The movement to extend transgender rights and awareness continues its push to determine how people speak. Third-person pronoun usage has become a major subject of contention in the last year, with the passage of laws that seek to govern how people refer to one another. The New York City Commission of Human Rights (NYCCHR), for example, declares that “individuals have the right . . . to be addressed with their preferred pronouns and name without being required to show ‘proof’ of gender.”
The range of “preferred pronouns” has expanded widely recently, with the introduction of a new set of pronominal terms, complete with their own declensions. The NYCCHR, in its guidance on municipal anti-discrimination law, explains that “ze and hir are popular gender-free pronouns preferred by some transgender and/or gender non-conforming individuals.” The guidance further explains that “intentional or repeated refusal to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun, or title” is a violation of human rights law, which can lead to significant fines. “Ze” and “hir,” incidentally, are only two examples of the dozens of new pronouns invented in the last few years, including “ae/aer,” “ey/em,” “xe/xem,” “per/per,” yo/yo,” and “ve/ver,” among others.
Transgender advocates insist that nobody is in danger of getting jail time for misidentifying trans-people; rather, the law is meant to raise consciousness about the issue. “Our guidance encourages people to ask transgender and gender non-conforming individuals how they would like to be addressed,” says New York City Human Rights Commissioner Carmelyn Malalis. “The law is meant to address situations in which individuals intentionally and repeatedly target transgender and gender non-conforming people with this type of harassment.” The commission fails to specify, though, how many instances of such misidentification would constitute intentional and repeated harassment.
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