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Norrie wins gender appeal

High court ruled gender as non-binary at a landmark case brought by a 'non specific' person, Norrie. Nine News

PT1M32S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-35yat 620 349

They are not a "she" or a "he" or even a "she/he", not a "him" or a "her", and certainly not an "it". They are not "herself" and "himself", and what is theirs is no longer "hers" or "his". Exactly what they are, language-wise, remains unclear. But one thing's for sure: when it comes to the lexicon of a new, gender-neutral reality, it pays to watch your language.

Wednesday's High Court decision in the case of 52-year-old Sydney resident Norrie upholds the rights of gender non-specific people to be something other than "male" or "female" on their birth certificate.

But, as Norrie's lawyer, Emily Christie, points out, "the judgement concerns only what Births, Deaths and Marriages is obliged to put on their forms, not general day-to-day use."

Historic decision: Norrie.

Historic decision: Norrie. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

So what is the rule here? What pronoun should you attach to a person of no gender?

"I'm sorry, but it's complicated," says the president of Organisation Intersex International Australia, Morgan Carpenter.

Norrie has expressed a preference for the Germanic "hir" (for her/his), and "zie" for "he/she".

A range of other gender-blind pronouns have come in and out of circulation over the years, from old Spivak, named after the American mathematician Michael Spivak ("E smiled", "Eir voice boomed", "E loves eirself"), and new Spivak ("Ey smiled", Ey loves emself"), to the Humanist lexicon ("Hu laughed", "I called hum", "Hu loves humself"), and Jayce's system (""Jee smiled", "Jee loves jemself").

But history shows invented pronouns to have a low survival rate in mainstream language. Carpenter says he doesn't "worry too much" about Spivaks or any other of the systems. "My suggestion is to just ask people how they want to be referred to. And if you can't ask them, just use their name."

Carpenter says that the issue is complicated by the fact Norrie is not, in fact, Australia's first genderless person.

"Alex MacFarlane, an intersex person born in Victoria, was the first person to receive a passport with an X sex marker, in 2003, on the basis of a Victorian 'indeterminate' birth certificate. Last year the Commonwealth government enabled any adult to choose an 'X' gender marker."

"To be honest," Carpenter says, "if someone has a non-binary gender identity I use their name or 'they'. The third person singular was good enough for Shakespeare. In Much Ado About Nothing, he writes: 'God send everyone their heart's desire.'"