S/he and Other Inadequate Solutions: Solving Gender Neutrality

Resource list for a panel at WisCon 2014.

(This list is a work in progress; hope to finish it soon. If you have concerns or corrections, contact Jed.)

Panel description

We still don't have a gender-neutral pronoun in English. How do we work around that in writing and conversation? More broadly, how do we effect change in our language? Can we? Which comes first, change to language or change to culture, or do they travel together? Let's talk about the theory and seek practical solutions.


Books that use various approaches to pronouns

This is by no means a complete list; just a sampler.

Iain M. Banks, Culture series
AI robots (“drones”) in these books and stories are (I think) neuter, and use the pronoun “it” in English (but that's a translation from the fictional language Marain, in which pronouns don't indicate gender).
Kate Bornstein, Nearly Roadkill
Mentioned by someone on the panel.
Samuel R. Delany, Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand
Characters use he for people they're sexually attracted to; she for everyone else.
Greg Egan, Diaspora (1988)
Uses ve, vim, vis.
Rachel Gold, Just Girls (forthcoming)
Gwyneth Jones, Life
Mentioned by someone.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (2013)
Uses she as gender-neutral.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, “Winter's King,” “Coming of Age in Karhide”
In the first two, she attempted to use “he” in a gender-neutral way. In an essay called “Is Gender Necessary?”, Le Guin defended herself against criticism of the male pronouns in Left Hand of Darkness; in a 1988 followup, “Is Gender Necessary? Redux,” she added annotations calling her earlier ideas into question. For example, in the original piece, she wrote: “The pronouns wouldn't matter at all if I had been cleverer at showing the ‘female’ component of the Gethenian characters in action.” In one of the later annotations, she added: “If I had realized how the pronouns I used shaped, directed, controlled my own thinking, I might have been ‘cleverer.’”
Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time
Uses per, pers.
Joanna Russ, “When It Changed”
Doesn't reveal the protagonist's gender for a while.
Theodore Sturgeon, Venus Plus X
Attempted to use he in a gender-neutral way.
Deb Taber, Necessary Ill
Uses it for neuter characters.
Marion Zimmer Bradley, “The Secret of the Blue Star,” from Thieves' World
Carefully avoids mentioning the protagonist's gender throughout the story, except that in recent reprints, a gendered pronoun was added that gives away the surprise twist ending a few paragraphs into the story.