“Xe,” “Xem” and “Xyr”: These are the words that public schools in Vancouver have added as gender-neutral additions to he/she, him/her and his/hers.
Supporters of the change waved pink and blue flags, while the Sun reported opponents labeled the school board as a “dictator” and “liar.”
The addition to the pronoun debate, a more heated topic in the last few school board meetings — that of gender-neutral restrooms in the schools — was passed as well.
“We’re standing up for kids and making our schools safer and more inclusive,” board member Mike Lombardi told the Sun of the policy.
Some though wonder if changes like the gender-neutral pronouns will actually be used in practice.
“It’s hard to tinker with the conservatism of the pronoun system” Dennis Baron, an English and linguistics professor at the University of Illinois, told Canada’s National Post. “It’s one of the slowest language systems in terms of change.”
Baron has written a book on the topic, in which he said that the genderless pronoun is “the world that failed.” If the adoption of a genderless pronoun were to be successful, Baron speculated that it would need to arise naturally.
“Obviously somebody has to come up with them, but it’s not a campaign to get a word adopted. It’s something that just sort of catches on by word of mouth, literally,” he told the newspaper.
Lombardi told the Post, the school policy is merely giving students “some choice in what kind of pronoun they use to describe them” in both the written and spoken word.
“What we’re looking for is to go with students’ preference,” he said.
Vancouver schools are by no means the first to take up the idea of genderless pronouns. Earlier this year, Facebook made available dozens of gender-neutral options as descriptors, and in 2012 Germany began to offer a gender-neutral option for babies.
Front page image via Shutterstock.