Using gender inclusive language: why is it important?

Author: Jan Broekhuizen

In October 2020, Dutch newspaper Trouw published an article posing the question whether or not the Dutch language is ready for the use of gender neutral pronouns. A lot of non-binary people in the Netherlands choose to use hen/hun or die/diens as gender neutral pronouns, but Trouw wondered if language users are able to work with this.

In the article, both non-binary people as well as linguists are interviewed. Even though the non-binary people practically unanimously say they preferred hen/hun and die/diens, it is clear that the linguists are mostly focused on whether or not this is “right” grammatically speaking. This makes me think of the moment I posted on Facebook that I wanted to be referred to using hen/hun.

I am non-binary, and the female-coded pronouns I used before gave me dysphoria. I had expected some confused responses, since this is new for a lot of people. But some responses were downright disrespectful. I got handed alternative pronouns that “worked better”, and I got the response that hen/hun are not suitable as gender neutral pronouns because these words already have a different meaning.

I’m curious about the following things: why is gender inclusive language so important? And why do people get so worked up over proposals for a more inclusive use of language?

WANTED: For an article on this subject, I’d love to get your opinion on gender inclusive language! Are you non-binary? Then I’d love to hear from you if you feel like the language you hear around you is inclusive, or not at all. Please send in your experiences by answering the questions in this survey!