Agender Pronouns in French?

I only realized I was agender a few weeks ago. As such, I’m still not sure if I want to change pronouns. Many people, even if they consider being agender a real thing, find that changing pronouns is excessive…and I even feel that I would be burdening other people by “demanding” different pronouns. People are so uncomfortable with it. But if it feels right for me, I might just do it.

At the very least, being an English-speaker, there are pronouns for me. I could choose “they,” which is normally a neutral plural pronoun but can be used singularly. I could even choose other pronouns like “ze,” or even make up a new one. I read of someone who liked the pronoun “Co”–“Co/Co’s”. There are a myriad of possibilities.

Not so in French. I’m an American who is half French; half of my family is French; I am a French citizen; and I’m majoring in French at my university. French language and culture are very important to me. Which is why, even if I may go for “they” in English, I have absolutely nothing in French. There are only male and female pronouns–even in the plural form!

  • She – Elle
  • He – Il
  • Plural female – Elles
  • Plural male/mixed group – Ils

Sometimes “il” is considered to be a neutral pronoun, so, when used for someone whose gender is unknown, it’s intended to mean that they could be of either gender. However, it’s pretty patriarchal to use it that way instead of having a genuinely neutral pronoun, and would be unfitting were I to adopt it in everyday life, as people would translate that to meaning that I’m a transman.

As of yet, there’s little out there, in the academic or legal spheres, concerning a possible third, neutral gender. Some suggestions or “Iel,” a combination of the two (perhaps helpful for gender fluid people, but not for myself) or “ol,” which is definitely…an idea. Doesn’t have a very nice ring to it, but if that’s what it has to be, okay.

The only thing is–the problem doesn’t stop there. Because everything in French is gendered. Which means, in case you don’t know, that in English, we may say, “the beach,” or “the film,” and there’s nothing gendered about them. But in French, “the beach” is “la plage” and “the film” is “le film.” A beach is feminine and a film is masculine. The gender of words has little to do with there being anything objectively feminine or masculine about the concept or object or place itself, and has more to do with linguistics, with, for example, most words ending in “age” being masculine (“la plage” being a notable exception.)

Adjectives, too, are gendered. We can exemplify this with the adjective for big: “grand/e.” The big beach is, “la grande plage,” and the big film (I’m not sure when anyone would say this, but bear with me) is, “le grand film.” The adjectives agree with the nouns in gender.

So, if someone were referring to a woman, they could say, “elle est gentille.” Referring to a man, they could say, “il est gentil.” (Translation: “She/He is nice.”) The adjectives change! Because I use female pronouns right now, then, I would have to say, “Je suis gentille” (I am nice).

How would we change this for an agender pronoun?

It’s not simple at all. The answer would have to make linguistic sense; I think it would be fool-hardy to simply add or subtract letters here and there, because the endings to words also affect the following words  in pronunciation, which is complicated to explain, but trust me.

For “grand/e,” what would we do? Adding a second “e” just complicates things. In some words it would make masculine words feminine. Two “d”‘s? How would that even be pronounced? A whole new ending perhaps? But all current endings that we could pull from would be gendered–how in the world could we make a new one that didn’t sound extraordinarily unnatural?

I hope that someone is investigating this. So far, I have seen one article on the subject. It doesn’t seem to be a huge issue at the moment. Besides that, the French are very protective of their language. It would be extremely difficult to actually start popularizing a change, as l’Académie française, who are the official “controllers” of the language and formally approve and reject new words, among other things, would have a hissy fit.

I already knew coming out as agender would be hard. But I didn’t initially realize that it would be nearly impossible in France, which is where I plan to move and live. How would my grandmother ever understand, either on an emotional or linguistic level? I can only hope that this will be resolved in time.

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