Oxford University SU denies telling students to use gender neutral pronouns like ‘ze’

Oxford University has denied instructing students to use gender-neutral pronouns like ze.

Earlier this week it was reported that a leaflet which was distributed by the student union office at the university hoped to prevent transgender students being offended by the use of incorrect pronouns.

The Sunday Times reported that it would be implemented in lectures, seminars and hopefully outside of university.

But a statement released by Jo Gregory-Brough at the Oxford University Students Union denies that the leaflet was produced by the student union.

She said: “As far as we’re aware, the information which has been published is incorrect. We have not produced a leaflet implying that all students must use ‘ze’ pronouns to refer to others, or indeed to themselves.”

But Gregory-Brough did go on to emphasise support for trans students.

She adds: “We believe the resources which are referred to within many of the articles could be support materials used by our student leaders and welfare representatives, which alongside other information and tips, reminds individuals of the importance of not assuming the pronouns of their peers while also aiming to normalise stating pronouns in introductions.”

Continuing: “In this situation, and in light of the factual inaccuracies published, we would like to highlight that our support for trans students includes respecting neopronouns and non-binary identities. We would also like to clearly state that we would never tell anyone to use ‘ze’ pronouns instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ if ‘he’ or ‘she’ is the pronoun someone wishes to use. That would be misgendering and would likely have the biggest impact on individuals (ie, some trans students) who may already be struggling to get people to use ‘he’ or ‘she’ for them. It would be totally counterproductive.

“We do however suggest the use of genderless pronouns like singular ‘they’ to refer to individuals whose pronouns haven’t been confirmed. This avoids assuming what pronouns a person uses based solely on how they present themselves. We also recommend that at events like campaign meetings, workshops and training sessions, people introduce themselves with their pronouns. It reduces awkwardness, emphasises that gender cannot be assumed, and most importantly helps make trans students feel comfortable. It’s a very small step that can have massive positive effects.

“Requesting that people state their pronouns, and do not assume the pronouns of others, is not particularly radical or controversial. It’s a standard practice, not just in Oxford but in student communities and LGBTQ-friendly spaces all over, and we encourage its spread. We find it disappointing that a piece of misinformation has resulted in a media storm around what is a very basic effort to ensure our trans students feel welcome within the Oxford community.”

The University of Tennessee is encouraging tutors to ask students which pronouns they want to be referred to using.

Gender neutral pronouns, such as “xe” and “ze” are being encouraged at Tennessee, and tutors are encouraged not to assume that gender-binary pronouns, such as “he” and “she” are correct.

PinkNews spoke to users who used the pronoun Mx after Oxford Dictionary included it.

They said: “It’s important as the courtesy title is a shorthand for an individual’s gender. A Mr is typically a man and a Mrs is typically a woman.

“Those are the kind of rules on which society – rightly or wrongly – functions. I don’t consider myself a man or a woman, so the existing cultural shorthand doesn’t fit me.

“While I am me, irrespective of who approves, and I am no more or less authentic a person for having or lacking wider approval, it is nevertheless a great boon to my own sense of worth and perceived validity to have those things recognised by society at large.

“My mind and society both are healthier places with Mx, than without it.”