English speakers face a dilemma: the current structure of our language is exclusionary with regard to gender. In this talk, Boellstorff suggests that radical gender inclusion is best achieved not with personalized gender pronouns, but general (also termed epicene) “they.” By examining pronouns across place and time, he will show how English already marks gender only on third-person singular pronouns, and replacing these with “they” is feasible and effective. While there are significant disadvantages to personalized gender pronouns, there are also perils to epicene “they,” and he will discuss how to address these disadvantages. Using a comparative analysis and employing a decolonial perspective that decenters English, Boellstorff seeks to contribute to a future of radical gender inclusion, and to demonstrate the power of queer anthropology to contribute to crucial contemporary debates. A brief, public-facing version of the argument appeared in SAPIENS:

Tom Boellstorff is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, he is the author of many articles and the books The Gay Archipelago, A Coincidence of Desires, and Coming of Age in Second Life. He is also coauthor of Ethnography and Virtual Worlds: A Handbook of Method and coeditor of Data, Now Bigger and Better! A former editor-in-chief of American Anthropologist, the flagship journal of the American Anthropological Association, he coedits the Princeton University Press book series “Princeton Studies in Culture and Technology.”

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