Inclusive Pronouns

I read the Murderbot stories by Martha Wells. They’re narrated in the first person by a Security Unit (SecUnit). Spouse read Murderbot.

I “heard” the voice of SecUnit as female. Spouse “heard” it as male.

I read John Scalzi’s Lock In, narrated by Chris. Spouse read Lock In.

I heard Chris’s voice as female. Spouse heard it as male.

I read Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun, which has a character who uses a gender-nonbinary pronoun, xe.  Spouse read Black Sun.

I assumed xe was female. Spouse assumed xe was male.

We found this out when we started talking about Black Sun and Spouse referred to the assassin/bodyguard character as “he.” When I referred to xe as “her,” he was confused.

This right here is the best demonstration I can think of for inclusive pronouns, and representation generally, in fiction. Anyone reading the work can identify with the characters. Half the population, either way, isn’t excluded automatically. We hear voices that sound like our own. We visualize people who look like us, in the way, for instance, I never could with one of my favorite reads from my childhood/teenage years, Lord of the Rings. I loved the fellowship. I admired Frodo. I worshipped Strider and Gandalf. And I knew for every minute that I was not included in this story. I was a shadow. Until Eowyn showed up, I had to invent a “shadow character” for myself, traipsing along invisibly behind the heroes I desperately wanted to be. And while Eowyn was cool and everything, she only gets a subplot.

Of course Lord of the Rings wasn’t about pronouns. It was about a larger worldview in which only males counted. This pronoun thing is part of that.

If you ever believed that “he” was a generic pronoun and “inclusive,” or that nouns like “Mankind” included women, go back and read the first six paragraphs of this post. Those words never included women, and we all knew it.

More and more, I’m coming around to the idea of gender-undifferentiated narrator, or a gender-neutral pronoun. It includes everyone. No one is a precarious exception anymore.

(And believe me, I do notice that even though all three of these writers took deliberate effort to make the gender of the MCs a non-issue, Spouse and I each defaulted to our conventional two-gender model. As I said, new habits…)

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