If you can bring yourself to read the nearly 2,000 words of Ezra Marcus' "A Guide to Neopronouns," you may be tempted to laugh. In reality, though, it's really quite sad. "Are you a person, place or thing? We have good news." Wait, what's the good news?
Were Marcus' piece a work of parody, it would certainly be a clever one. The opening is an unnecessary lesson about pronouns as well as cheesy, and then things go very much downhill, very quickly. "A personal pronoun is a form of speech that stands in for a person or group of people. She is having opinions online; they are fighting in the comments; and, of course, as in the Prince song made famous by Sinead O’Connor, “Nothing Compares 2 U," Marcus begins the piece, with original emphasis.
Marcus goes on to offer examples of these so-called neopronouns, such as "ze" and "zir," which you may have heard of. But that's just the surface:
A neopronoun can also be a so-called “noun-self pronoun,” in which a pre-existing word is drafted into use as a pronoun. Noun-self pronouns can refer to animals — so your pronouns can be “bun/bunself” and “kitten/kittenself.” Others refer to fantasy characters — “vamp/vampself,” “prin/cess/princesself,” “fae/faer/faeself” — or even just common slang, like “Innit/Innits/Innitself.”
Except were human beings, we're not cats or bunnies, or vampires. Even if we are princesses, we don't use that title as a pronoun. Surely people would think it was a joke, that someone wouldn't actually use "kitten/kittenself" as pronouns?
Not so. "Many neopronoun users are dead serious, and are also part of online communities that are quick to react swiftly to offenses. They are deeply versed in the style and mores of contemporary identity politics conversations," Marcus writes. In other words, they will come quickly after anyone who dares question or disagree. Marcus includes a case in point:
A popular Twitch streamer who goes by AndiVMG recently apologized after jokingly tweeting that her pronouns were “bad/af,” which led many neopronoun users to accuse her of transphobic invalidation of their identities.
AndiVMG did not respond to a request for comment for this article but wrote on Twitter: “It wasn’t meant to mock people who use neopronouns. However I have since educated myself on the matter and spoken to people who use neopronouns and I see why what I said was hurtful.”
i just wanna public my account to say this: i’m new to neopronouns, i’ve learnt my lessons, i’ve already apologised and have already learnt my mistakes. the incident happened 12 hours ago but yet my screenshot of my previous tweets that i have deleted still resurfaced. pic.twitter.com/bRpm4SxvGf— bee ?? (@M4RKACE) April 3, 2021
regarding being homophobic and transphobic, i’m neither of those. i stand by the community but please forgive me if i slip up, please educate me, and not send death threats.— bee ?? (@M4RKACE) April 3, 2021
if you’ve looked and scrolled, i’ve already apologised profusely and also given an explanation to why i’ve slipped up on misgendering. i’m still learning but getting death threats ain’t fun yknow. this isn’t the first tweet that i’m seeing telling me to go unalive myself lol.— bee ?? (@M4RKACE) April 3, 2021
"Horror at noun-self pronoun usage is so common that it has spurred a meme in the neopronoun community. In it, people compare neopronouns to all kinds of things we take for granted," Marcus also writes.
“neopronouns are weird and confusing”— 291 catgirls struggling to make it (@ManjiButt) February 2, 2021
*Taps mic* fantasy football is where grown adults play "video game death battle" with their favorite football players for an entire season based on each player's performance that season like it's some shounen anime, AND THEY BET MONEY ON IT.
Except that a pronoun and fantasy football are very much not the same thing.
While you are allowed to refer to yourself as "kitten/kittenself," incorporating "BLM" is a bridge too far. For instance:
But there actually are some limits. Neopronoun users have shut down the notion of using terms related to Black Lives Matter, like “BLM,” as neopronouns, arguing that it is inappropriate for people to use these terms in this way. Others have claimed that using “fae” as a neopronoun is culturally appropriative from pagan communities (this claim, as they say, is disputed).
What's perhaps saddest of all is the "What do neopronoun users say about all this?" section. Marcus notes that "We wanted people to tell us in their own words about why and how they used neopronouns. Because they are very young, we agreed to let them use only their first names."
Oh boy. How young are we talking here? Thirteen, 15, and 17. And the kids do not sound all right:
“Being neurodivergent, I tend to perceive how a word makes me feel rather than just seeing the word,” the noun-self user Gum, 13, wrote in a direct message on Twitter. “I chose my bink/bonk pronouns because they remind me of clowns. Clowns and harlequin dolls make me very happy.”
“Being neurodivergent, you are more likely to have a complicated relationship with your gender identity and expression, and pronouns are just one part of gender expression,” Elijah, 17, wrote.
“When I first encountered them I actually didn’t agree with them,” wrote one 15-year-old neopronoun user. “Eventually I met a lot of people online who used them and decided to educate myself further and realized that they were perfectly valid and just another way of expressing your gender to others. I chose the ones I use as I feel a connection to them, EG vamp/vamp pronouns — I feel a connection to vampires and that in a way feels connected to my gender.”
You can like and have an interest in clowns. That's just fine if they "make [you] very happy." You can "feel a connection to vampires," too. But that does not mean you consider yourself one.
Fortunately, Marcus did quote someone with more sense. Thankfully it's a member of the LGBT community, as it's completely unfair and unacceptable to just put an entire community in a box:
And not everyone in the wider queer community supports noun-self pronouns.
“As a trans man, I think neopronouns are getting way out of hand,” Asa Pegler, 17, said in a TikTok from November.
In an interview, Mr. Pegler specified that his beef is not with gender-neutral neopronouns. He felt like elevating objects and animals to human pronoun levels was dismissive.
“I couldn’t stomach why anyone would want to identify as an object?” Mr. Pegler wrote in an Instagram direct message.
“They dehumanize us as trans people,” he added. “We are people! Not objects or animals. So that’s why I stated that they are out of hand, because they make us look like a bit of a joke.”
This has gotten picked up by more than just Marcus and The New York Times, though. Marcus wrote of the University of Tennessee, which had a guide to neoprouns before taking it down. The University of North Florida, however, which is a public university, has a guide to pronouns, including neopronouns, courtesy of their LGBTQ center.
Marcus acknowledges how relatively unheard of this concept is, but he does so with a bit of a forewarning. "How prevalent are neopronouns," one heading reads. "Not very--yet," he responds.