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Toliudar
2010-09-01, 11:49 AM
Seeking advice.

The scenario:
The PC's (humans, elves, aasimar, from a culture in which most other races are unknown) are being taken in by a group of kobolds (keeping the mechanics, completely redoing the fluff). I'm interested in exploring a race in which gender plays almost no role in what you do within the tribe, and there are no outwards sexual markers - at least, none that the PC's will pick up on.

I initially tried to refer to individual members of the tribe as "it" or "the little lizard-person" or suchlike, but it got awkward (and "it" makes an individual seem like an object or generic "monster"), and "he" has begun creeping into my posts when talking about individuals. I haven't even really decided what sex most individuals of this race are. So what was intended to be an exploration of a genderless society is now coming across as a male-dominated society.

Have others tried this? What language do you use to describe gender-neutral individuals? As a player, would you even care about this spoon?

Greenish
2010-09-01, 12:14 PM
I haven't even really decided what sex most individuals of this race are.I hear 50/50 division is pretty popular. :smallcool:

But, onwards to solutions! Learn, and teach to all of your players, a language that doesn't use gender-specific pronouns: wikipedia has a list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun) from which to pick your favourite one.

Khatoblepas
2010-09-01, 12:19 PM
Usually, the gender neutral pronoun is "they" or "he". They is disputed, but has been used for a long time.

I'd use "they" to describe them. Especially in a tribal setting where the many is more important than the individual, "they" describing one or more of their fellows should be of use.

Oracle_Hunter
2010-09-01, 12:20 PM
I haven't, but whenever there is call for non-gendered pronouns, I use Spivak Pronouns (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spivak_pronoun) :smallbiggrin:

DabblerWizard
2010-09-01, 12:53 PM
Toliudar - I think what you are talking about is an interesting topic on many levels.

I've picked up on two important points in your OP.

You talk about (1) members of a species with no (obvious) physical distinctions between sexes, and (2) the problem of how to refer to individual members in a gender neutral way.

Here are my short answers to these two points:

(1) You could have separate male and female members, individual members with both male and female sex parts at once, members with only one sex at all... there are a couple other variations as well.

(2) The English language has no official pronoun that refers to individual members in a gender neutral way, that also don't make them seem like objects ("it") or the same as a number ("one").

Solution: You could constantly refer to members in the plural pronoun ("they"), or you could say "this person" or "that member", etc.

Here's a longer answer to (1):


Your creatures could distribute their sexual structures in one of several ways.

1. Like many plants, members have complete sets of "male" and "female" sex parts on their body (though in your case, they are well hidden).

2. Like humans and many animals, members have either "male" or "female" structures, but not both. (this is the "standard" way things go, but I recognize that even in humans this doesn't always work out exactly)

3. Like a single species of lizard, your creatures might be "mono-morphic". This means that there is only one "sex", and there is no mixing of sexual material between members.

4. There are some kinds of fish that have more than 2 sexes within the species... Refer to my reference below if you want more info on this.


In the spoiler below I distinguish between biological sex and gender, in case you are interested.


In humans, many plants, and most animal species, there is something called sexual dimorphism. This means that there is a "male" member of the species and a separate "female" member of the species, and these two members need to share genetic material to be able to produce offspring.

Scientifically speaking, to count as a member of the female sex (or male sex), the creature has to have two things: (1) the ability to produce the correct sex cells (gametes) and (2) has to possess the right sex organ structures (genitalia and internal "tubing") that produce those sex cells.

Any other "criteria" you can imagine to distinguish between "male" and "female" members technically refers to gender, and is thus a socially constructed idea. Some examples: "masculinity", "toughness", "listening skills".


If you are interested in a more scientific study of gender / biological sex, I recommend the following book that provides a nice, new perspective on the matter: Joan Roughgarden's book "Evolution's Rainbow" which can be easily found on Amazon

Skorj
2010-09-01, 01:07 PM
I'd just use "he" (being more of a grammar purist), but remind the players that they don't actually know his sex on any occasion that it actually mattered. Since it's very rare (in my games) that it would matter, there's no need to use some awkward pronoun construction.

Or, of course, the PCs could just ask.

Greenish
2010-09-01, 01:08 PM
Scientifically speaking, to count as a member of the female sex (or male sex), the creature has to have two things: (1) the ability to produce the correct sex cells (gametes) and (2) has to possess the right sex organ structures (genitalia and internal "tubing") that produce those sex cells.The first criterion (to be able to produce gametes) already requires the possession of the right structures to produce gametes, so I don't see why the second criterion needs stating. :smallconfused:

Skorj
2010-09-01, 01:36 PM
The first criterion (to be able to produce gametes) already requires the possession of the right structures to produce gametes, so I don't see why the second criterion needs stating. :smallconfused:

Really, once you stop talking about mammals, the whole notion of "gender" gets silly pretty fast, and D&D has plenty of critters that might be NPCs (or PCs) that aren't even animals.

I stick with "he" for anything where sex (or gender) doesn't apply, because I want to reserve "it" for creatures with little or no intelligence: a warforged is a "he", but a simple automaton is an "it". That disctinction is (in my games) far more improtant to interaction with the party than gender.

Greenish
2010-09-01, 01:44 PM
Really, once you stop talking about mammals, the whole notion of "gender" gets silly pretty fastWell, "sex" has a simple biological definition*, even if it doesn't apply to monogender species. Having more than two sexes involved in reproduction is very rare (but then, if we go by the numbers of species, so is the whole "sexual reproduction" thing).

*The one with larger gamete is female.

[Edit]: And many/most/all (depending on the sourcebook) warforged do have gender.

Mark Hall
2010-09-01, 01:51 PM
Unless it becomes an issue, I simply wouldn't make it an issue. You'll say he, but if you notice yourself doing it too much, throw in shes, sometimes about the same person. Alternatively, give them all proper names, and use those.

Tetrasodium
2010-09-01, 02:17 PM
Localize their version of common. Randomly use things like red eyes, bright frill, sharp tooth, thick scale, quick tail, etc in place of he/she type pronouns when they are talking. Have them use their own versions that apply somewhat to the PC's like gold hair, smooth skin, pink skin, flesh stump (dwarf are kinda tree-stumpy:), etc if they aren't of the scaled variety.

valadil
2010-09-01, 02:39 PM
Well. How does your genderless society feel about a genderful world? Do they go with the flow? Or do they object to it? If they want to make a statement about gender, I could see your kobolds coming up with their own gender neutral pronoun. Something which means it, but only when referring to a person. This word might be useful for referring to both males and females or it might only refer to gender neutral people.

As a player I would find this fascinating, but I'm a part time linguistics nerd.

Toliudar
2010-09-01, 03:02 PM
Thanks, everyone! This helps tremendously. I'd never heard of the Spivak pronouns, and it might be awkward to introduce them now - but I'm definitely going to hold them in reserve for the next time this comes along.

As for what the little lizard-folk feel about societies where gender matters more - good question! In the group of heroes, three of the five are female, and there's no obvious division of roles between genders. Most of the lizards have no first-hand experience with gendered cultures, and those that do have that exposure haven't been interacted with yet. I'll have to give that more thought. Thanks!

Ravens_cry
2010-09-01, 03:07 PM
I find, and it generally flows better for me then introducing a new set of pronouns, is to use 'them', 'their' and such when dealing with the ambiguously gendered. After all, these Kobolds are not genderless, the gender is just unidentifiable to the mammals in the party. And yes, 'it' is just plain demeaning. 'Them' and 'their' is technically not proper English, but technically there ain't be any such thing.

Dilb
2010-09-01, 04:34 PM
Use "they" as singular. "You" already exists, so there's no reason why English can't have another number-ambiguous pronoun. "They" is already used, and perfectly well understood. Anyone who says it's wrong is clinging to an outdated view of prescriptive grammar, rather than the accepted descriptive view.

Invented pronouns like "Xe" generally sound terrible, and are confusing as no one uses them.

Greenish
2010-09-01, 04:46 PM
Use "they" as singular. "You" already exists, so there's no reason why English can't have another number-ambiguous pronoun.And in languages, you can always use some more ambiguity! ("You" as both a singular and a plural is plenty silly, much like gender-specific pronouns. :smalltongue:)

"They" is already used, and perfectly well understood.By some. I can't recall ever hearing it used, and unless you're familiar with the "singular they" it can be even more confusing than just a word you don't understand.

Temotei
2010-09-01, 04:49 PM
Yeah, that's right (http://xkcd.com/145/). :smallamused:

Ravens_cry
2010-09-01, 05:09 PM
By some. I can't recall ever hearing it used, and unless you're familiar with the "singular they" it can be even more confusing than just a word you don't understand.
At least it's a word already in common use, unlike xir or zhe or some other recently invented pronoun.
Also, you may not have noticed it because of it's ubiquity. I use 'they' gender neutrally all the time, such as when referring to a fellow forum poster whom I do not know the gender identity of, which is most.

Greenish
2010-09-01, 05:26 PM
At least it's a word already in common use, unlike xir or zhe or some other recently invented pronoun.I do agree it's probably better than the alternatives, I was merely pointing out that it's hardly perfect.

Also, you may not have noticed it because of it's ubiquity. I use 'they' gender neutrally all the time, such as when referring to a fellow forum poster whom I do not know the gender identity of, which is most.Or I've been assuming you refer to several people. :smallamused:

Ravens_cry
2010-09-01, 05:33 PM
I do agree it's probably better than the alternatives, I was merely pointing out that it's hardly perfect.
No, of course it's not perfect. English is a delightful hodgepodge, a lexicographical and grammatical gumbo. But like you said, it's better then the alternatives.

Or I've been assuming you refer to several people. :smallamused:
You may. There is other means, however, of making the singular clear by context. For example, if someone mentions another poster, and I reply to quote about that poster and use 'they' as my pronoun of choice, it is fairly clear I am referring to a singular individual.

Gensh
2010-09-01, 08:50 PM
I typically avoid having to specify gender with a certain pair of characters (both human males) by referring to them indirectly and using nouns such as their profession and so forth. When I feel that an instance of pronoun use is unavoidable, I typically use the one that the party themselves have been using to refer to the character in question. If the necromancer who looks like a stereotypical witch is referred to by the party as a she, then I use she, even though I as the DM know that it's a guy. On the same note, they also call the guy's female black cat familiar a he, so that's what I use there as well. After all, you're giving the plot in the way that the PCs see it, so why mix up what they observe with what you know to be true?:smallwink:

Dilb
2010-09-01, 09:55 PM
And in languages, you can always use some more ambiguity! ("You" as both a singular and a plural is plenty silly, much like gender-specific pronouns. :smalltongue:)

Huh? Are you against specificity like gender pronouns, or for specificity and going back to using "thou" as a second person singular? I honestly can't think of a single time ever, in any conversation I've had, or book I've read, where the ambiguity of "you" as singular or plural has ever mattered.

People have been using they as a gender-neutral singular for centuries, and you're probably a lot more okay with using "they" then you would be if I sudden dropped a "Xe" or a "hir" into a post. If it's unclear what "they" refers to it would be bad to use a pronoun anyway, and if it is clear then I don't think you're going to start thinking one person is actually multiple people.

TheMeMan
2010-09-01, 10:11 PM
I hear 50/50 division is pretty popular. :smallcool:

But, onwards to solutions! Learn, and teach to all of your players, a language that doesn't use gender-specific pronouns: wikipedia has a list (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gender-neutral_pronoun) from which to pick your favourite one.

Eh, 50/50 is rare. Very rare. Among humans, there is a slight lean towards females, but in many other species, males are often the vast minority.

Now, that said, we have to ask the all important question: How is this Kobold-esque society set up? Matriarchy? Patriarchy? Neither? Something different? Democratized or is Cheifdom, Big-Man style, etc? From what I read, there aren't any social gender roles per se, or are there none noticeable to the untrained eye? All of these are actually important questions to ask, particularly when deciding population ratios. Are there different sexes, or is it possible for hemaphroditism?

That said, as a general guide, 1/3 male, 2/3 female may be the way to go. More or less depending on the answers to these, and other, questions.

Xyk
2010-09-01, 11:58 PM
Ordinarily, I'd just use the singular "they" but with multiple NPCs, that can get confusing. So I'd make up a word that sounds like a pronoun.

For example: "Gee" runs around madly, with "Jiv" hair on fire.

Greenish
2010-09-02, 10:23 AM
I honestly can't think of a single time ever, in any conversation I've had, or book I've read, where the ambiguity of "you" as singular or plural has ever mattered.I've often had to clarify it. "You, as in all of you…" or "I didn't mean it as 'you' you, but for everyone…"

Eh, 50/50 is rare. Very rare. Among humans, there is a slight lean towards females1:1 ratio is evolutionarily stable strategy and very common in species with sexual reproduction.

See Fisher's Principle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fisher%27s_principle).

Ravens_cry
2010-09-02, 02:52 PM
A 50/50 ratio in sheer population, but in social species, there is often disparity in the main group. For example, elephant seal colonies where one adult male presides over the entire harem. In african elephants, males wander off after a few years and only return to mate.
In most human societies, the ratio is much closer because human males help raise the young.

Ajadea
2010-09-02, 03:07 PM
Swap around he/she pronouns, or stick with 'it'. When I am dealing with ambiguously gendered NPCs, I more or less swap around 'it' and 'the [race]' when referring to one that the PCs are not familiar with, and 'it' and '[name]' if the PC's know that one personally.

If it's my PC, he/she/PC name abbreviation are used interchangably.