In the U.K., the Oxford University administration has encouraged students to use the pronoun “ze” instead of “he” or “she” in order to avoid misgendering transgender students.
“Ze” is a gender-neutral pronoun that is typically used to refer to someone whose gender does not fall on a spectrum; this includes genderqueer, bigender and agender students. The conjugation of ze is ze/zir/zir/zirs/zirself. The examples provided by the organization GenderNeutralPronouns are as follows:
- Ze laughed / I called zir / zir eyes gleam / that object is zirs / ze likes zirself.
Other gender-neutral pronouns include Xe/xem/xyr/xyrs/xemself, and lesser-used variatons such as ne, ve and spivak. Some genderqueer people prefer to use the pronoun “they.”
The university is encouraging students to use “ze” in social settings, and is also encouraging professors to use “ze” when referring to students and historical figures in lectures and seminars.
Purposefully calling a transgender person by the incorrect pronoun is now considered a punishable offense on campus.
Cambridge University has instated a similar gender-neutral pronoun policy. All event speakers who come to Cambridge introduce themselves using gender-neutral pronouns in order to “make the [student] union intersectional,” Cambridge’s welfare officer told a local newspaper.
According to human rights activist Peter Tatchell, “This issue isn’t about being politically correct. It’s about respecting people’s right to define themselves as neither male nor female.”
This new policy raises some questions – does mandating the use of “ze” negate the identities of transgender students who want to be seen on a male-female binary? Does mandating gender-neutral pronouns diminish the work of female activists who have been working hard to have their female identities validated by the male populations on campus?
The policy is not legally binding; administrators maintain that they cannot police whether students use these pronouns in private social settings. But they hope that it will make Oxford a more inclusive environment for people of all genders.