Earlier this month, it was widely reported that Sweden would add the gender-neutral pronoun ‘hen’ to its official dictionary. While many reports don’t make direct references to the transgender community, this is a clear victory for trans visibility on a global scale.
Officially, the pronoun is being introduced for use when a person’s gender is either unknown or irrelevant. It’s also intended to describe ‘inter-gender’ people. According to The Washington Post, the word has only begun to gain awareness in the last 5 years. The move to include ‘hen’ in the country’s dictionary is an indication of the rapid progress taking place in Sweden.
But what about the US?
"We have a long way to go when it comes to trans rights and recognition."
Last year, the gender-neutral pronoun ‘ze’ surfaced as a possible alternative to ‘he’ and ‘she’. It was billed as a proper way to recognize a trans person. But ‘ze’ felt more like a colloquial term. Like a passing fad. The attempt at properly recognizing the trans community was honorable, but it didn’t feel particularly well-thought and viable in the long term. Just as no one will be saying ‘It’s lit!’ 20 years from now, ‘ze’ will also be a thing of the past. If it even succeeds in penetrating the public consciousness.
Despite the failure of ‘ze’ to catch on with the general public, there are some signs of progress. Retailing juggernaut Target sent shockwaves through the world of commerce when it announced that “gender-based signage” would be phased out. Not a huge move by any means (considering only the sign colors and language-not the toys-would be moving), but still large scale recognition of the trans community.
"Introducing an official US gender-netural pronoun would be the ultimate sign of progress."
However, in America, we have a long way to go when it comes to trans rights and recognition. Take for instance the recent passing of North Carolina’s controversial (and discriminatory) bill in which people would be restricted to using public restrooms in accordance with their “biological sex”. For every step forward, there’s always one gigantic step, like this, backward.
As a society, there are millions of people who still struggle to acknowledge and accept transgender people. Introducing an official US gender-netural pronoun would be the ultimate sign of progress. But in a country where politicians are stooping as low as restricting bathroom use, real change for the trans community seems light years away.
It is possible that, one day, we could land on a widely accepted pronoun. But the US has never been a noted first mover when it comes to equality. In a country that’s been grappling with racism and human rights for decades, progress for trans people (even in something as simple as a pronoun) seems far off.