Becoming legally androgynous

 Images Stories Glbsgd Norrie2  Wp-Content Uploads 2010 03 Norrie-May
Norrie May-Welby, 48, of Australia, is reportedly the first person to have "sex not specified" on hir Recognised Details Certificate, equivalent to a birth certificate. More than wenty years ago, May-Welby became "first chemically then physically castrated," but then decided to become completely androgynous. You can read May-Welby's fascinating story on hir blog, "I who may well be...":
For many people, one of the benefits of growing old is becoming more comfortable with yourself and not suffering so much from a relentless comparison with some usually gendered standard of beauty or strength or whatever.

For me, that has meant accepting myself as I am, and rejecting the idea of fitting other people's gender stereotypes, or even the idea that I have to identify as a man or as a woman.

Those concepts, man or woman, just don't fit me, they are not my actual reality, and, if applied to me, they are fiction. At 48 years of age, I'm less inclined to just humour other people's delusions about gender and try and conform to one of their expected options.

If I need to show identity documents, I certainly don't want details that are false, for this will only cause trouble when officials realise I don't match my documents.

"My journey to getting a 'sex not specified' legal document"


  1. This is awesome. I love it. Three cheers for respecting people’s right to define themselves.

    I wonder if having an identity card where one of the fields is optional is silly. Since it’s only one field, and one person it’s fine… this isn’t the thin edge of a wedge is it?

  2. Side note: Australia must have less stringent requirements for ID photos than the UK. Not facing camera, wearing hat, non-uniform background, oh my! :O

    1. Australia, yes, but did you notice that Norrie May-Welby is “of Australa” as per David’s commentary?

      Red squiggly lines under words typically mean that they’re not spelled correctly! ;)

    2. @ Felix Mitchell and @ adonai – It has to be a mock up. My brothers first application was recently rejected cause his mouth was slightly open and you could see the edge of his teeth. The rules are specific on front on, no smile, no head ware and the correct lighting.

      Also, the date of birth should be an actual date, not just a year.

      Just in case people are thinking we Aussies are lax on our Passport security.

  3. That’s not a valid machine readable passport code. Where it says “CITIZEN” it should be the holder’s surname.

    Moreover, it is part of the specification for machine readable passports that sex can be unspecified – in which case the sex character on the 21st character of the second line should be “<": as the spec has existed for many years, I doubt that this is the first time it has been used anywhere in the world.

  4. Good for him for pursuing the sexual and gender identity of his choice (or nature). I don’t begrudge her for an instant the right to petition the state to recognize that identity–provided she understands that she’s not a committee of one, and that the ideas and concerns of other entities will have to be taken into consideration, since this amounts to a fairly significant policy change on a reasonably important state instrument. (And I don’t have any reason to believe he doesn’t understand that.)

    But the hell with cutesy-poo pronoun compromises like “hir!”

    1. “But the hell with cutesy-poo pronoun compromises like “hir!””

      Non-gendered pronouns without pejorative connotations are sorely lacking in the English language. Using interchanged he and she in reference to a bi-gendered person is not only completely disregarding hir identity, but is also grammatically incorrect and confusing. Why would a pronoun with only one gender assigned to it even apply to someone who is not that gender?

      If our language is a system of differences with no positive terms, as early studies of your namesake would infer, “she” means “not he” and vice versa. This presence of a singular gender by the absence of another is clearly not the case for hir.

      Any other time we have come across a situation that required expression through language where words did not exist before, we have created them — either through the formulation of new words, or by the amalgamation of existing ones. Gender-neutral pronouns follow in this same pattern.

      Language evolves. It’s arbitrary. Let it grow. We define our world with our language. It shapes how we view others and ourselves. A little more inclusion and a little less segregation of differently-gendered bodies would be nice.

      (NB: “bi-gendered” is my assignment of a term to hir based upon my reading of hir posting; only ze can verify the true accuracy of this assumption and I apologize profusely if I am incorrect.)

      1. What’s wrong with “they”? It’s been used for a person of unspecified gender since the 17th century.

        1. The word, They, used correctly is plural. The words, He, She, It, used correctly, are singular.

          So although I think the entire aregument to be rather beside the point, a new pronoun that looks and sounds different than either He, She, It, etc., is probably called for.

          1. John Greg, there is no English equivalent of L'Académie française, with the authority to define what is officially “correct” language. “Correctness” in English is a compromise between common usage and a variety of recommendations by various formal bodies who often disagree with each other.

            One such formal body publishes the Chicago Manual of Style, which actually endorsed the singular “they” in their 14th edition, but with their 15th have retreated back to a neutral position on the matter.

      2. I agree, but I’m pretty sure pronouns tend to be closed class words where its hard to get new words to stick and perform their function. They tend to sound off to people when placed in that syntactic placeholder. Notice that hir is phonemically indistinguishable from her.

        1. I comepletely agree that hir is a terrible pronoun as far as phonetics go. If a neutral-gender pronoun ever does become part of English, I don’t think it will be this one. Hir has just been the most commonly used neutral-gender pronoun used in Internet-speak in my experience.

          I have no idea how one would even go about introducing a new pronoun into a language, whether written or spoken. Seems daunting.

      3. You’re exactly right–language evolves, just like species–and just as with species, not by fiat and not in some teleological way towards someone’s idea of what’s best, but rather towards what functions most efficiently. Evolution, whether of animals or ideas, is inherently amoral. Language isn’t about what’s nice; it’s about what’s useful, conceptually and socially.

        From that evolutionary standpoint, language is never “deficient;” it always has the words and rules it needs. It “would be nice” if adorable polar bear cubs didn’t have to kill adorable seal pups to survive, but they do. English has always had the “deficiency” of not being able to refer in a gender-non-specific way to hypothetical third persons, a “problem” that has been irritating writers for centuries. It also has the “deficiency” of not having any gender-specific plural pronouns. Most of the Romance languages have the “deficiency” of having sex-specific versions of nouns for people, but using the masculine plural for mixed-sex groups. And so forth. Maybe some day these “deficiencies” will become so problematic that they’ll get “fixed,” one way or another. Maybe at that moment, the otherwise maladaptive set of pronouns “xe/xem/xyr” will flourish because they fit the selfish needs of English-speakers as a whole. But it won’t happen just because everyone decided it was “fairer” or “nicer,” any more than species go voluntarily extinct because predation isn’t fair or nice to prey.

        This doesn’t mean that intersex, transgendered, and “legally androgynous” folk won’t influence the language in some way. For example, by the fact of their declared, out-in-public existence, which permits neologisms like “intersex” and “transgendered” to have some purpose, and therefore some traction.

      4. We are certainly in need of a non-gender binary third term. I would go along Ze, Zis, Zim, or Zer… but I think we are missing an opportunity to use the sorely neglected Q (with U inferred or present depending on preference). Qe, Qis, Qim, Qer.

        Personally I’d like to see sex defined as Male, Female, Non-Binary or Male, Female, Alt

        Or we could do away with it all together.

        Regardless, the world is a-changing and we’re going to have to come up with a genderless pronoun that isn’t “it” or “they”.

        1. I met Norrie a couple of years ago at a conference. If memory serves, Norrie’s preferred “zie,” if anything. Also, it’s just “Norrie” – no surname.

  5. “equivalent to a birth certificate” how?

    Birth certificates are issued at birth, not 20+ years after the fact.

    The question I have is in regards to gender as determined by chromosomes and not choice. Do geneticists have a category for this yet?

    Other than that, you go, giroy (boirl?)!!

    1. Birth certificates are issued at birth, not 20+ years after the fact.

      Not necessarily. When I adopted my stepdaughter at age six, the state of Florida issued her a new birth certificate with my name replacing the biological father’s. It’s like they rewrote history.

  6. It does make sense not to have it included. While sex is a physical characteristic (XX vs. XY) and thus is objectively one or the other for almost everyone, it is not a characteristic that can be determined by cursory visual exam, which would be the point of having it on an ID.

    However, in my experience those things don’t really matter. I have a very clearly male friend whose passport says he’s female. (His girlfriend was filling out the paperwork for him, and checked “F” out of habit.) All the other details are correct. He’s traveled outside the country several times since then, and nobody has ever so much as raised an eyebrow.

    1. While I agree with you, I can clearly see a legal issue arising from such a situation. If your friend where to be incarcerated and the governments only means of identification was the state issued ID your friend could be put in a female prison. Likewise, if the person noted in the article was born female but had procedures to alter their appearance to become masculine and was placed in a male prison and something happened the legal ramifications would be obvious. While although many may desire a gray area; the law is often settled in black and white terms.

  7. The point of a gender designation is so folks know which part of the lockup to send you to if you step out of line. Right? This will cause much unnecessary hardship for some poor screw in the future.

  8. “While sex is a physical characteristic (XX vs. XY) and thus is objectively one or the other for almost everyone”

    But not always, children can be XXY (Klinefelter syndrome), XYY, or even single X (Turner syndrome). There are are also XX males for that matter (de la Chapelle syndrome).

  9. So, what is the pronoun that should be used to indicate the ‘Not specified’ gender? I disagree with ‘hir’ too, but more because it’s only distinctive in print, not phonetically.

  10. Gray area. I have great respect for people of alternate sexualities and genders, and I think it takes a lot of courage and dedicated to undergo gender reassignment. That said, it’s only cosmetic surgery.

    I think we should leave these “intersexed” designations to people who were actually born somewhere in between. That tattooed reptile guy isn’t allowed to enter his race as “iguana,” after all.

    Makes me wonder what the point of having a sex listed at all.

  11. Is there much wrong with using ‘their’ and ‘them’? These pronouns are already gender neutral and in most contexts fit fairly naturally into language.

    “Norrie May-Welby, 48, of Australia, is reportedly the first person to have “sex not specified” on their Recognised Details Certificate” makes perfect sense.

  12. Huh…
    Seems like he has another blog:

    “I can’t take it for granted. If I hadn’t made the fateful choice to change sex, what are the odds I’d be getting thoroughly plowed by a gorgeous huge black hunky Maori rugby player who is so infatuated he says ” I love you” and chemically means it? I mean, sure, some middle aged queens may be able to pull this off, but not as easily as this sort of thing happens for me as a transsexual street sex worker.”

    And yes… I said “He” As He says he’s a eunuch.
    A eunuch is a male.

    1. Even in the blog David posted, Norrie says he was born male, but was chemically/ physically castrated and then had gender reassignment surgery. There appears to be some time transition between chemical castration and gender reassignment, but from what I can tell Norrie wasn’t attached socially or mentally to either male or female as a gender. If I read the article correctly Norrie should still be a female physically, having female genitalia but lacking the accompanying female hormones, but remain a male genetically. She and her seem to describe her sexuality just fine (physically speaking).

      My only guess for seeking gender anonymity is her trying to get social acceptance for her choices, which is admirable (everyone should be accepted for who they are), but in they end she is forcing her opinions and beliefs on other people (the same thing that was happening to her).

      Papers with little “M”s or “F”s or “?”s on them do not define who you are. The world at large needs to accept people in the transgendered community as normal people, just like them, and the transgendered community needs to accept the world at large as being just as different and unique as they are. You are an unique snowflake, just like everyone else you see every day of your lives.

      That being said, do we need to have sexuality on identifying documents? Not really, but for that matter why include things like height, weight, heir color, eye color or race? We need to have a basis of character traits for identification purposes, other wise the whole idea of having identification is useless.

      1. Um, you said:

        The world at large needs to accept people in the transgendered community as normal people, just like them, and the transgendered community needs to accept the world at large as being just as different and unique as they are.

        So, yoj know, which is it? Normal and the same, or different and unique?

        Are we all snowflakes, or bobblehead dolls?

        1. “normal people, just like them”

          nor·mal (nôrml)
          1. Conforming with, adhering to, or constituting a norm, standard, pattern, level, or type; typical: normal room temperature; one’s normal weight; normal diplomatic relations.
          2. Biology Functioning or occurring in a natural way; lacking observable abnormalities or deficiencies.

          a. Relating to or characterized by average intelligence or development.
          b. Free from mental illness; sane.

          1. Something normal; the standard: scored close to the normal.
          2. The usual or expected state, form, amount, or degree.
          a. Correspondence to a norm.
          b. An average.

          We just have to accept that they’re people, just like us. But they’re not ‘normal’, or ‘normal’ has little meaning. We should protect and embrace the weak and different and diverse, not because they are ‘normal’ like us, but because they aren’t.

        2. As with all things, unique on the micro level (dna, finger prints, blood vessels); the same on the macro level (limbs, pores, organs). You could say we are in a state of quantum flux, both the bobbleheads and snowflakes at the exact same instant.

      2. “do we need to have sexuality on identifying documents? Not really, but for that matter why include things like height, weight, heir color, eye color or race? We need to have a basis of character traits for identification purposes.”

        That’ll work really good when searching for a missing person. “Well Detective Johnson, Bill is gregarious and generous to a fault. Does the corpse you found in the drainage ditch match that description?”

  13. Here’s another vote for they/them/their. Nondiscrimination need not come at the price of incomprehensibility.

    1. Except “they”, “them”, and “their” often imply more than one person.

      “Where is Alex?” “They are in the bathroom.” That’s really not clear either.

  14. Here’s what I wonder:

    “If the passport states male, again there is a dissonance with my physical form, castration having had a feminising effect, and I am usually moving and talking in a feminine manner.”

    Statements like this make me think it is more our conceptions of gender than anything about it specifically which makes people like this think they don’t belong in either one. It’s like when people say “Obama doesn’t act black enough.” What does that even mean? It only means something if you have a picture in your head of what it means to be black. Likewise May faces a world where people have a mental image of what it means to be male or female. I’m just saddened that this person went through painful surgeries to try to feel okay being androgynous. That shouldn’t be necessary. Ideally, this world wouldn’t be so hung up on gender identity that genitalia makes that big of a difference. Christ, he surgically altered himself because of society’s perceptions of gender.

  15. I think people with alternative sexuality/gender play an important societal role in forcing us to confront and think deeply about/clarify our assumptions about identity and gender.

    That said, I’ve had a hard time parsing statements like “…for me, that has meant accepting myself as I am.” Being an embodied person (that is, conceiving myself as part body, and not some discarnate “me” who happens to have been assigned a body), I consider my body part of me, so “accepting me” and undergoing extensive (and usually technological) body modification seem somewhat at odds. In other words, it’s one area I get to think deeply about concerning identify.

  16. I think that if you’re going to put “SEX” as a category on any type of ID, that the answer should be “Yes Please”

    Just kidding. Really though, “SEX” is outdated, because technically, it is the XX-XY and variables of thus that make up the physiological Sex of someone. People don’t always identify as their genetic make up, and really, how many people have their genetic Sex determined at birth. Usually, isn’t it just a “Hey, theres a penis and gonads, it’s a boy!” or “Hey, no nuts, must be a girl!”, with no real DNA testing, just an assumption.

    Gender is fluid, it’s a combination of social, environmental, and many other contributing factors. What our IDs should have is “GENDER”, and that should be determined by a number of factors, including both physical and psychological.

    I think the main thing, is that the pressure of having to be “Male” or “Female” and to see that defining mark on every piece of ID when an individual does not identify with the SEX that appears can be really rough, and even some times detrimental to ones health.

    As a bi-gendered person, I prefer to go by “They” because I find “Ze” to be a little awkward. Most people don’t know what that is really. Sometimes it’s just education, but it’s hard to educate when I personally find it hard to say. My friends call me “Girl-Boy” and my family varies with the pronouns they use.

    I also find “Not Specified” gender to be a little strange. Maybe it’s just the language, but I would prefer something like “Gender Androgynous” “Neutral” or even “Non Specific”. “Not Specified” is a little bit like, “what do you mean you can’t specify?”

    I do think that Norrie is very lucky to have such a forward thinking government to be able to pass hir gender requests and re issue a corresponding ID, pretty freakin cool. I do think the language still needs some work, but yea, that’ll evolve in time :) Glad to see it in my lifetime though

  17. I’ve met people on the GLBTQ spectrum who preferred to not be referred to by any third person pronoun at all. This avoids all the “he/she”, “ze”, etc., so when you want to talk about Norrie, you talk about Norrie, and never refer to Norrie by any word other than Norrie. This solution has its own annoyances, but it’s another option.

  18. It’s ridiculous to “define” one’s self by putting curious marks on one’s identification. A person’s actions and attitudes define one’s self- a checkbox on a form doesn’t define them. All this would do is guarantee that each and every time that ID gets used, (birth)he will have to go through a long explanation of personal stuff that no one really wants to know about. Inevitably, (birth)he will get tired of it and start getting annoyed of the constant “harassment” (birth)he is getting. But it will be (birth)his own darn fault. I sure hope (birth)he enjoys constantly stopping to have to explain (birth)his personal peculiarities to uniformed officers. (Birth)he’s going to be doing a lot of that.

  19. I don’t really care one way or another if someone wants to legally define themselves as undefined gender (there’s plenty of medically valid reasons for that), but if you don’t provide any hits about which pronoun and accompanying gender stereotypes you prefer, you are just being difficult.

  20. As has already been pointed out, “they” is plural. The correct gender-neutral pronoun should actually be “it”, but as that would be needlessly offensive, I’m all for adding new pronouns to the language.

    “Hir” is admittedly a bit odd (and also close enough to both “he” and “here” to be easily confused in spoken conversation) but it’s the best suggestion I’ve seen so far. Anyone got any other ideas?

  21. I am all for people living their lives however they want, and disregarding all the somewhat arbirtary rules that society holds up. However, I have trouble intellectually understanding people who blur their genders physically. I guess the way I see it, people are too hung up on a correlation between gender identity and biology. I tend to think that the majority of what is considered gender identity is abritary, not inherent, and society-defined. So when someone says ‘I am a woman trapped in a mans body’ I cant help but think, no biologically you are a man but your gender identity is free to be whatever you want it to be, just because you are not traditionally ‘masculine’ doesnt mean your body is wrong. I cant help seeing this as them having more feminine qualities in their personality, and being confused by the thought that their personality and gender should be strongly linked. I guess I almost see it as something like body dismorphia. And to be clear, I still think these people should have the option to deal with it however they want, Im not judging them or saying they are wrong, just expressing my own inability to make sense of these types of people.

  22. I find this quite interesting from a slightly different point of view. I am quite interested in society ditching gender based honorifics (Mr, Mrs, Miss, etc).

    I am male and straight so perhaps this is a bit unusual when classically it seems to have been women trying to pursue this kind of thing (choosing the honorific Ms above Mrs or Miss).

    But I think we can take things further and drop the terms completely. Why can my bank, for example, demand to know whether I am male, female, married, unmarried, etc when I open an account? They do not need to know my racial background, my medical history, details of my education, my social circle or countless other personal details.

    We have come a long way in terms of equality, though we still have some way to go. But I think that putting such a focus on gender as a part of identification affects everyone. It affects the way we think, though perhaps we don’t realise it because it is so pervasive. It seems so insignificant. But imagine if we had to start including some other kind of information in our names. If, for example, homosexuals would have to use “Br” and “Brs” or if atheists had to put an “A” after their name and catholics use a “C” etc. It would seem ridiculous, but that’s just what gendered honorifics are!

    Oh well.

    However one interesting point raised above was that putting gender on your id can help authorities to decide which end of the prison to send you to ;) But still I don’t see why my credit card or library card or phone bill or anything else should need to indicate my sexual or marital status.

    1. Perhaps marital status is not useful in a library card. But it serves some clear purpuses when you apply for insurance, driver licence, state ID, bank loans, social security and credit cards. It goes to status of credibility and eligibility for certain perks. Please keep in mind that all nation-States are being goverened by already-existing Laws PLUS cultural/canonic precepts -and changing the Laws to that extend as to eliminate certain norms of protection or prejudice on the basis of already-settled institutions (like marriage and family and parenthood or being a “single/young male” for car insurance )- would require a very deep revolution going even to chages in some State Constitutions!!!

      So until that kind of revolution happens, there are legal reasons why things like marital status, age and even race (and for some contries even the religious afiliation) is relevant to those societies. Indulging-let aside following – the perspectives of a small group who thinks differently than the canonic/prevailing norms is not neccessarily “progresive” or beneficial for all societies in any circumstances…. Please mind that I am not advocating the canonical norms against the “other” perspectives, I am just drawing attention that the norms exist and chaging them is not good for everybody, it falls on many contradictions, and in some cases would even require profound changes in many Nations’ Constitutions. So consider these issues when you wonder why a so-and-so status or afiliation might be relevant in public documents.

      As for not specifying gender on things like credit cards, library cards, bank accounts and so on, let me tell you a little story: Take a name like Sigorta Kamata – and consider it in English-speaking continents. Can you tell if it is a he or a she? Incidentally it could be either in my geographical space.

      many people in my place, husband and wife, have names that in English you cannot figure which one is the family name and which is the given name. Thus, if they(or one of them!!) wanted to, outside our country they could freely use each other’s credit cards and any other cards that do not require pics on them, as no functionary can tell if the card belongs to a he or a she. Signature nonwithstanding, of course.
      Same goes for dealing with any kind of accounts by phone. However, should they specify a gender on the cards, it at least prevents imediate family abuse of the account. Mind you, I am only saying that this could be possible- not that all (or most) people customary do it or that we condone with it. I am saying that gender specification is one more barrier in the way to prevent this rather frequent issue of using spouse’s or parents’ creditcard. Besides, gender specification on a creditcard- and recording it as such at purchases- is used by companies for market research and business development. I guess non-specific sex would not help any of this, since business does not yet have established models of consumption for non-specific sex people…:)

      So, we seem to have several levels of discussing this issue: the philosophical/human-rights princiles, the societal cultural norms and organization level, the legal aspect of it… To collapse these as if there would be one seve to sort it all out , seems to me rather iresponsible at this point in our social history…

      Also, there is a real question of whether non-canonical (“other”) perspectives really are always that “progressive” as they claim… And WHO does a certain “vision”of progress serve? Have you ever considered that actually eliminating the gender/marital/other “personal” specifications from (some) official documents and Laws, might NOT serve a whole lot of people in most societies-but instead it would bring great diservices to quite a lot of people (including some of those who push for “sex not-specific” articulations) ? :)

  23. I find the argument that your Gender is “stereotyping” a bit odd. Society stereotypes on gender, but that is not the same.

    I know a few people who are “confused” about their Gender, and I don’t mean this in the way that they are a man but feel like a woman or vice versa, but rather that they don’t like the idea that someone look at them as a man or a woman because they don’t like the associated connotations.

    I admit it puzzles me a bit to try and understand what the big deal is with a Gender, there are two, male and female with some “oddities” thrown in from time to time to keep it interesting, but why my Gender (alone) would define me goes beyond my apprehension. Yeah I am a guy and there are certain stereotypes that go with this that I don’t subscribe to, but that does not make me want to be “genderless”, I can differenciate between my Gender and a Stereotype.

    IMO growing up does not mean to “accept ones Gender” and what goes with it, but rather understanding that stereotypes are crutches that most people use to slot people into places.

    If we had a large population of androgynous people I bet we quickly would get associated stereotypes for it too.

  24. As you say, “they” doesn’t sound natural as a singular pronoun in some contexts. But it sounds fine in plenty of others:

    “I trod on someone’s foot in the bus today, and you wouldn’t believe how they swore!”

    My personal guess is that “they”/”their”/etc. will gradually come to sound right as singular in more and more contexts, as people have more cause to choose a gender-neutral pronoun. This seems much more typical of how language evolves than a few of us managing to introduce a new set of pronouns out of thin air. The slight “cost” is the loss of distinction between singular and plural; many European languages have a similar problem in that the plural and formal singular forms of “you” are the same (eg “vous”, “usted”, …)

    [By the way, for anyone claiming that “they” is only correct in the plural, please read up a little further! The singular usage is traditionally called the “epicene they” and has been around for centuries.]

  25. @ Felix Mitchell – I believe that’s a mockup. They’re actually very strict about how a photo needs to be for an Australian passport.

  26. Well, as a castrated male there are times when required yet again to specify “M” or “F” that really wish it were valid to specify “N” for Neuter / Neutral / Neither / None / or whatever other Null indicator one wishes to use. I’d even settle for a simple “O” for Other.

    It does seem somehow “untrue” to be constantly forced to select “M” as a designator.

    (I signed up at one site, BME I believe, where I recall being both amazed and pleased that their choices were M, O, and F, with “O” meaning “Other.”)

  27. I believe that “they” will win the neutral-pronoun wars in the English language. It’s already very prevalent in a particular global subculture of queers in the 20-35 age-group. When I began to encounter it a few years ago it tripped on my tongue for sure, but you get past that really, really fast. To the point where among most of my social networks it is usual to refer to EVERYONE using singular they until/unless a preferred gender ID has been indicated. It makes life nice, not making assumptions about pronouns based on dress sense, body hair or other arbitrary presentation factors.

  28. They will win. Other languages mix up their plurals, formal and informal terms. Some languages have different words for ‘you’ depending on whether it is singular or plural, but we just have one word. I’m sure we can cope with using one default ‘third person’ word that works for anyone.

    I have to say that for someone who claims to not be defined by their name/sex/gender/title/etc. Norrie seems to spend a lot of time trying to define those things.

    There is no official way of defining male and female, since you’ll always run into difficulties with chromosomal, genetic and developmental oddities. e.g. There are probably quite a few ‘women’ with XY chromosomes and undiagnosed hormonal insensitivities.

  29. “‘hir’ is phonemically indistinguishable from ‘her'”

    In the usage with which I am familiar ‘hir’ is phonemically indistinguishable from ‘here”.

    Go Norrie! I hope this is the start of a trend.

  30. “Generic he” has the greatest history, but also the greatest possibility for confusion, so I can understand why people might want to avoid it. Equally, in this case, “(s)he” or “he/she” simply don’t apply in this case. The only thing worse would be the “generic she” that has sprung up mostly in US writing, relatively recently.

    But “they” has been used as the “generic they” or “singular they” for centuries: at least he 1300s. We don’t have any problem with “you” being ambiguous as both plural/singular, so there’s no reason “they” shouldn’t either.

    It’s fallen into disrepute amongst prescriptionists of late, but hasn’t, other than in their minds and books, managed to magically become “incorrect”.

    If it’s good enough for the OED (in body text as well as under they/their/them), the KJV Bible, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw, Nelson, Thackeray, George Eliot, Walt Whitman, Elizabeth Bowen, Lawrence Durrell, Doris Lessing, C. S. Lewis, Oscar Wilde, Johnathan Swift… then it is good enough for me.

    These people were not illiterates: their writings are used to define the language in dictionaries. They FORMED our language.

    It also has the support of significant portions of the feminist movement, along with the anon bi-gendered person at #29, glittertrash and their “global subculture of queers”, Camp Freddie, and also seems to be the prevailing term used on most places like blog comments, IRC, etc where gender is just unknown and irrelevant.

    But hir does have history (Caxton, credited inventor of the printing press, used it, albeit as a nominative form of “they”), and Ze has the advantage of being audibly unambiguous. But both are completely ambiguous in meaning to someone who isn’t schooled in their meaning, so they currently tend to raise more eyebrows than not.

    As a descriptionist, I’m interested to see how it pans out. I’m not expecting any complete resolution in the next couple decades, though I can see the anonymity of the internet making “they” become a de facto standard pretty fast.

  31. Unfortunately, NSW government officials have taken away Norrie’s right to non gender specificity.

    It bugs me in a big way because it shows how arbitrary this stuff is. You can adequately convince all the people who monitor this stuff, but then some conservative public servant goes “Oh no” and it’s all over. Even though the technical systems are in place to allow it.

Comments are closed.