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Gender-Neutral Writing

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Many times, a writer of fiction wants to give a character an Ambiguous Gender. It might be because it's an important detail in the mystery or because the character is really in disguise and the writer doesn't want any potential crossdressing stigma. Or possibly they really are of a non-binary gender, and the author is trying to accurately represent their identity. The easy solution is to only have the character be directly addressed, but what happens if you need to have other characters talk about them?

Enter Gender Neutral Writing. In English, this is when every attempt is made to avoid any use of the pronouns "he", "she", "him", "her", or any references to the gender identity of a character.

English ranks about middle in the difficulty of pulling this off, since most words in English do not need to be gender-specific, and even most nouns can be fairly flexible too. However the gendered pronouns are very ingrained into normal dialogue, especially when one is referring to other people, and there aren't too many alternatives ('they', 'their' and 'them', mostly), so it's painfully obvious when you are trying to conceal gender (though there are some tricks that make it easier), almost always enough to draw attention to itself. This may not be a bad thing if the whole point is that they are a non-binary gender, since you will obviously be using their preferred pronoun. A partial solution, even if you have a binary character whose gender you are trying to conceal, is to have characters who don't know use gender-neutral pronouns such as they/them or ze/hir, not only for them, but also for other characters, if the setting allows it.


And let's not forget the far more strongly-gendered languages (like Spanish or German) where pulling this off without looking or sounding 'fake' is... at least very difficult. note 


On the other hand, languages on the other end of the spectrum (such as Japanese and many East Asian languages) don't bother with pronouns much anyway, making it much easier and more natural to obscure a character's gender (which explains why localization teams have so much trouble with this issue in anime and video games).

This is most common in interactive fiction designed for players and avatars of any sex and gender. This generally shows up in games where the developers were too constrained (or, perhaps, too lazy) to have the game capable of modifying the dialogue to fit all genders, so they try to write for all. This leads to a Featureless Protagonist (although as that article mentions, they more often than not fail because they assume Most Gamers Are Male). The Gamebooks genre makes heavy use of this (along with Second-Person Narration), since they won't exactly split the book into volumes to accommodate everyone. Often, they get around this by either assuming a gender based on the genre of the book (e.g., a science fiction book would assume a male reader while a book that places the character as nobility in medieval Europe would assume a female reader) or by just creating a very generic character with a Purely Aesthetic Gender. This is also the main reason Choose Your Own Adventure books are written in the second person. It's not entirely rare for it to show up in other fiction, though.

A special mention also goes to websites (such as this one) that cover these works and have to refer to both while not favouring one or the other. Having a gender-neutral name or a surname helps a fair bit, but it gets much more difficult if the character has no surname but different first names depending on the gender. In these cases "they", "s/he" or an appropriate title like Commander or misthios are used instead.

See also Pronoun Trouble, which is when translation issues cause the natural-looking gender neutrality to quickly break down when attempted in other languages.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Assassination Classroom it is mentioned that someone in Class-E has higher bloodlust than even Itona the pronouns used are gender neutral despite the shot seemingly focusing on Nagisa, the protagonist. This is used to hide that it's actually talking about Kayano. In this case many translations, including the official one, were fooled and used the pronoun appropriate to the person the shot seemed to be focused on.
  • Attack on Titan uses this as the standard, with author Isayama Hajime very rarely making any reference to the gender of characters. Since Gender Is No Object, he even invited fans to determine for themselves the gender of the ever-Ambiguous Hange Zoe.
  • For a story-within-a-story version, the protagonist of Yamaji Ebine's Indigo Blue is a (closeted lesbian) writer who has written a short story about a romantic/sexual interlude between two characters, one of whom is female, while the other's gender is unspecified. Apparently, pretty much everyone assumes the second character to be male (except for the woman who eventually becomes the writer's lover).
  • I Think Our Son Is Gay: Hiroki is in the closet, so when his friends ask him about the person he has a crush on, he describes Daigo truthfully but without revealing that he's a man. In the original Japanese, he can do this by dropping the subject from his sentences; the English translation uses the "they" formation instead.
  • As per traditional East Asian practices whereby female monarchs were referred to by the same monarchical title as male ones ("were" because China, Korea and Vietnam no longer have monarchy, and Japan will never accept female monarchs again), in Tsubasa -RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE-, the female-looking ruler of Shura (修羅ノ国 Shura no Kuni) is referred to as King Ashura (阿修羅王 Ashura Ō), just like their male-looking lover, King Yasha (夜叉王 Yasha Ō) of Shara (紗羅ノ国 Shara no Kuni), even though there is a female-specific word for "queen" (女王 joō) in Japanese. However, even though their genders are never explicitly stated in Tsubasa and King Ashura looks very feminine (without breasts, though) and King Yasha looks very masculine, both of them are probably genderless considering they are taken from another work of CLAMP, RG Veda.
  • Both the English word "witch" and the Japanese counterpart majo are very obvious in what gender they're intended for. "Witch", derived from Old English wicce, was grammatically feminine (the masculine form was wicca), and has historically been used to refer to female fictional characters as well as actual women. Majo (魔女) is even more obvious than that, it literally has the Chinese character for "female" in it. However in Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, both words are intentionally used gender-neutrally, with the introduction of male witches later in the series.

    Comic Books 
  • Chris Claremont's Sovereign Seven had a character named Indigo, whose gender nobody could work out. This was another example that turned out to be gender-neutral.
  • Wonder Woman (Rebirth): The mythological character Atlantiades—the Trope Namer for Hermaphrodite—makes their first DCU appearance, and keeps to gender neutral terms as they are physically both sexes and choose to identify as androgynous.
  • Eternals has the immortal Jack of Knives, who uses they/them pronouns.

  • A Diplomatic Visit: After changelings are explained as being genderfluid (except for the queens), the narration starts referring to Maxilla as "they" or "them". It goes back to using "he" or "she" after Wise-Mind explains that he chooses to recognize Maxilla's chosen gender of the moment.
  • Infinity Train: Knight of the Orange Lily: Easter — a denizen who is actually a sentient lightning bolt — is originally given male pronouns due to them originally perceived as a Split Personality of Specter. Once given enough power to switch places, they state that they go by "they". This is presumably because lightning bolts don't necessarily have genders to begin with.
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: Bjarnhilda the Slaaneshi cultist is referred to as s/he or hir, less out of respect for gender neutrality than because it can literally change genders at whim (with its default form being half-male and half-female on either side).
  • Edel, the Series Mascot of Puzzle Hunt Precure, is agender and written as such. This isn't true of all fairies (Nono, Miu's fairy, is a girl) and seems to be about as common for them as it is for humans.
  • In Soul Eater: Troubled Souls, the author has made it a Self-Imposed Challenge to not settle on a gender for Crona, meaning he’s going to write the story using gender-neutral phrases and descriptions for him/her. Whenever he writes himself into a corner, he settles on "it" and averts "It" Is Dehumanizing.
  • In With Strings Attached, the Baravadans never refer to an individual's sex via pronouns; all persons are “sars,” and gods are “godsars.” This is because rebirth is common (or at least it was when the Baravadans were actually having children), and how do you refer to a woman who is reborn in a boy's body? Also, the Dalns gods are sexless, so it would be inappropriate to assign gender to them.
    • Notably, when referring to the individual noted above, George at first tries to remember to use “sar,” but gives up and refers to sar as “she” for the rest of the book. And when the four use gender-specific pronouns, one Baravadan notes how archaic their terminology is.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Every single character in Alien was written to be gender neutral, creating a lot of freedom in casting the film and setting the stage for one of the best-remembered action heroines in cinema history.
  • Peters in Army of the Dead was originally a man. However, after his actor Chris D'Elia was caught in a Role-Ending Misdemeanor involving underage girls, the part had to be recast and reshot under pandemic-era filming conditions that meant that the new actor would have to be green-screened into the film. As it turned out, Peters was written gender-neutrally enough that it was possible to recast the part with a woman, Tig Notaro, and make no changes except to the pronouns characters used to describe her.
  • Done in The Dark Knight Rises when referring to "the child". This helps to conceal the fact that the story is about Talia Al'Ghul and not Bane.

  • 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson attempts this with the character Inspector Jean Genette, who at first is deliberately never referred to using gendered pronouns... then about halfway through the book gives up and starts referring to Genette as "he".
  • In Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice series, the Radchaai language does not distinguish genders. This is done in the text by using female pronouns and relationships (eg she/her, mother/sister/grandmother) and male titles (lord/sir/etc) for every character.
  • Sam Berlant, a minor character in The Android's Dream by John Scalzi, never has a specified gender. Sam's partner is definitely male, but Sam could be any gender as long as Sam's sexuality involves being attracted to men.
  • The similarly themed Autobiography of a One-year-old by Rohan Candappa is also written in the first person from the perspective of a young child whose gender is never revealed.
  • For the first few books of The Belgariad, David Eddings avoided using pronouns when writing about Zandramas. Once the heroes found out that Zandramas was actually a woman, he started using female pronouns.
  • Bone Dance by Emma Bull manages (in part by virtue of being written in the first person) to avoid mentioning the main character's gender for half the book. The character turns out to be genderless.
  • Markus Zusak has said that he left the gender of Death, who narrates The Book Thief, open to interpretation. He also refrains from describing what Death looks like, though the character does say once that if the readers want to know, they can look into a mirror.
  • In the Coldfire Trilogy, the Master of Lema, the first book's Big Bad, is a woman. This is revealed dramatically after the Master captures and tortures Villain Protagonist Gerald Tarrant — he's a vampire who preys almost entirely on young women, if given the choice so being at a woman's mercy is particularly galling for him.
  • This was done in Dragonlance for the Blue Dragon Highlord, who is later revealed to be Kitiara uth Matar, the half-sister of Caramon and Raistlin, and Tanis's former lover.
  • Done very well by Vonda N. McIntyre with Merideth in Dreamsnake.
  • The Egg by Andy Weir has this. God is only ever identified by the pronoun "I" and the protagonist is only ever identified by the pronoun "you". The only implication of the protagonist's gender is the fact that "you" were married to a woman in the most recent life, but that is not relevant to the story.
  • The protagonist of Green Boy by Susan Cooper is named Trey, which is usually a boy's name, but their gender is never actually specified. One adult asks (in French) whether they're a boy or a girl.
  • The four Hilary Tamar whodunnits by Sarah Caudwell (starting with Thus Was Adonis Murdered) are narrated by the legal scholar Dr Hilary Tamar, of undefined gender (and only a slightly unreliable narrator).
  • In the Honor Harrington series, the rule seems to be: When discussing non-specific people in the generic, use your own gender as the neutral pronoun. So women like Honor use "she", "her" and "hers", while men like White Haven use "he", "him" and "his".
  • In Simon Brett's How to Be a Little Sod and its sequels, the gender of the infant protagonist is never explicitly stated. However, a 1995 TV adaptation portrayed the child as male.
  • In The Kindly Ones by Melissa Scott, the chapters from Trey Maturin's point of view are the only ones written in first person. Trey is never identified as either male or female, and expresses attraction to both men and women throughout the novel (including a sexual encounter with a younger man).
  • The original Kino's Journey novels were written so as not to reveal the gender of the protagonist (until a certain point, anyway), although the English translations throw that entirely out the window since it's a lot harder to do in English.
  • In the Sandra Brown novel Lethal, the criminal kingpin known as "The Bookkeeper" is never referred to by any gender, which hides the reveal that not only is The Bookkeeper female, but she's the seemingly innocent wife of one of the agents investigating her crimes.
  • Used until the reveal in Let the Right One In when written from the POV of any character that knows Eli is a boy, at least in the original Swedish version. The English translation slips up two or three times though.
  • Chris Shane, the protagonist of Lock In by John Scalzi, never has their gender revealed.
  • One supporting character in Cherry Wilder's The Luck of Brin's Five is described without gender-specific pronouns. It's done subtly enough that the reader is unlikely to notice unless they come across the short story Wilder wrote later elaborating that character's backstory, which establishes the character as being of the opposite gender from what most people assume in the novel.
  • This character profile from Ronald Searle and Geoffrey Gorer's 1955 "Modern Types". The illustration is ambiguously gendered as well.
  • Optimus Yarnspinner from the stories of Walter Moers once wrote a novel where he doesn't reveal whether the protagonist is male or female for several hundred pages. The answer BTW is: Neither nor - volterks are sexless.
  • The Finnish language has no gendered pronouns, so writing gender-neutral text isn't hard. A good example is the novel Pimeästä maasta by the Finnish fantasy writer Maarit Verronen, where the protagonist has a made-up name and it's impossible to infer their gender from anything they do. It turns out the protagonist lives in another world where gender doesn't even exist the way it does in ours.
  • As a fictional example, Bradley does a book report in There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom, and only realizes as he's writing the report that the narrator's name and gender are never mentioned.
  • Fantasy author Marion Zimmer Bradley wrote "The Secret of the Blue Star", a Thieves' World story about the heroine Lythande (a female wizard in a world where wizards are always male). She attempted to use gender neutral writing until the big reveal in the last two paragraphs, though she slips up and refers to her using male pronouns at one piint in the middle.
  • The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tiler manages to avoid mentioning the eponymous character's sex for the entire book while convincing us very cleverly that Tyke is a boy, until we see the principal call, "Get down from there, Theodora Tiler, you naughty girl!"
  • Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky: Rod meets Jack, and doesn't realize her name is short for "Jacqueline" until someone else tells him she's a girl. Up until then there had been no explicit reference to Jack's gender.
  • The Heyoka stories of the Whateley Universe, mainly because Heyoka's gender is not constant. Jamie Carson was born female. Her mutation made him mostly male. He has the power to absorb spirits to gain their powers, but he shapeshifts at the same time to look like the spirit figure. So he's been a very male part-bear guy, and an agendered snake-person, and a very female earth-mother figure with green hair, to name but three forms.
  • An interesting example occurs in Slavic languages with translation of the title of Agatha Christie's Why Didn't They Ask Evans?: if translated literally, it will immediately give away Evans' sex, which the reader is not supposed to learn until the end of the book. Thus the translators either modify the wording to "Why Not Evans?" or "Evans Knows The Answer" (which allows to retain the ambiguity), or even change the surname itself to one which remains unaltered regardless of the gender of its bearer (namely, "Wilby").
  • The novel Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson is written in first person, which makes it easier for the reader not to notice that there are no explicit indicators as to the main character's gender.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for comedy in 30 Rock. Jack sets Liz up on a blind date with "Thomas", not mentioning that the date's full name is Gretchen Thomas...
  • How I Met Your Mother: An episode revolves around Marshall telling his friends anecdotes about a workmate of his; when it turns out she's a she, he reveals he carefully avoided specifying her gender so his wife wouldn't disapprove of his hanging around with her. All the Flashback clips show him only referring to her as "Jenkins", and never using any pronouns at all. Must have been difficult to carry on any kind of extended conversation like that...
    Marshall: So he just starts randomly pointing to people, and goes, 'Him! Her! Her! Him! Him! ...Jenkins!'
  • In Babylon 5 "Sic Transit Vir" a Narn is hunting a Centauri couple for one whose hands are drenched in Narn blood. To avoid giving away too much, the Narn says, "I knew if I followed you long enough I would find the murderer."
  • The character of Robin Wood from Buffy the Vampire Slayer was originally written as a "well-dressed African American" with no detail given to gender in his first episode (his given name allowing for gender neutrality). A man was later cast in the role.

  • Judas Priest use "me" and "you" as their preferred pronouns in their Intercourse with You songs. They also avoid any references to gender-specific anatomy.
  • Other LGBTQ artists, such as Culture Club, Melissa Etheridge, and Sam Smith, have recorded numerous gender-neutral songs. Hits such as (respectively) "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?," "I'm the Only One," and "Stay with Me" could be interpreted as being addressed to either a male or female lover. Fellow gay icon Jimmy Somerville (onetime lead singer of the openly gay '80s trio Bronski Beat), whose lyrics have never been gender-neutral, has actually criticized Sam Smith for this.
  • As with The Bible (see Religion below), many hymns sung in Christian churches have also received lyrical updates with gender-neutral language. One example is the popular Christmas hymn, "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing":
    • Original lyrics:
    Born to raise the sons of Earth; born to give them second birth.
    • Gender-neutral lyrics featured in some Catholic hymnals:
    Born to raise us from the earth; born to give us second birth.
  • Starting with the LOVE YOURSELF series, a lot of BTS' romantic songs have deliberately used gender-neutral writing. This particularly stands out because, while Korean language tends to be generally neutral, a lot of Korean idol songs still use many references to a specific gender.
    • All songs from the LOVE YOURSELF series (except for "DNA", "Dimple" and "Outro: Her") use gender-neutral writing.
    • "Blood, Sweat and Tears" is an earlier example, also describing the object of the singer's obsession without indicating gender.
  • Nearly all of Tessa Violet's songs, with the sole exceptions of "Broken Record" and "Feelin'", leave the gender of the protagonist ambiguous, and most of them (save for a handful of songs on Maybe Trapped Mostly Troubled) also leave the gender of the object of the protagonist's affections unstated as well, which lets listeners imagine any sort of combination of sexes they prefer. This also has the secondary effect of making it easy for anyone to cover her songs without having to change pronouns.

    Play By Post Games 
  • In the Dino Attack RPG, to reflect the ignorance of his characters, PeabodySam refrained from identifying Pterisa's gender. Amusingly, although PeabodySam struggled to play the trope straight, Brikman McStudz simply averted the trope by using "her" right off the bat.

  • Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!: For years, the intro for Lightning Fill in the Blank included the line "Each of our players now has sixty seconds to answer as many fill-in-the-blank questions as they can." At some point in the late Noughties they abruptly abandoned the "singular they" so that the intro now said " he or she can," the form in which it remained thereafter.

  • Some translations of The Bible, such as the New Century Version and Today's New International Version, use gender-neutral language throughout the whole text except in parts where the context specifically addresses a male or a female. More conservative Christians take issue with this rendering of Scripture, particularly with parts that suggest that a female can be a bishop (also translated as elder or overseer) or a deacon.

    Tabletop Games 
  • All Flesh Must Be Eaten alternates between gender pronouns between chapters. When there are exceptions (for example, when a character type is almost always one gender or another and thus referring to them by the other gender pronoun would make no sense), it specifies.
  • In Third Edition, Dungeons & Dragons averted this by using gender pronouns but alternating which gender between sections. 4th Edition is pretty much entirely written in second person, using "you". Except for in the DM guide, where it alternates.
    • Second Edition created the "Iconic Characters" to make things easier. If giving an example of a cleric doing something they could use Jozan the Cleric, a "he". If they were talking about a wizard they'd use Mialee, a "she". This edition also had a section explaining the use of the "he" pronoun as generic.
  • Magic: The Gathering:
    • Ashiok is a genderless being. Although accidentally referred to as "he" in an early promotional piece, Ashiok has since been referred to with no pronouns at all. Instead, all references to Ashiok use "Ashiok" in place of a pronoun.
    • On the other hand, even though Eldrazi are genderless beings too, the three Eldrazi Titans are still referred to with gendered pronouns. The pronouns correspond to the genders of the false, beautiful, human-like gods associated with them: the female god Emeria for the chief Eldrazi Titan Emrakul, and the male gods Ula and Cosi respectively for Ulamog and Kozilek.
    • In the English version, many words that have feminine counterparts in real life are used gender-neutrally, for example "steward" (as in Nissa, Steward of Elements), "god" (as in Nylea, God of the Hunt), etc. One reason is that, for some subtypes such as God, the game designers aren't comfortable referring to a female character as both "Goddess" in her name and "God" in her subtype.
      • Conservative languages with grammatical gender, however, don't really seem to be trying to be gender neutral despite the intent of doing so in the English version, so Nissa is specifically a "stewardess" in German, French, Italian, and Russian, while Nylea is specifically a "goddess" in German, French, Italian, Spanish and Russian even though her subtype is still "God", not "Goddess".
      • However, where gender is not obvious at all, sometimes these same languages may follow English texts more closely. This is the case for the French and Italian names of the five Dragonlords of Tarkir, 3 of whom (Atarka, Dromoka and Kolaghan) are actually more like "Dragonladies". It's possible that the French and Italian translators couldn't pick up any clue on their gender for the lack of typical telltale features (such as Non-Mammal Mammaries) or the lack of communication with Wizards of the Coast, and it doesn't help that these ladies appear very buff, nevertheless these ladies are referred to as "seigneur-dragon" ("dragon-lord") in French and "Segnore dei Draghi" ("Lord of Dragons") in Italian. In other languages, the ladies are "properly" named, namely "señora dragón" ("dragon lady") instead of "señor dragón" ("dragon lord") in Spanish, "Drachenfürstin" ("Dragon Princess") instead of "Drachenfürst" ("Dragon Prince") in German and "Soberana Dragoa" ("Dragoness Sovereigness") instead of "Soberano Dragão" ("Dragon Sovereign") in Portuguese.
      • Sometimes gender-neutrality may arguably be somewhat awkward even for this game. "Bartered Cow", for example, is subtyped "Ox", which is supposedly free from gender connotations.
      • The East Asian languages (Chinese, Korean and Japanese) don't suffer from this kind of discrimination thanks to the lack of grammatical gender, and the traditional practice of using the same words for both males and females (such as "emperor", "king", "god", etc.), even though words specific for females ("empress", "queen", "goddess", etc.) are still available due to Western influence.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Slaanesh is the hermaphroditic Chaos god of excess, and while there's no set pronoun, "it" or "s/he" is often used (the Eldar consider Slaanesh to be female, using "she" or "her"). "Hir" also sees use in fandom.
  • The World of Darkness books tend to alternate between male and female pronouns.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Originally, the English version used clunky expressions such as "he or she", "him or her" and "his or her" when referring to players. Nowadays, with shortened and condensed text in play, "they", "them" and "their" are used instead. Apart from the singular gender-neutral "they/them/their" that are still used in the plural in conjunction with following verb forms, there's also just the "standard" plural "they/them/their" that refer to monsters, cards or other gameplay elements as non-gendered inanimate entities.
    • In German, depending on its grammatical or syntactic position, a translation for the English gender-neutral "they" may be either "sie" (which partly derived from, and currently coincides with, "sie" meaning "she") meaning "they" and "er" meaning "he". "Them" translates into "ihm" meaning "him". "Their" does into "seiner" which is "his" in the nominative (when it modifies a noun that's a subject) but "her" in the genitive (when it modifies a noun to which something belongs) and dative (when it modifies a noun that's an indirect object), which makes it somewhat "gender-neutral".
    • In versions in the Romance languages (French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish), per their respective grammars, the default third person (singular and plural) pronouns are always masculine if there is any ambiguity in the gender identity of the subject in question. Basically, only masculine pronouns are used gender-neutrally, even when referring to inanimate objects or when used as dummy pronouns. Therefore it is simply impossible to ever see the feminine pronouns used in card text if the referrents aren't unambiguously and exclusively feminine (for example, "card" or "cards" may be feminine, but "monsters and Spell Cards" may not because "monsters" is masculine).
    • Monsters can appear as male or female, but as a gameplay element, they're all referred to as "it". As mentioned above, the "it" of the Romance languages are masculine because the words for "monster" are masculine.
    • Practiced otherwise inconsistently in terms of card names and flavor text. English grammar obligates flavor text to use "he/him/his" or "she/her" in many cases; in some of those cases, such as "Ancient Elf", a visibly female character is incorrectly referred to as a he. Most of the time, gender-neutral words are used in the Japanese version, but in some instances, words for "female" are inserted, for example in compounds such as "megami" ("goddess"; literally "female god"), "joou" ("queen regnant"; literally "female king"), "jotei" ("empress regnant"; literally "female emperor"). Some words for roles that have been traditionally assumed by men are also prefixed by the word for "woman"; for example "onna senshi" ("female warrior"), "onna kenshi" ("female swordsman"). In other instances, the Japanese version uses genderless words while the English version uses gendered words; for example "Amazonesu Kenshi" ("Amazones Swordsman") is called "Amazoness Swords Woman". In some cases, things get very confusing, such as the case of "Shinobaroness Peacock", although this one is reasonable because translating the genderless Japanese word for "peafowl" to "peahen" just because this one's a she would potentially screw the naming scheme up later.
    • Most of the time, names in other languages are translated from English (with few exceptions). They, however, employ gendered words and apply grammatical gender inconsistently. "Fire Sorcerer" is specifically feminine in French and Italian. "Dharc the Dark Charmer" (given his masculine appearance and title in German for example) is a boy, but he's female according to his French name.
      • One workaround for languages (such as Portuguese and Spanish) that use the feminine suffix "-a" to replace the masculine suffix "-o" which alters the names of cards (known collectively as an archetype), which in turn potentially results in ambiguous game rules (one might reasonably ask, 'Are "Luminosa" cards treated the same way as "Luminoso" cards?'), is to include both suffixes in the archetype's name. Thus, "Lightsworn" is known as "Luminoso(a)" in Portuguese and "Luminoso/a" in Spanish, both of which include male and female characters, even animals such as "Rinyan, Lightsworn Rogue" ("Rinyan, a Ladina Luminosa"; "Rinyan, Pícara Luminosa"). Sometimes, a female character is introduced way too late after the archetype has been established as predominantly male, so she just gets titled masculinely to spare the game producers the hassle of reprinting cards, such as "Noble Knight Joan" ("Nobre Cavaleiro Joan"; "Noble Caballero Joan"). Italian simply doesn't give a crap and just uses masculine names for whole archetypes, despite the feminine names of individual female characters.
    • Due to Yu-Gi-Oh! being heavily reliant on Japanese card names, sometimes they have to change the Western names of certain old cards, against the apparent femininity of the monsters they represent, to make the gameplay less confusing. Some examples include the English, German and Spanish names of "Darklord Marie" and "Darklord Nurse Reficule", which are both apparently female and were once gender-neutrally referred to as "the Fallen One" instead of "Darklord". In the Japanese version, they go by the title "堕天使" ("Fallen Angel"), which is of course gender-neutral, but then problematic in that it has a tad of a religious connotation to avoid. Such a religious connotation, however, was never a problem in French, as all "Darklords" have always been "Ange Déchu" ("Fallen Angel") instead of some more English-oriented literal translation; the word "ange" ("angel") is only masculine, but the suffix "-e" is still ungrammatically (or maybe, grammatically?) added to the adjective "déchu" to yield "déchue" for these female angels. In Italian and Portuguese, these two "Darklords" are still specifically "Darkladies" instead due to the grammatical use of the feminine suffix "-a".

  • Invoked in the playbills for most all professional productions of the musical Chicago with the character Mary Sunshine, who's actually a guy. In addition to the Gender Neutral Writing for his bio, the person playing "her" will always be referred to with his first name shortened, for example D. Sabella or M. O'Haughey.
  • Likewise, in the first production of the Broadway play M. Butterfly, the actor playing the disguised character Song Liling was credited as "BD Wong", although he had previously gone by "Bradd Wong". He got so much acclaim for the role that he's listed his name as "BD" ever since.

    Video Games 
  • Unlike previous titles, Animal Crossing: New Leaf mainly uses this for when NPC villagers refer to one another (e.g. "Thanks [player] for delivering that to [villager], I hope they enjoy it!"). It is unknown why this is done, though cartridge space and development deadlines are two possible inferences.
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons does away with gender options almost entirely, instead having the player choose one of two "styles" (in localizations outside of Japan) at the beginning, the choice of which has no effect on clothing options or hairstyles, and can be easily changed at will later in the game. The NPCs generally only refer to player characters by they/them pronouns as well.
  • Fire Emblem: Three Houses: Byleth is usually referred to by other characters as just "the Professor", or, when in relation to their father, Jeralt; his "child", which can get a bit narm-y considering Byleth is a full-grown adult. Like the above Animal Crossing and Splatoon examples, the gender choice is also referred to as "choosing a form".
  • BattleTech gives players the option to set their Player Character's appearance and pronouns independently of each other, including having "they/them" as an option, allowing for trans or nonbinary PCs. This alters nothing about the story other than how NPCs refer to the PC.
  • For most of Code 7 nobody uses third-person pronouns to refer to Alex, allowing you to decide their gender on your own. The few times such pronouns are needed, "they" is used, although Raven sometimes uses "it", as well. You can find more information on why the developers decided to do this in this blog post.
  • Degrees of Lewdity: Every character has gender-neutral names, with their descriptions usually remaining consistent regardless of what sex they are determined as.
  • In Dungeon Crawl, the player doesn't even have a Purely Aesthetic Gender, and the gods are all canonically genderless as well. In both cases, gender neutral writing is used to discuss them instead.
  • Every character in Everhood goes by they/them. According to the developers, this is because so much time has passed and so many physical changes have come and gone for each and every one of them, that the concept of gender has lost all meaning to the lot.
  • Most of the time in Fallout: New Vegas, the Courier is not mentioned unless addressed directly, and in those rare instances otherwise (usually narration) the game will usually just use "The Courier" rather than a name or gender pronoun. An amusing example is the Gun Runners' Vendertron robot, which apparently has problems with identifying genders (the existence of Super Mutants may have something to do with this, as they all have masculine bodies and voices, even those who had been women). Rather than actually working to fix the problem, they chose the easier solution instead and just made it politely greet everyone with an awkward yet technically accurate "Welcome sir or madam."
    • Humorously averted in Old World Blues by the Sink Central Intelligence Unit, who will only refer to you as "sir." If you aren't playing as a sir, it will explain that it was never programmed with the female equivalent.
  • In Five Nights at Freddy's: Sister Location, Scott has taken the Viewer Gender Confusion that was Mangle and made it into a Running Gag with Funtime Foxy, Mangle's counterpart. The full voice acting either doesn't mention Foxy by pronouns, or if a gender is stated, it's immediately contradicted the next time Foxy is brought up.
  • Surprisingly averted in Hidden City with regards to the protagonist. Even though Hidden Object Games typically star a Featureless Protagonist, and the player can use any image for their character's avatar (including animals and inanimate objects), many of the City residents use male terms (e.g. Monsieur, sir, etc.) when talking to him, thus indicating that the player's character is supposed to be male despite his otherwise lack of attributes.
  • Hyrule Warriors completely avoids giving Sheik a gender. The narration refers to Sheik as "a mysterious youth", Proxy as "ninja person", and Impa just says "you".
  • In the Interactive Fiction game Jigsaw, the gender of Black, a Well-Intentioned Extremist and the PC's intended Love Interest, is never mentioned, and neither is the PC's - though they do seem to be of opposite genders (or at least capable of passing as such).
  • In Kingdom Hearts: 358/2 Days, almost nobody but Roxas refers to Xion by gender. This is understandable, since while Xion considers herself female, she's a memory construct who everyone sees differently based on their connection to Sora. Xigbar, for instance, sees Ven...who looks exactly like Roxas. While Saix sees a faceless puppet. When she's fought as the game's Climax Boss, she still refers to herself with female pronouns... despite her physical appearance physically shifting into that of Sora's already.
  • Kirby:
    • The Japanese versions of the games typically avoid gendered language regarding Kirby (and Word of God is that he's agender or non-binary), though on the rare occasions he talks, he uses the boyish pronoun "boku." Because gender-neutral writing is more difficult in other languages, international versions discard this and refer to him as a boy.
    • The English version of Kirby and the Forgotten Land refers to Wild Edge, Wild Bonkers, and Fecto Forgo as "they." While Wild Edge wears a gender-concealing suit of armor, and it's very likely Fecto Forgo is outright genderless, Bonkers has a masculine design and voice and has been referred to as male before, so it's unclear why gender-neutral writing is in play for them now.
  • In the Knights of the Old Republic comics by John Jackson Miller, everything about Darth Revan is written without specifying a gender. This was because the character eventually becomes the Player Character in the game, and since the game allowed you to select your gender and there was no official stance from Lucasfilm on the character's gender at the time, gender neutral writing was necessary in order to avoid contradicting future developments. Since then, Lucasfilm have specified an official gender for the character (male), avoiding further use of this.
  • In Littlewood, the Hero has no set gender. Most characters just refer to them as "the Hero," and if pronouns are absolutely required, the game defaults to "they."
  • Averted and Played Straight in the Mass Effect franchise: characters will often not refer to the player character directly with gendered pronouns, and instead use their title, Commander (Shepard) or Pathfinder (Ryder). This is in fact done to avoid mentioning their first name, which is customizeable (an exception being Ryder, if you keep the default name of Sara / Scott). Despite this, great efforts are also taken to use both male and female pronouns with different takes (including sir / ma'am), and it's very rare that the games use an incorrect one.
    • During Jack's recruitment mission in Mass Effect 2, the writers were careful not to use any pronouns when referring to Jack (and they talk about Jack a lot) until The Reveal that Jack is female. It probably would have worked, too, if it weren't for the fact that she was featured in one of the trailers. Oops.
  • In the computer game Star Trek: Voyager: Elite Force, you can choose to play as a male or female. Either way, you are Ensign "Alex" Munro, with "Alex" short for either Alexander or Alexandria. Everyone addresses you as "Ensign", "Munro", or "Ensign Munro", so it works.
    • This is done away with in the sequel, making Ensign Munro canonically male, in order to allow the game to have a romantic subplot without adding too many characters.
  • Everyone in the universe of Minecraft is confirmed genderless. The additional Player Character added afterward is named "Alex", in case anyone had doubts about Steve.
  • The player for Manor Matters isn’t identified by gender pronouns. The cat, however, is identified as male.
  • NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams, in the English manual translations at least, never uses pronouns, always referring to NiGHTS as "NiGHTS".
  • Used very frequently in the Pokémon games in both the main series and some of the spin-offs, typically by always referring to the characters in question by name. The Japanese text has no such issues, but certain sentences in the localizations such as "My kid is called MAY! MAY is a Pokemon Trainer! You should go see MAY!" are a little disconcerting. This was fixed with starting with Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, which began referring to the protagonist with gendered pronouns.
  • The English translation of the Secret of Mana remake refers to the little sprite Popoi with they/them pronouns. It wasn't this way in the original, where Popoi was male.
  • Also comes up in the text for The Sims 2's memory system, though in this case it's just the designers being too lazy to make alternate text strings. They didn't even bother with names, so you'll see phrases like "I like this Sim and they are great!"
  • Splatoon 3 does the same and asks the player to select a "style" when designing their character. Makes sense, since the team behind New Horizons just above is also responsible for this game.
  • Starmancer uses the singular "they" for your colonists. Averted with NPCs.
  • The Pyro of Team Fortress 2 is intended to be ambiguously gendered, though a few people from Valve accidentally (or not) failed to do this once in an interview, and most of the player base now assumes that the Pyro is something.
    • In post on the official TF2 blog, the phrase "when Pyro hears about this, she'll be inconsolable" popped up. It was quickly altered to "Pyro is going to be inconsolable now".
    • This trope even shows up in "Meet the Pyro": the RED Heavy says Pyro is not a man, but a "thing/it" while Scout says "He's not here, is he?", but the closed captions change it to "He's not here, is she?".
  • The worms in Treasure Adventure Game use this due to being hermaphrodites. However, it is done strangely: instead of simply avoiding gendered terms altogether, they use the female term followed by the male term (the village leader is called mother-father, for example).
  • Undertale:
    • The player character is never referred to by any third-person pronoun in-game or any gendered term in any official source, and the sprite of them is very androgynous. The same goes for the original Fallen Child.
    • All of the game's ghost monsters (such as Napstablook) are also talked about with exclusively gender-neutral pronouns except for Mettaton, who, despite his original species and the androgynous design of his EX form, is always referred to as male. For Napstablook at least, this appears to be the character's preferred terminology (even their cousin uses "they"), suggesting a non-binary gender identity.
    • Deltarune initially refers to its Player Character Kris the same way as the human child from Undertale. However, while gendered terms are always avoided, characters from Chapter 2 on all refer to Kris as "they" (including their close friends and mother, so it's definitely Kris' preferred pronoun), again suggesting Kris is non-binary.

    Visual Novels 
  • Chop Chop Fruit salad Mystery Jam DokiDoki Dating Sim THingy: All the fruits are written without gendered terms, referring to one another with "they" pronouns.
  • In Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the culprit of Chapter 3 (Mikan Tsumiki)'s motive is centered around their "beloved". The Japanese version never mentions said "beloved"'s gender, so the audience might be reasonably able to suspect that the "beloved" is a romantic lover. Turns out that said "beloved" is the female Junko Enoshima, which, Les Yay implications aside, means that the culprit likely intended to say that she "loved" her in a fit of despair. The English localization tries to use "their" in a way of covering this up, though it then trips the player's radar as to why it would be used for someone the culprit should most definitely know the gender of.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All, everyone in court refers to Adrian Andrews this way while the assassin De Killer is listening to proceedings, because in one later testimony he refers to the (female) Adrian as 'him', thus revealing that he did not meet her in person.
    • However, earlier, without being told, he refers to his client's manager as a she without being told, most likely an oversight or having never heard the manager's actual name.
  • In Episode 7 of Umineko: When They Cry, Lion's gender is deliberately obscured. When Lion is asked point-blank if they are a boy or a girl, they express annoyance and refuse to give an answer. Similar avoidance of gendered language is used in Sayo/Beatrice's flashback, since Sayo is later revealed to be an Alternate Self of Lion.

  • When the student character appears in Koan of the Day, they take the name of the reader. Therefore, all the pronouns are the gender neutral 'they.'
  • Monsterkind has Louise Spence, who is referred to solely by they/them pronouns.
  • In The Order of the Stick, Vaarsuvius the elf, their spouse, and their adopted children exclusively speak of each other in gender neutral language, in part through Translation Convention. Other characters either acknowledge Vaarsuvius' Ambiguous Gender in speech or guess at pronouns. A minor Running Gag is that V doesn't understand gender as a concept, to the point that when a party member suffered an unwanted Gender Bender V didn't even notice.
  • Paranatural has RJ, a silent member of Johnny's gang, who is never referred to by pronouns in the actual comic and whose face is obscured by a hoodie. This is lampshaded in the cast page where they "eschew[s] school rules, public speaking and the gender binary. Goes by they/them." All we know under that hood is that they have a mohawk.
  • Required whenever characters speak about Riley from Sire. They make guessing their gender a little game. Some characters use Riley's name whenever referring to Riley. Some specifically gender them as female or as male. Only Riley and Susan know for sure who is right. Susan, enjoying the game, avoids gender pronouns.
  • The character Angel in Sticky Dilly Buns is anatomically female but gender fluid, and often passes as a (probably Camp Gay) man. There was some deliberately induced Viewer Gender Confusion when Angel first appeared, with both readers and a lot of characters assuming that this was a guy. However, once hints about the truth started appearing, careful readers noticed that characters who’d known Angel for a while were a lot less casual with gendered pronouns; there’d been some fairly careful subtly gender-neutral writing going on.
  • The employees of Wonderlab are deliberately designed to be gender-neutral, and are not referred to with any gendered terms/pronouns. In the original Korean version, characters are simply referred to by their names.

    Web Original 
  • In one Epic Tales story, Diana needs help from a friend to hack into CODIS. While talking about this friend both Diana and John keep referring to this friend with the word friend, rather then using 'he' or 'she'. It's so noticeable that it's obviously intentional.
    • A slightly less obvious example is when it's mentioned that Diana is going out with someone named Alex. No gender is mentioned for Alex.

    Western Animation 
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines: The dinosaurs Stompy and Squeak from "T-Rex Trouble" and the firefly from "AJ to the Rescue" weren't referred to with any gender-related pronouns, to the point of having ambiguous-looking faces and vocal effects.
  • Parodied in The Critic with a dash of Political Overcorrectness. Jay is a trucker in this episode, delivering a shipment of politically correct textbooks to a private school. In one scene, we cut to a student asking his father when he (Jay) is going to get here, to which his father replies, distressed, "He or she, son! He or she!
  • Parodied in Futurama: The Beast with a Billion Backs, in which the character the title refers to does not have a human gender and prefers to be referred to as "shklim" or "shkler" rather than him or her. Hermes, ultra-bureaucrat that he is, was particularly relieved to find out what pronouns to use.
  • In The Loud House episode "L Is For Love", Luna's crush Sam isn't referred to with any pronouns. This is to hide the fact that she's a girl. However, despite the lack of pronouns, the other Louds do seem to assume the crush is a boy judging by their actions.
  • The Owl House:
    • In "Understanding Willow", Amity refers to a nonexistent cute ghost with they/them pronouns, with Boscha following suit.
    • In "Through the Looking Glass Ruins", Emira refers to Edric's date with "their".
    • Raine Whispers from "Eda's Requiem" is referred to with they/them pronouns and confirmed by Word of God to be nonbinary.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power introduces the character Double Trouble in Season 4. While the character appeared in the original '80s toyline as Princess Glimmer's female cousin, the new version is a shapeshifter-for-hire, and is distinctly non-binary, referred to by all characters with the singular-they.
  • Gender-neutral writing has crept into the episodes of The Smurfs (1981) to keep Baby Smurf's gender identity anonymous — although at one instance Papa Smurf does refer to Baby Smurf as a "he".
  • Steven Universe: Future: The character Shep uses they/them pronouns, and is the first non-binary character in an animated series.
  • When Rusty was introduced onto Thomas & Friends, Britt Allcroft sought to make the character gender-neutral and avoided using gender-specific terms when referring to Rusty. However, in season 9, Rusty was accidentally called a she in early US broadcasts of "Tuneful Toots". Since then, Rusty has been referred to with he/him pronouns.

    Real Life 
  • This is generally a practice with non-binary (gender-neutral) people, who are considered neither male nor female and fall outside the gender demographic.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Gender Neutral Pronoun


Understanding Willow

A (non-existent) ghost is referred neutrally.

How well does it match the trope?

3.72 (18 votes)

Example of:

Main / GenderNeutralWriting

Media sources: