Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Strange Stars A-to-Z: "X" is for Xe-Xem-Xir

http://www.nydela.sakura.ne.jp/delany/babel.htm

Gender neutral pronouns such as xe, xem, and xir are used by some cultures in the Strange Stars setting. They're introduced on the Terminology page (p. 29) of Trey Causey's Strange Stars Game Setting Book. You'll find ones spelled similarly if you scroll down this post from the Gender Neutral Pronoun Blog.

I've never GMed a game in a setting where gender neutral pronouns (other than "they") were in regular use at the table, although in one Diaspora campaign a player introduced and used them from time to time.

Maybe I should use them in a game (1)... and maybe also reward proper usage (2). But I would never do this as a casual change in a game or campaign, or with stranger-players about whom I know nothing, or as a joke (3).

Here's my best guess at the proper usage for gender neutral pronouns in the Strange Stars setting, with setting-appropriate context:
  • Nominative/subject: "Xe was the first Hyehoon I saw with wings." 
  • Objective/object: "I beat xem within an inch of xir life" said the Hwuru thug.
  • Possessive determiner: "Xir spiracles sursurrate like shivers" said one Boma to another about a third.  
  • Possessive pronoun: "The pretty torture-slave is xirs" the Vokun said, pointing xir lips at the Algosian procurer.
Note:

(1) I would never use this with a open game table at a mainstream gaming convention. I've had players sit down to games and before they know anyone at the table make gay jokes or use language that I'd consider demeaning to women, LGBTQ folks, etc. I might use this with a group of players that I know well, ones who think linguistic experimentation is fun, and/or understand the value of gender neutral pronouns in the real world, and/or have an interest in exploring the implications of lingustic change in SFnal social systems. I might use gender neutral pronouns in an open game at Gaylaxicon 2016 or maybe at a WisCon.

(2) Possibly with a reward mechanism for proper usage. Maybe with Fate points, or maybe just as a Boost for proper usage in-character. I am not sure how this would affect the overall economy of the game, since Fate is so language-based. I wouldn't want it to be very gameable, just a reward for immersion.

(3) Pronouns are a life-and-death matter for some people, and may be seen as less important/non-negotiable/or a joke by others whose privilege (or ontological status or social position, if you prefer) allows them to play out their gender as if it were a natural category. Which it isn't. By extended metaphor and as Gang of Four taught us more than three decades ago, "Natural's Not In It" (see the video below). For some cisgender folks, gender-neutral pronouns may may be a way to emphasize or explore the alterity of a situation or setting. For some people who are trans, it may be a way to create safety at the game table. This is really one of those things that needs to be talked through carefully at the table.



The image at the top of the post is possibly the best cover ever for 
Samuel R. Delany's Babel-17.

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