Non-binary gender

Neopronouns are a category of neologistic English third-person personal pronouns beyond she, he, they, one, and it. Neopronouns are preferred by some non-binary individuals who feel that they reflect their gender identity more accurately than any conventional pronoun.

Neopronouns may be words created to serve as pronouns such as ‘ze/hir’ or ‘noun-self’ pronouns where existing words are turned into personal pronouns such as fae/faeself.’ Some neopronouns allude to they/them, such as ‘ey/em’, a form of Spivak pronoun.

The singular they, a popular non-binary pronoun today, emerged in the 14th-century poem ‘William and the Werewolf,’ but new pronouns wouldn’t come until much later. The word ‘thon,’ derived from ‘that one,’ was introduced as a gender-neutral pronoun in 1858, added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary in 1934 and removed from it in 1961. ‘Ze’ as a gender-neutral English pronoun dates back to at least 1864. In 1911 an insurance broker named Fred Pond invented the pronoun set ‘he’er,’ ‘his’er’ and ‘him’er,’ which the superintendent of the Chicago public-school system proposed for adoption by the school system in 1912, sparking a national debate in the US, with ‘heer’ being added to the Funk & Wagnalls dictionary in 1913.

The ‘Sacramento Bee’ used the gender-neutral ‘hir’ for 25 years from the 1920s to the 1940s. In 1970, Mary Orovan invented the pronoun ‘co/coself,’ which gained use in a cooperative community in Virginia called the Twin Oaks Community, where it was still in use as of 2011. By the 1990s, people had begun to ask to be referred to by gender-neutral pronouns in large numbers, and in 1996, Kate Bornstein used the pronouns ‘ze/hir’ to refer to a character in their novel ‘Nearly Roadkill.’

Noun-self pronouns trace their origins to the early 2010s on the website Tumblr. The term ‘neopronoun’ emerged in the 2010s. The Oxford English Dictionary added an entry for ‘ze’ in 2018 and entries for ‘hir’ and ‘zir’ in 2019.


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