Friday, March 24, 2006

Pronoun game

[My idle curiosity about lesbianism led me to think about...]
"Playing the pronoun game" is the act of concealing sexual orientation in conversation by not using a gender-specific pronoun for a partner or a lover, which would reveal the sexual orientation of the person speaking. Most often, LGBT people employ the pronoun game when conversing with people to whom they have not "come out". In some situations, where a LGBT person revealing their sexual orientation would have adverse consequences (such as the loss of their job), playing the pronoun game is seen to be a necessary act of concealment.

The pronoun game involves deception without lying, by letting the listener assume a sexual orientation that they would regard as inoffensive. It also involves not drawing the listener's attention to the fact that the sex of a pronoun's antecedent is not being specified. As such, playing the pronoun game involves:

  • re-phrasing sentences such that they avoid the need for third-person singular sex-specific pronouns (e.g. "It was decided that we would eat out." rather than "She decided that we would eat out."), often using circumlocution;
  • using gender-neutral language such as "firefighter" rather than "fireman", phrases such as "my other half" or "my significant other", or the person's name where it isn't sex or gender-specific; and
  • using gender-neutral pronouns that have long since entered common usage, such as singular they, without employing unusual, and thus attention-calling, gender-neutral pronouns such as xe or sie and hir.

Often, people playing the pronoun game regard it as stressful. Often, the blatant concealment of pronoun-gender makes the sexual orientation of the player just as obvious as it would have been, had the game never been played.


1 comment:

gail williams said...

interesting description.

Never heard of those examples of gender-neutral pronouns, but i remembered the use of "co" and "per" from college in the '70s.

Poked around and found this staggering list of proposed solutions to the English pronoun problem: