Q&A: “I was wondering about gender neutrality in other languages.”
I was wondering about gender neutrality in other languages. What pronouns do you use in Esperanto? Does ili work the same as they in English? Could you create new pronouns like ni or something? And what about some nouns like patro and patrino? Would a word like gepatro make sense or would it be easier to ungender it completely and not ever use the ino suffix for feminist reasons as well as nb ones? And in Japanese how easy is it to go completely ungendered by others since it doesn’t use pronouns as much as English. I’ve heard that using different formality levels of ‘I’ can make you sound more feminine or masculine so how would you recommend a female perceived nb to get by? (3/3)
no, “ili” cannot be used as a singular, gender-neutral pronoun in Esperanto. trying to use “ili” in that way will only confuse people.
a few decades ago there was the start of a movement in Esperanto called “Riismo” ( eo / en ) which tried to combat sexism in Esperanto by proposing ways to neutralize the linguistic patriarchy upon which Esperanto is built. among the things proposed / advocated by Riismo is the gender neutral pronoun “ri” (ie. “ri estas neduuma.” = they are non-binary.) and the usage of affixes to neutralize gendered roots like “patr-” (ie. “gepatro” or “patro” = parent, “patriĉo” = father, “patrino” = mother).
while Riismo is very well known in Esperantujo– literally every “seasoned” esperantist knows of it– like most (all?) proposed reforms in Esperantujo (the Esperanto community), it never actually gained ground. it’s on and off the topic of debate in Esperantujo, but it always seems like most people are either staunchly against it or they’re for it but not enough to actually get up and advocate for it. that said, those who do actively use / advocate for Riismo are known as “riistoj” and you can definitely find groups of them online.
other gender neutral pronouns and reform proposals exist besides Riismo (Hiismo or “ŝli”, for example), but i’d say that Riismo is arguably the most well known.
as for me, i personally prefer “ri”, but i don’t consider myself a riisto because i’m such a halfassed esperantist in general. i wrote an essay once at an Esperanto seminar about how sexist Esperanto as a language is, presented it to my group but then proceeded to not publish it or anything because i couldn’t be bothered to deal with people’s opinions on it… D; plus i wasn’t out at the time.
if you haven’t already seen it, check out this post that i wrote about third-person gender-neutral language in Japanese. as i noted in that post, it’s relatively easy to talk about someone in the third-person without gendering them. does this mean that it’d be easy for you to go through life in Japan without being gendered at all? easier than in many other countries, definitely, but you’ll still encounter people who use gendered language who will then use it when they talk to / about you unless you correct them. unlike in English, gendered first-person pronouns are more of a problem. you touch upon that in your ask, so i’m guessing you’re already at least somewhat aware of the problem. i talk about how i myself navigate this problem in the post i linked.
as for recommendations for you…. it’s hard to recommend something based on only knowing you’re non-binary and perceived as female. are you wanting to go with what people will expect of you as someone who is perceived to be female? in which case you could go with 私 / “watashi”. it isn’t exclusively “female”, even if it is primarily used by women. if you want to “push back” against or counter what people perceive you as, you could try 僕 / “boku” bearing in mind that that will come with the baggage of then being seen as “tomboyish” and depending on the social situation, it may not always be the most appropriate word to use.
honestly, i say just go with whatever feels alright to you and try not to make how people perceive you the deciding factor for what pronouns you use.