Ryland Richards ’13 writes on the use of a pronoun, “ze,” in an editorial “Students Desire Clarity on Direction of Alcohol Policy,” which appeared in the Feb. 6, 2013 issue of The Student.
A letter appeared in The Student a couple of weeks ago denouncing the use of “ze” as gender-neutral pronoun. “Ze” is not an ideal pronoun to use in reference to all genders, but I say that because of its meaning, not its grammatical unfamiliarity. We all know that people who identify as male generally go by “he,” and people who identify as female go by “she.” Each of these pronouns refers to a specific gender identity. “Ze” works in the same way; many people who do not identify as either male or female — for example, genderqueer, genderfluid, or agender people — choose it as their preferred pronoun.
Although “ze” is sometimes classified as an inclusive pronoun, it is much more frequently associated with people whose identities lie outside the gender binary. If you need an inclusive pronoun, singular “they” is the best option. “They” has no gender connotations, which, in fact, is why some people who have non-binary gender identities use singular “they” to refer to themselves. Grammatical qualms have no place here; if the options are experiencing syntactic discomfort with the singular “they” or having one’s identity denied and invalidated by a refusal to acknowledge one’s gender pronoun, I’m sure you can figure out which is the greater hardship to bear.