‘Xemself,’ ‘Eirself,’ and ‘Verself’: U.S. Appeals Court nixes transgender pronouns


A federal appeals court dealt a stinging blow on Jan. 15 to gender-driven modification of the English language, refusing a prisoner’s request to be called a pronoun that reflects his preferred gender identity.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit said no authority lets a court make litigants, judges, court personnel or anyone else refer to “gender-dysphoric litigants with pronouns matching their subjective gender identity,” Forbes reports.

Gender dysphoria may refer to a condition in which an individual identifies with the opposite sex. 

“Subjective” refers to matters of opinion as opposed to matters of objective, scientific fact.

The panel ruled the lower court lacked jurisdiction to even consider the prisoner’s request because Norman Varner’s motion was unauthorized by any statute.

Varner plead guilty in 2012 to attempted receipt of child pornography and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Varner earlier was convicted on a state charge of possession of child pornography and failure to register as a sex offender.

According to the panel, the issue of which pronoun to call a transgender person is not a simple one.

The panel anticipated that some people might not be satisfied to be referred to as “him” or “her”; they may demand to be called by myriad other “gender neutral” pronouns that have arisen in the LGBTQ community, such as “ze” and “hir.”

“If a court orders one litigant referred to as ‘her’ (instead of ‘him’), then the court can hardly refuse when the next litigant moves to be referred to as ‘xemself’ (instead of ‘himself’), wrote the panel.

The panel reprinted “Pronouns – A How to Guide,” a publication of the LGBTQ+ Resource Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee that contains 45 different pronouns for LGBTQ+, including ae/aer/aers and fae/faer/faers.

The panel said federal courts are increasingly asked to decide cases that turn on hotly-debated issues of sex and gender identity. A court may have the “most benign motives” in honoring a party’s request to be called by a certain pronoun but “in doing so, the court may unintentionally convey its tacit approval of the litigant’s underlying legal position.”

“We decline to enlist the federal judiciary in this quixotic undertaking,” the panel concluded.


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