Advice on pronoun use for non-human characters?


#1

I’m not sure where exactly to post this, being new to the forums and all; correct me if I’ve posted in the wrong place.

My WIP involves you playing a non-human character, tentatively classified as “demons” for now, though the mythology is significantly different from any existing religion.

In the beginning, you have no set gender (and neither do any of your fellow demons) nor any sexual orientation. This is because demons don’t reproduce sexually (and I don’t want to change this because of a spoilery origin story that’s pretty important to the game).

However, this makes things iffy when I want to refer to other demons by something other than name/form. “He” and “She” make no sense in the context of the story, “it” conveys a sense of distance and dissimilarity which feels odd because you are a demon in the beginning. I thought Choice of Robots use of “rhe” and “rhim” etc was really creative but I’m not sure if making up new pronouns would be awkward in the prose style…?

There’s also “xe” and “xir” but oh god I really dislike this pronoun set because it just sounds so ick when I read it internally. Do you guys mind it as much as I do or is it just me? Should I use “xe” anyway?

Anyway, any advice appreciated!


Writing Non-binary MCs - Noble Nouns & Other Questions
A World, Once Lost (WIP)
#2

Why no love for the singular they? Why is there never any love for the singular they?


#3

As @Reaperoa points out, “they” is a good gender neutral pronoun, as is “their”. Both are widely recognized and accepted in place of more gender specific pronouns. Another that you might think about is “one”, as in “one is often prone to mistakes”, though it’s usage can be trickier in practice without it sounding odd.

Really, though, you might at least consider trying your hand at just inventing something. After all, every variation of gender neutral pronouns that exists stem from the fact that there are in fact genders. Your “demons” however, don’t have this issue, since from what you say they never had genders to begin with. I can’t even begin to fathom how this might effect language. You might give this list of gender neutral languages a gander.


#4

@Kaiorven True, but if ya have “demons” who identify as ‘avin’ no gender make sure you have human characters who identify as neither.
Otherwise you’re getting into this “only robots and aliens and things are third gender”, which serves to really demean non-binary people and is the reason the transphobic “it” joke is used to refer to me even by my own parents. (Historically, third genders ‘ave existed too, if you’re going for a more fantasy-esque thin’. No excuse.)

Even if you dislike certain pronoun sets, I hope ya still use them when someone asks you.

Just make up your own pronouns if you don’t 'ave a good idea. If your “Demons” have a culture, it would probably make sense.

@fantom It’s called “singular they” by the way. Thanks for posting a wiki page. If anyone needs more specific resourced hmu!


#5

I’m been musing over this for my current little thing I’m poking at, so thanks for raising the topic.

I’ve genderless monsters (of which the protagonist is one). ‘It’ is dehumanising, which is why I might actually use it. I’m still undecided though. I was musing on race specific pronouns but I tend to find those difficult to keep track of.

I like they for demons. Demons don’t really strike me as a ‘one’. Or even one of those pronoun sets with the xs or the zs they seem apt for demons. I do find them hard to keep track of though, but if you’re dealing with creatures as alien as demons are it feels apt to me.

I’d say make up pronouns, if your demons are alien and strange, the new pronouns will add to that.


#6

“They” is usually a good pronoun if you’re referring to someone who could be either gender/agender. I honestly would not recommend going the way of Choice of Robots with it’s own pronouns when perfectly applicable and acceptable pronouns are usable. (Then again I found it kind of dissapointing that in Choice of Robots you couldn’t make your robot agender beings.)


#7

@FutureFriend
"when perfectly applicable and acceptable pronouns are usable" I really can’t handle cis people anymore… /tears out hair/

“it’s own pronouns” Rhim? Based off existing pronouns like hir. In-use. Applicable to how someone feels about their gender, genders, or lack of gender. Just like “they” or “he” or “she”. I’ve found some female or male people who prefer “they” despite identifying as binary. Some agender people I’ve met prefer “him” or “vir”.

Stop being transmisogynist. Words are just sounds anyway, language is evolving every second.


#8

Choice of Robots pronouns are made up though, aren’t they? As opposed to any of those provided on the list here say http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-specific_and_gender-neutral_pronouns

I think this isn’t so relevant in a game where almost all of the characters are demons. However, it’s definitely a valid point otherwise.

Choice of Robots and their robot pronouns, but binary for humans. Heroes Rise and the zehir, and negating your own gender choice. If I wasn’t supposed to be working I’d write a little more.


#9

Singular they is always a good choice! Of course, this can get confusing if you have multiple non-binary characters in the same string of dialogue or narrative and the like.
Perhaps there could be multiple gender-neutral pronouns? They all end up factoring into the singular they pronoun, as that’s probably the default one, but each one could have a specific connotation for its usage, or something of the like? If that makes any sense.
Oh, and if there’s characters that use he/she pronouns, (humans, etc) a few demons could adopt those too! Some demons might be uncomfortable with the default genderless pronouns - just as some humans (well, a lot) are uncomfortable with our default binary pronouns.

I hope this helps, and that I didn’t muck anything up! If I did, please correct me.


#10

Thanks for the resources and advice! :smile:

@Bagelthief
If someone asked me to use “xe” or “xir” in conversation I would, but that doesn’t change the fact that the words themselves look really ugly and I’d definitely prefer using something different in a game of my own creation. The English language needs to come up with nicer sounding gender-neutral pronouns. ._.

@Reaperoa
@Hexmage
@FairyGodfeather
@fantom

My main qualm against the singular “they” is the awkwardness in tagging dialogue.

i.e. “Hey,” he said.
vs “Hey,” they said.

In this case using “they” to refer to a singular character makes it sound really odd.

@FutureFriend
Right now I’m leaning towards making my own pronouns. But at the same time I do want it to be an immersive reading experience so I’d like to know if there’s anything in particular that makes you opposed to them. Is it the awkwardness of integration? The unfamiliarity?


#11

Oh I probably worded it wrong (Sorry, English is a second language), I’m not intrinsically opposed towards pronouns like that, I was simply more stating that I think if you want to run the whole gambit of gender (including pronouns like that), you should probably also include Agender and Bigender as an option. Sorry, for any confusion.


#12

@Kaiorven You automatically use singular they in English anyway (for example, when unsure of a person’s gender). It’s grammatically correct.
“I’m going over to meet my friend Sam. We’re going to play tennis.”
“Oh, are they good at it?”
“Yeah, she’s pretty good.”

I’ve had male friends that use they and female friends that use vir so I don’t think one should associate “different, odd-sounding” (or what you guys might call them) pronouns immediately with agender or bigender people as FutureFriend would.
Having the options in anyway would be nice, though they don’t need to be tied to a particular gender or group.

I wouldn’t like to think of adding more gender options as a “gambit”, personally, either. It’s a kind thing to do in this stubborn world and provides representation, which is always a good thing.