Justin du Coeur (jducoeur) wrote,
Justin du Coeur

Preferred gender-neutral pronouns?

Okay, here's a curious question: what sets of gender-neutral pronouns do you prefer?

The thing is, I'm writing LARPs in Querki nowadays -- that was the original motivation for the system (a dozen years ago), and while it's now only one use case among many, it's one that matters to me. In preparation for talking it up a bit at Intercon, I'm starting to get a first-draft LARP App ready, so that other folks can use Querki for LARP writing and management.

Gender has become a fairly hot topic in the LARP community: many people prefer to write relatively gender-neutral, not actually assigning genders to many or all of the characters until relatively late in the process. I tried this out myself for A Respectful Calm last year, and it was a fascinating exercise in pushing through my own assumptions: in the end, I would up with five "hard-gendered" characters, and 24 neutral. (That is, five characters were intrinsically gendered by the nature of their stories; the rest were left neutral until after casting.)

In order to do that, I had to create a way to write in a gender-neutral fashion in Querki; I did that by adding functions for the various pronouns. So for example, if you are writing in the context of a Character, you would say [[sie]] to mean "he or she". This works quite nicely in Querki -- a character sheet can refer to, say, B Ari (the CSI investigator) by pronoun as [[B Ari -> sie]], and that will become "he" or "she" depending on the final gender assigned to the character post-casting. Or in the Who You Know section of the character sheet, where any given entry refers to a specific character, you can just use [[sie]] and it'll interpret it appropriately. (I also added some special magic sauce in Querki to match case: if you say [[Sie]], it'll come out as "He" or "She".)

Of course, you can also leave the characters ungendered, and it'll just use the gender-neutral forms directly, but in my experience that's pretty unusual. Or you can completely ignore this whole mechanism and write in the traditional pre-gendered way -- this is more about allowing gender-neutral writing than requiring it.

It was an experiment, but I found that, once you get used to it, it becomes fairly natural. And the exercise changes the way you *think* about the characters, which opens up more design space: I found that there were a lot of characters where my original mental model had been for a particular gender, but in practice they worked fine (if, often, with subtly different culturally-influenced connotations) with the other. Indeed, about a third of them wound up cast opposite to my original expectations, and they worked well. It was quite refreshing.

But the thing is, I pulled the actual pronouns out of my ass. I used "sie" because it's the he/she I've come across most often, but wound up skating out onto thin ice as I figured out the rest of them. I wound up with:
  • Sie -- he / she (subject)

  • Hir -- her / him (direct object)

  • Hirs -- hers / his ("this thing is hers / his" -- I don't even remember which part of speech this is)

  • Hirp -- her / his (possessive -- this one was when I realized I was out of my depth)
The underlying mechanism is flexible, so folks can add their own variants if they like, but I'd prefer that the upcoming LARP App be based on the best consensus I can come up with.

So -- what set of gender-neutral pronouns do you think is best? Any particular reason, or just personal taste? I've found that I needed at least the above four parts of speech in order to write a complete character sheet, so I'm looking for suggestions that include all of them; I'm also quite open to more-complete sets. Also, to be useful, each pronoun must be at least as distinct as their standard gendered variant, since the point is to be able to translate these into their gendered forms automatically.
Tags: larp, querki

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