I had an interesting discussion the other night that I’d just like to mention briefly here. I spend quite a bit of my time talking with friends in an environment (a MUCK) which encourages both speech and action. Rather than the anonymous room of an IRC channel, rooms are actual locations that you can wander through, and you can interact with objects and others. I say “can”, but in reality, if you get any group of people together online in one location, odds are is they’ll form a bar, tavern, or meeting hall type location and mostly just shoot the shit in there.

Even so, with the MUCK being what it is, people will occasionally ‘pose’ actions, such as “Soandso waves to suchandsuch,” or “Whatshisbucket scratches his head.” The topic of discussion came up because I, in order to more closely match how I feel offline, and following the example of a few others, made my player genderless (I set the gender to ‘N/A’, one of the others uses ‘neuter’, and the other is a robot). What got us talking was pronouns.

“Do people prefer it/it/its or e/em/eir for pronouns?” I asked the predominantly male crowd.

The almost unanimous answer was ‘it/it/its’, rather than Spivak pronouns. One participant volunteered this explanation, paraphrased, “I have some friends that use Spivak pronouns, but they identify more as ‘none’ than specifically ‘neuter’.”

The person who was set as neuter countered with, “I am specifically neuter!” When I pressed for the difference between ‘none’ and ‘neuter’, it responded with “‘Neuter’ is a gender, whereas ‘none’ is more of an answer to a question.”

I’ve been thinking about that ever since, it was so succinctly put.

The benefit of having a avatar of yourself online is that you can pull off stuff such as being ‘neuter’ – and from what I’ve seen, most identify as full-on-neuter, without primary sexual characteristics, and no need to worry about bathroomly behaviors. You get to claim the pronoun ‘it’ for yourself.

Offline, of course, ‘it’ as a pronoun for a person has the potential to be incredibly insulting, and I should note that, unless given explicit permission, never call someone an ‘it’. In real life, we have to deal with biological sex combined with a null gender identity, and here is where Spivak pronouns, Singular They, or any other system can come in handy. In that case, you’re not making any presumptions of gender, accepting the person as a ‘none’ without all but calling them a neuter to their face.

When pressed on twitter, I said that it depends, for myself. I freely accept the awkwardness of gender-neutral pronouns in the spoken word, so I’m totally okay with masculine pronouns when spoken, but online, it really depends. If someone is talking about something I did at work, say, masculine pronouns are fine there, as well. In general, Spivak or Singular They is fine, or ‘it’ depending on where I am online, because I feel that matches me more closely, but really, it’s totally up to whomever is talking to me. I have no qualms, and would be just as comfortable (now, at least) being referred to with feminine pronouns, or any number of the alternatives that have cropped up for intersex and hermaphroditic persons or avatars.

Matthew. It who writes too much. Just a thought!