gender alone. It's pervasive and it's why we still have yet to see a woman in the White House. It's why boys are called sissies and girls are called lesbian if they look too butch in the playground.

Words are powerful. I remember for the longest time hating the "Men working" signs around construction areas. I remember thinking as a younger person "I'm sure that there's women working at that site too." Even something as simple and innocent as a sign translates subliminal messages about what men are empowered to do in society, what women are allowed and not allowed to do, and the simplistic idea that there can only be two genders in the world.

Ultimately, the two gendered system has been handed down to us by religious doctrine, not science. If you look at the biological evidence for two genders, it's just not there. The only real deal I've seen with regard to gender is a person's internal sense of who they are, whether that be male, female, gender queer, or another gender not listed here. It's flexible for some, not for others. Acknowledging a person's gender in the way that they want to be acknowledged comes down to recognizing that each person is an individual and every person matters.

As for etiquette, the best thing to do is to use someone's name when referring to them in the 3rd person. Even if using the person's name seems to be clumsy, you will never use the wrong pronoun. Just keep using the person's name in place of him, her, or ze. When you are able to talk privately with the person, just ask what pronoun they would like you to use in the future.

using 'she' is oppressive too 30.May.2003 13:48


first, thanks volitile tranny and AK for bringing up and articulating this issue.

i want to address all the people posting defending the use of 'she'. i am a female assigned, woman identified individual and can relate to the pride a woman can feel when seeing that someone has put in the effort to say she or she/he rather than defalting to the male pronoun. Despite this feeling, i have recently realize the problem with sticking to 'she'. Arguments people have made here for she puts us back in the same problematic gender divisions that i thought we were trying to get rid of. It is an either or option of this box or that one. There is no problem with claiming 'she' as your pronoun, but it can be just as exclusionary as 'he' when applied to everyone.

the initial problem with using 'he' was that it left out a lot of people and let the dominant group do the speaking for everyone. he/she is a step, but there is still exclusion happening. using 'he' made women invisible and using 'he/she' makes transgernder, transsexual, and intersex individuals invisible. If you are calling yourself a feminist but stopping your work when you have been accomidated for, then you're just as revolutionary as the capitalistic second wave of feminism. Let's not stop when members of our community are still being ignored.

Not a big deal 30.May.2003 16:08


Why cant we use the word ze? Give me one good reason you lazy mother fuckers cant change your language just a little bit to accomadate people. Thats an asshole perspective. And if your gender is that big of a deal to you, than correct me when i call you ze. Its really not that hard. I think that most people wouldnt mind being called ze and the few that do we can easily switch back over.

Because we cant automatically understand what a persons gender is by looking at them, if we call all people ze than we make no big mistakes and people can easily correct us if its a problem. But if you assume automatically that a person is a he/she and call them that, 1. you assuming that they are only a she/he 2. Automatically making there life that much harder because they have to correct you. A large ammount of people are in this category more than , i think at least, the people who specifically do feel that they need to idenify as a gender. But we should respect there shit to. Err... Damn. Well im done. Hard fooking problem.

Namespace collision on "ze" 30.May.2003 17:56

Kim Moon, androgyne

"Ze" (alternatively spelled "zie" or even "sie"), is pronounced the same as German "sie", which means "she" - but then again, German is a language in which a turnip is female, the wind is male, and a girl is neuter.

That may sound a little esoteric (after all, German speakers are a minority among anglophones), but when you factor in the sound-similarity between "z" and "sh" (both being sibilants), I think there's pro bably a better choice out there. Let's say we follow the pattern of ending the nominative pronoun in -e; wouldn't it be better to choose an opening consonant that sounds nothing like 'h' or 'sh'? 'N' might be a good choice ('ne'), or 'k', or even 'l'.

Another thing that occurs to me is that it would probably be good, as long as we're constructing pronouns, to construct distinct pronouns for 'an actual person of non-canonical gender' and 'a hypothetical person of unspecified gender'. A long time ago, I encountered "thon" for the latter usage, and liked it. More recently, I've seen 'e' be used a lot for that, but the usage seems to be exclusively online.

One thing that I completely reject, though, is any construct that uses non-pronounced typographical characters. Visually speaking, it's not any kind of a word, let alone a pronoun. The effect is something like that of an abbreviation: the eye moves along the line of text, hits that, and stops dead. If you want acceptance into the language, that can't be.

a whole set of humanist pronouns 23.Jun.2003 12:11

Briar Newborn bandanna@cox.net

In the process of translating, editing, and publishing humanities classics from previous centuries, I ran up against the sexism of English over and over again. Plato, for instance, did not write with women in mind -- but that's the way we read him today, so if that's true, then his sexist bias should be expunged. I did the same with John Milton, Walt Whitman and others. Here's my solution: The principle is to base the pronouns on "human," thus these are humanist pronouns. "Hu" represents he/she (without the split personality. "Hus" serves for hers/his, and "hum" (hoom or hyoom) takes the place of her/him. "Humself" serves for himself/herself, and "human" is used in place of the "universal" word man. The beauty of this system is that the first three are homophones (sound the same as) currently existing indefinite pronouns "who," "whose," and "whom." I do have to admit that it works better in print than in speaking, but it provides a more complete solution than any other substitution I have seen, as well as avoid the false plural (they, them) and the split personality (s/he, he/she, him/her, her/him). My books are in the College Humanities Classics by Bandanna Books ().

question 21.Jul.2003 10:29

laura solidaritywithjustice@juno.com

i do not understand why all the fuss? it is not difficult to incorporate "ze" into standard vocabulary. what people need to understand is that pronouns are equally as defining as a person's name, it reflects a person's identity. that is not something that can be assigned by society, but instead identity discovered through living. it is simply a matter of respect that people should be refered to by something that reflects who they are. however, i do have a question. the pronoun ze fits with the she/he group, but what about the her/him equivalent? would love to know because it is important.

preserving my gender identity 25.Sep.2003 11:44


do you really wanna neuter me? as a member of the transgender community, lemme say that i have worked, fought and struggled long and hard to adopt my gender identity and i will be damned if i will allow any silly shit such as this to be pinned on me. it is an affront to my struggle to call me a "Ze" or a "Co" or any sucha thang and i for one am completely offended by such nonsense as to believe that peoples attitudes can be changed by coercive shifts in linguitic patterns. To me this reflects some gender bias in itself, suggesting aquescience to the heirachy of gender importance. You WILL refer to me as a "She," as my blood, sweat and tears are spilled over every consonant in that pronoun.

Play Nice... 16.Nov.2003 21:28

Will genderfreak@ftml.net

I'm saddened to see the way that we have to fight for the right to be "she" or "ze". But look: nobody has had to defend "he" yet. The system at work, as usual. I believe in the freedom of gender. I believe that it is oppressive to assume that the shape of one's genitals can/should determine things like career, clothing, mate, or pronouns.

We have fought for the right to be "she". And I respect that fight. (I was somewhat anti-feminist, until I realized they won me the right to wear pants.) I am currently struggling to be recognized as "he" --since I was not born with boy-parts. But if I wanted to be something else entirely, as many of my heroes do, if I wanted to be free of the binaristic yin/yang, black/white, either/or, male/female system, then I should be free to do so. If I wanted to be half-way between, or somewhere else entirely, and I'm not making you change your sex/gender, and I'm not exposing myself to children... if I'm not harming anyone, then my rights as an American should be upheld.

I came looking for a set of neutral pronouns. There are many in competition. The set I chose for my magazine was challenged, and so I thought I should have all of my information before changing again. But the degree to which you insult one another is horrid.

There are times where neutrality is better. When talking about a historical figure of questionable gender identity, or "the generic person", or someone you haven't had a chance to ask yet, or the person who wants to avoid the connotations of either gender. (Or, in the case of my publication, just to ingrain a naturalness to the usage of these words).

On the whole, however, the gendered or ungendered words of a person's choosing are best. It's a little thing called respect. But that seems to be in short supply for some of you.

Es ars ein ens 18.Jan.2004 17:36


Just came across this page, since I've recently been thinking of possible options for gender-neutral pronouns. I don't like most of them, especially sie/hir and descendants (like zie/ze/xe). I came up with a pseudo-set of words (pseudo-set because I haven't really figured out which ones I like). However, you can take a look at my ideas here:  http://www.tc.umn.edu/~hick0088/mt/archives/000751.php