The Time Speaker Universe has always been my home, even as early as four years old I was telling myself stories of the city of Tashala and the wonderful places out in the multiverse. It’s the only place I feel like I belong and having that special place, even though it’s fictional, has helped me to survive a very hard life. In fact, at certain times in my history TSU has literally kept me alive. Consequently, I know how important it is for everyone to have somewhere that they belong, somewhere they can be themselves and be loved and accepted, and somewhere safe to live, even if it’s only fiction.
I have created the public parts of TSU with the deep intention of it being inclusive and big enough to be that home for as many people as is possible. I want you, the reader, to be able to find a part of TSU where you feel safe and loved. I also want it as a place for you to escape to if you’re in despair. It’s a place where the Underdog sticks it to The Man, where even the most terrible events lead into better things, and everyone is loved by someone.
To this end, one of the many very deliberate creations in TSU is that the Ar’Manaan species has three sexes: asa/tiger or “womb bearer”, aka/wolf or “penis bearer”, and ada/heron or “bears both” (hermaphrodite). This species also has a spectrum of gender between androgynous, woman and man. To be specific: gender and sex are entirely different things. However, with all good intentions come road blocks. For this particular part of inclusiveness in TSU, I have struggled for a very long time to find gender neutral and/or androgynous pronouns that aren’t linguistically wieldy for me or jolting for a reader.
With the current “accepted” gender-neutral terms in English, it is very difficult to write large bodies of fiction with androgynous character points of views. Most people suggest we use “they” as a gender-neutral term, however in the context of fiction “they” is very confusing, particularly so for this author who is not instinctively good with grammar. The most appropriate description for my experience trying to use “they” as a pronoun within prose is the very colloquial phrase of: “pushing shit uphill”.
I have spent probably ten years trying to find a solution to this problem, and it has been difficult. All of the “accepted” or suggested replacements are bulky, break the smooth flow of text, are awkward to use or have weildy grammar rules. Many people have said to me that perhaps I should just “not worry about it”, and go with the status quo of a dual gender world because it’s easier.
But there are so many people in this world who are “non-gender-conforming”, myself included. And those people very often do not feel as if they have a place in this world, and that is partially because even our very language oppresses their sense of identity (never mind our actual cultural bigotry).
To fit my vision of a home for almost every one, TSU needs to be dynamic, it needs to challenge the status quo which oppresses those who do not conform, and it needs gender neutral pronouns that do not detract from the humanity of any individual. So, despite the barriers and difficulties, I have decided to do it anyway. After years of research, trying to get relevant feedback, as well as compromising with the needs of my writing method, the prose, and potential of readers unfamiliar with gender neutral ideas, I’ve decided to use the following systems and words:
Firstly, in TSU there is a distinction between gender-neutral and androgynous. Gender neutral is gender-non-specific and can be used with any gender. Androgynous is used in TSU to describe those whose gender identity is the range of a balance between woman and man. In the Ar’Manaan species, one’s genitalia do not assign one’s gender. For example, Briiana Zuru’s sex is hermaphrodite, but her gender is female. Geira Abbott’s gender is androgynous, and xeir sex is as yet undefined. So, the first important piece of terminology and information is that in TSU, pronouns describe gender not sex, and so, the personal pronouns are defined as female, male and androgynous, and “Gender-neutral” means non-specific gender. The following are the pronouns:
xey – adds to she/he, rhymes with “they”
xem – adds to him/her, rhymes with “them”
xeir – adds to hers/his, rhymes with “their”
(Please note, the “x” in TSU is said as a “z” and not “ex”. Also the grammar rules for them are that they are otherwise used in exactly the same way as the other gendered pronouns, for example, despite being similar to “they”, “xey” is singular, so you say “xey is” instead of “xey are”, and contractions are used like the other pronouns, like “she is” becomes “she’s”, and “xey is” becomes “xey’s”. It’s a little bulky but it’s the only way to treat the new pronoun set as if it has equal linguistic status to the other two gendered sets.)
Secondly, there was also a need to create gender-neutral and/or androgynous terms beyond pronouns for words like titles and some endearments. Because of English being so severely bi-gender, I’ve had to create new titles to use from out of Ranqa as follows:
iisha – is androgynous. This is specifically a replacement for “wife/husband”, and I’ll only use it in the story if the partner’s gender is unknown, or androgynous.
mana or mānā – is an androgynous-gendered parent, i.e. one half of a biological parental pair, and it is also a “self-seeded” hermaphrodite parent. So, if a male hermaphrodite has a child on their own, that male parent will either be called papa, or mana, although, usually “mana” by their offspring.
Nēnā – means “little”, and is a gender-neutral endearment for a small child, though, mostly out of modern use in Haven or the Five Nations.
Miisha – means “precious to me”, it’s a replacement for “love” or “dear one”. Generally, it’s only put for heart family; for those who are deeply precious to one’s heart. Can be for a child, a close family member, dear friend or a lover/partner, (although in this form of endearment it’s exclusively an expression of platonic love, rather than sexual).
shan – gender-neutral and androgynous version of “sir/ma’am”, the Ranqa root of this word is actually “sir” in the military context of a higher combat rank. But it is also used in the context of professional rank on Planet Shadow.
sasa – is another title of high rank, but specifically non-combatant power and one that is not inherited, such as a Prime Minister or a President. It’s usually used for elected officials.
sesa – is another title of high rank, but specifically a position of political or social rank which is inherited, so it’s more like “Lord/Lady” or “Queen/King”.
All of the Ranqa-based title and endearment terms have male and female versions of them. Generally, this is marked by a suffix on the end of the word: female is “-aana”, male is “-aan”, e.g. Miisha (a), Miishaana (f), Miishaan (m). But unless there is a particularly deliberate reason for using the female/male versions in Ranqa, the writing will use the most accurate English versions just to minimize the number of new terms readers need to be familiar with just
to read the story.
In addition, all of the endearments and titles are able to refer to a singular person or a group of people. For example, in a polygamous relationship, one can refer to all of their lovers in a group as “iisha” and be referring to the group rather than individuals. There are a number of other Ranqa titles and gendered variations used in the series, however, there is a more extensive lexicon on the website for your pleasure if you’re