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Ze is a gender-neutral singular third-person pronoun. It is a gender-neutral equivalent of the masculine he or the feminine she. Usage of the word Ze dates back to the 1970s. It is typically paired with the singular third-person possessive pronouns zir or hir.
Ze was inspired by the German pronoun sie, the formal form of you. As sie is a respectful address used for business associates, acquaintances, and strangers, ze by extension also shows respect. Ze is sometimes spelled zie, showing its German roots.
Gender-neutral pronouns have been used since at least the mid-19th century. At that time, they were used in connection to women’s rights and gender equality. Ze and other gender-neutral pronouns are typically used for transgender people and others outside the gender binary. They may identify as male, as female, as both genders, as neither gender, or something else entirely. While the term ze is gender-neutral, that does not mean the people who prefer it are gender-neutral.
Using someone’s preferred pronouns is a sign of respect. It shows you value people as individuals and do not believe the way people look necessarily reflects their gender identity.
Some people believe asking someone is the best way to determine their preferred pronouns. However, this strategy may make someone feel uncomfortable or outed. Others suggest simply paying attention to the pronouns others use for a particular person. Introducing yourself with your preferred pronouns also makes it easy for someone else to respond in kind.
Many transgender and non-conforming people prefer ze to traditional binary pronouns. However, while the English language is always evolving, some people do not want to use ze and other relatively new gender pronouns. This resistance may be a result of transphobia and other bigotry or simply a reluctance to change.
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