Gender-Neutral Terms For Aunts, Uncles, And Other Family Members
Let’s look at some inclusive ways to talk at the thanksgiving table
Gender-neutral terms are not something that many people give much thought to in everyday life unless they are directly affected by it. If we are genuinely striving for a gender-neutral society, we will seriously need to look at how we use the English language in our daily lives. Society today should no longer be expected to answer to gendered terms like “niece or uncle”. The sex of a person is not really something that is required in daily conversation.
Highly gendered language can cause severe dysphoria and anxiety for trans people, and we are still at a point where we do not readily know gender-neutral forms of the most familiar words. This can be frustrating when you have blood relatives or close friends that are affected by gender identity issues, and you want to be supportive of them, but you cannot find a suitable gender-neutral word for what you are trying to say or who you are trying to speak to.
Many people are still expected to answer to a word that draws attention away from their identity and towards their sex. Is this really appropriate? Is it necessary? These are the kinds of questions that need answers if we are ever going to move forward as human beings.
The Importance of Using a Gender Neutral Term
A gender-neutral term can make such a significant difference for a gender non-binary or non-conforming person. It is often an easy way for you to show support to someone. Therefore, the hunt for non-gendered terms is a real one that affects an increasing amount of people every year.
If you have a person in your family who you do not have a word to refer to without making them feel wrong and without showing respect for how they identify, then this is a topic that is probably important to you. The number of people who are coming out as queer is ever on the rise, which clearly shows that more people are comfortable and feel safe to be true to who they are.
We have a responsibility to queer people in our lives, be it friends or someone closer, to bring attention to the sense of urgency that is needed when it comes to appropriate language to accurately tell the story of human life, queer or otherwise.
When we have a family member or friend that comes out as transgender or non-binary, it is common to want to support them and to help them through transition. This is what they are hoping for as well. Some of us understand that biological sex is not that important when you truly love someone, and this understanding is something that trans people really appreciate.
A major roadblock in our journey here is the English language and its gender binary words for family members and people in general. You might even find it difficult to substitute words like male and female without feeling that your sentence is now somehow wrong.
This is when you start to take note of how hard it is to avoid language like “niece” or even descriptive things like “maternal uncle”. If you want to start your journey of becoming an ally, try to comment on this problem whenever you can, make a post on social media, try to get others to share your post. Help others to take note of this problem as well. Draw attention to it and encourage further social comment. Guide others to seeking answers for these important social questions as well.
This is both a linguistic and societal issue.
Gender Neutral Options for Family
There are many suggestions for neutral terminology referring to family, but some of them are quite outlandish, and many people, usually who post public blogs, even those who are themselves non-binary, indicate that they do not like these terms much. There seems to be a general call for the creation of new words that are better suited to the needs of affected people.
Think about what you would want to answer to if the word “niece” made you uncomfortable? Note down anything that stands out. Can you even think of a word that you would prefer to answer to?
Let us start with the title issue:
What Do I Call My Parents’ Siblings?
The gendered terms of “aunt and uncle” are obviously problematic. Many of us have some form of contact with our parents’ siblings, and when they present as non-binary as we want to be supportive, we need to find appropriate terminology.
One of the main suggestions for a gender-neutral form of “aunt and uncle” is phibling. The term is meant to refer to your parent’s sibling, but you will likely find that many people do not like this word. Auncle is a common queer form of the word but is also not well-liked by many people. Cousin is also used as a substitute for when aunt/uncle is used to refer to much older cousins or your parents’ cousins (if you are that close with extended family).
Other queer suggestions are Nini, Bibi, Titi, Zizi, or Untie/Unty. Some of these suggestions are still debated. For example, Titi can be a diminutive for aunt in Spanish, Zizi is a French colloquialism for “penis”, etc. The combination of terms like aunt/uncle is also not really appropriate for the purpose of non-binary language.
Such issues suggest that the most appropriate answer to this problem is a new term entirely.
What About My Sibling?
Well, this one is fairly easy. Sibling is itself a gender-neutral term. You can also opt for the shortened version: sib. There are also queer forms for sister (sibster) or brother (sibter), but there are not gender-neutral. The answer here seems to be quite clear and straightforward.
Again, parent is neutral in and of itself. Per or par are popular short versions of parent. There are several queer combinations of words like “mommy, daddy, mummy, etc.”. Examples of these are muddy, moddy, maddy, or dommy. We again need to mention here that combinations are not really appropriate if we want to go fully neutral. Concepts like “mother and father” still suggest binary genders the same way that “female and male” do.
There are also other queer suggestions: zaza, baba, nini, bibi, and zither. These are based on a word like “mama or father”. While these are fairly acceptable, you will notice that some of them are the same as the suggestions for aunt/uncle, which, as you can imagine, will cause confusion in the long run.
The final suggestions are based on Old English. Cennend or the shorter word, Cen, are neutral words meaning parent.
This question has some answers that are acceptable and seem helpful, but again part of the answer is problematic for several reasons.
My Siblings’ Children?
The most popular suggestions are nibling and chibling. While these are combination words of neutral terms, there are some people who do not like them. Regardless, they seem to be fairly appropriate nonetheless.
Other queer and neutral suggested alternatives for “nieces and nephews” are Nephiece, Niecew, Sibkid, or Nieph. Needless to say, these are difficult to pronounce and can cause confusion. Especially in the context of a small child.
This answer can pose no small amount of confusion and is difficult to quantify because the options seem unnecessarily difficult to pronounce. Perhaps a better answer here would involve creation of new terms as well.
My Very Own Children!
When you are a parent of children that comes out as trans you might also be looking for non-binary terms for your children. Common and basic suggestions that you have definitely heard before are child, offspring, or kid. Alternatively, you can turn to a slang word like sprog or age-related terms such as: oldest or youngest.
This answer is clear and quite satisfactory, as is the next one. No real problems are posted by these options.
Neutrality for a Grandparent
While “grandparent/s” is neutral, there are masculine and feminine versions: “grandma, grandpa, grandmother, grandfather, etc.”. A common combination word is grandy, where queer versions again feature things like nini and bibi, which repeat a few times on this list.
If the terms keep repeating as they are, it is extremely likely that different people will get them confused. This is a problem that new terminology will address.
This option has basic gender-neutral versions that are commonly used: grandkid or grandchild. Both of these are existing words, and people have little trouble talking about someone with these words, even if they are conservative and might not understand the concept of being trans.
Are There Alternatives For Spouse?
The most gendered words for one’s spouse are “husband (male) and wife (female). But in this category, that are several well-recognized neutral options that are readily used by society. Even more so than words like sibling.
Things like a spouse, significant other (S.O.), or partner, or even things like the other half or soul mate are commonly used and are all neutral. Other options are related to pet names, like sweetheart, for example, and these are less clear but should still be recognizable in general conversation to describe someone who you love in a romantic context.
What About A Title?
We have looked at different neutral words for so many concepts here. From “uncle” to “niece” and all things in-between. The last category that we will discuss in this article is titles. These are things not often heard in casual conversation anymore and are usually reserved for formal contexts that require a certain level of respect and general neutrality.
The standard Mrs, Ms, or Mr usually indicates gender and marital status of a woman. It thus quickly becomes apparent that this idea is outdated. Neutral options such as Dr are described as a specialized person who has a specific qualification or career.
The most widely used queer version of a title is Mx. The X opposes gender identification and makes an important point without requiring drastic change. Other versions are M, Msr, Mq, or Ind. Some of these will likely confuse and result in some strange questions that you need to answer. The problem that we post here is simply related to variety.
For the purpose of titles, having too large a variety can be confusing. The suggested solution might just be to agree on one version and go from there.