Language helps break gender boundaries

Madeleine Winer

Kent State student Kieran Raines is not a he or a she. Instead, Raines refers to herself as “ze.”

Raines, who wishes her birth name to be anonymous, describes herself as “genderless.”

“I just don’t feel like I am a boy or a girl,” Raines said. “I would love to be at that point where someone asks me, ‘Are you a boy or a girl?’ I want to be able to confuse people with my appearance.”

Raines came out as gender neutral last summer. When the senior English major asked friends what it was like to feel more male or female, they described personality traits typically associated with gender.

“It’s like, how do you feel gender?” Raines said. “I have no idea how you know if you are a woman or a man. What does it feel like to be one of those?”

Gender Neutral Pronouns

Subject- she, he: ze, xe

Object- them: zim, xym

Possessive adjective- their, his, her: zir, xyr

Possessive pronoun- theirs: zirs, xyrs

Gender neutrality is a subcategory of the transgender community, said Roxie Patton, program coordinator for the LGBTQ Center. She said those who identify as gender neutral and use gender-neutral pronouns acknowledge the fact that gender is more complex than just man or woman.

“I would say within the trans community it’s very common,” Patton said. “A lot of our trans community don’t identify as a binary gender, so they don’t identify as man or woman. They identify as somewhere in the middle.”

Patton said gender-neutral individuals don’t like to be called “he” or “she” so they use different pronouns. The gender-neutral pronouns Raines prefers are “ze,” “zir,” and “zim.”

Raines described that ze is like he and she, and zir is replaces her and his. Zim is the gender-neutral equivalent to him or her.

“It’s like ‘ze went to the store to buy zirself a new handbag,’” Raines said as an example.

Raines said it’s often difficult for some — such as colleagues at work — to get acclimated with these pronouns. They need to realize it is a complete language change, such as saying, “Hello, how are you?” instead of addressing people as “ma’am” or “sir.”

“Instead of trying to guess someone’s gender, just don’t gender them verbally,” Raines said. “In your mind, you can’t help it, we gender people automatically. But if you see someone who is ambiguous, instead of trying to guess, just go neutral.”

Freshman psychology major Wolfgang Davidson identifies as gender neutral and pushed for gender-neutral housing upon coming to Kent State. Davidson’s mother embraced a gender-neutral household.

“I played with Barbies and Legos,” Davidson said. “I wasn’t encouraged to be either masculine or feminine. I was able to form my own identity and encouraged to do so.”

Davidson has faced misidentification as a lesbian or a gay man, especially when going out to gay bars. Davidson identifies sexually as a gay man, but in every other aspect, life is gender neutral.

“What matters is me knowing who I am,” Davidson said. “Other people are going to form their own opinions. Other people are going to make judgments about me and going to label me, but it’s whatever.”

Davidson said sex among gender-neutral individuals is similar with how gay people have sex.

“When gender-neutral people have sex, you have to be upfront with it and very much pay attention to the other person because you don’t want to touch a part of their body they’re self-conscious about,” Davidson said. “You just go slowly. Be careful and see what the person is comfortable with.”

Sophomore English major Kelsey Kersting identifies as “Alex” because he is gender fluid.

“You don’t stick to one,” said Kersting, describing what it means to be “gender fluid.” “You flow between masculine and feminine. I am neutral most of the time. Sometimes I’m masculine and very rarely I’m feminine.”

Kersting uses either masculine pronouns or gender-neutral pronouns, like xe, xyr and xym. When people call Kersting a “she,” they refuse to accept that he might identify as something else than his physical body.

“I can wake up one morning and feel like the most girly person on earth, but go home at night and feel like a guy,” Kersting said. “It’s not something that is easily explained. It’s like, how do you know you’re a guy and how do you know you’re a girl? How do you know that you’re not?”

Contact Madeleine Winer at [email protected].