This is a trend which has existed for a while on social networks and that we observe more and more in France: the inscription of pronouns “she/her” or “he/his”, or even “they/them” in their bios, especially on Twitter. What does it mean?
The LGBTQI+ community is fighting to change society’s view of gender and, in particular, to assert the rights of transgender people. This involves, in particular, making people understand and accept that gender is not a binary notion (female/male) and that it does not always correspond to the sex assigned at birth. Initiated in private communities on Tumblr, the questioning of the discourse on non-binary gender and sexual orientations quickly reached a wider public space.
To help you understand what we’re talking about, here is the “GenderBread person” (pun on “gingerbread”). It helps to understand the differences between biological sex (sexual characteristics assigned at birth), sexual orientation (sexual attraction), gender expression (roughly speaking, appearances) and gender identity (how we define/feel ourselves). Here, it is gender identity that interests us.
The need to be able to define one’s gender – beyond one’s appearance – and to be able to tell others by which personal pronouns one wishes to be called, is therefore expressed, in particular, in the bios (section used to describe oneself in social network profiles).
Thus, we indicate “she/her” if we define ourselves as feminine, “he/his” if masculine. But the use of what are called neo-pronouns (gender pronouns) is much richer and broader than that.
Their so-called inclusive use makes it possible to designate people whose gender we do not know (rather than taking the risk of making a mistake) or a group of people of different gender (if we do not want “the masculine to prevail”). It can also be used by a person who wishes not to label their gender.
The use of gender pronouns also makes it possible to define gender beyond the feminine and the masculine. It is then used to designate non-binary people. We call this “grammatical neutrality”.
To express non-binary gender (or “enby” or “NB”), the English language offers more options thanks to the they/them in the singular. It was also voted word of the year 2019 by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which saw its online use spread massively in one year.
In French, it is more difficult to escape binarity as it is reflected even in our language. So the people involved created neologisms: the “iel” is the one we see most often but we also sometimes find “illes” (a mixture of “ils” and “elles”).
These are not suitable for people who do not find themselves in an “F” / “M” mix and feel completely outside these two genres. Other hybrids then appear, such as “elli”, “yel”, “ael”, or even “ul”, “ele” or “ol”. In English, the “ze”, “xe”, “per” have the same usage.
The differences between all these neo-pronouns are subtle and complex to grasp. The relationship to gender is specific to each individual and the non-binarity spectrum is extremely broad. Thus, a demi-boy (i.e. a person whose gender expression is partially masculine and partially something else) will probably prefer “iel”, while a demi-girl (a person whose gender expression is partially feminine and partially something else) will rather favor “ael” which sounds “softer”, as explained to us by a person who uses it in their Twitter bio.
There are therefore no defined or final rules. The people concerned make their choice of pronouns based on their sound and what they mean to them.
Generation Z: all gender fluid?
Gender fluidity is sometimes seen as a sub-category of non-binarity, sometimes different because whereas non-binarity is neither F nor M, gender fluidity oscillates between the two.
Gender identity then varies depending on the location, the moment, the feeling. To keep things simple, let’s consider gender fluidity to be fluctuating and flexible.
Surveys carried out over the past decade have shown a trend towards increasing fluidity in the gender identities of young people (Millennials and Generation Z).
Young Americans are much more comfortable with their gender than previous generations. More than 12% of millennials identify themselves as gender nonconforming (Harris Poll), and the majority of them believe that gender is a spectrum rather than a binary male / female notion (Fusion Millennial poll).
Gen Z’s views on gender are even sharper: 56% know someone who uses a neutral pronoun (J. Walter Thompson) and 59% think forms should include options other than “male” and “female” (Pew).
In France, the phenomenon is much less widespread: 8 % of millennials identify themselves as “no-gender”, 11 % preferring the term “gender-fluid” (OpinonWay). The “non-binary” concept seems the most adequate: 36 % of the respondents consider it appropriate.
These subtleties concerning gender fluidity have not yet reached all spheres of our society, and arouse a lot of negative reactions, as the journalist Catherine Vincent indicates, in an article devoted to the subject: “Could we have entered a new world where those who wish to emancipate themselves from gender can take the mic and spotlight? The reality is not that simple. Because this development in turn gives rise to a very strong opposition, as the scale of anti-gender campaigns throughout Europe shows”.
From our part, the best advice we can give you, if these subjects are completely foreign to you, is to inform yourself about them, and not to hesitate to ask the people concerned what they wish to be called.
3 GOOD LINKS:
👉🏼 “how to refer to a non-binary person” on wikihow.com
👉🏼 this video “understanding non-binarity” of the Youtuber Riley J. Dennis
👉🏼 this article in Harvard Health Publishing “Gender fluidity: What it means and why support matters”