Xe, xem, xyr are the new preferred pronouns for transgendered students in the Vancouver school system. Although the National Post is skeptical that this attempt to add a nongendered pronoun to English is doomed — based largely on the fact that every other attempt has failed abominably — the VSB's manager of social responsibility and diversity reminds us that not so long ago, no one said "firefighter" while today, "fireman" fairly clangs on the ear.
The Vancouver School Board has decided that students may ask teachers and staff to address them by the pronoun of their choice, to accommodate transgender students for whom "he" and "she" do not fit.
Offered as possible replacements by the board: The newly coined pronouns xe, xem, xyr, which are pronounced to rhyme with the genderless plurals, they, them, and their, only starting with the "z" sound.
"It does require one to be quite mindful," said Lisa Pedrini, VSB's manager of social responsibility and diversity, although it would only apply to a "very tiny tiny minority" of students.
The policy, passed amid some controversy late Monday, is the latest in a 150-year-old linguistic tradition, born of frustration at a grammatical quirk of the English language — that pronouns must agree in gender with the noun they represent, even if that gender is not known.
Vancouver School Board's genderless pronouns — xe, xem, xyr — not likely to stick, if history is any indication [Joseph Brean/National Post]
(Image: All-Gender Restroom Sign, Samir Luther, CC-BY)