Deep Dive Into Neopronouns


S. Qiouyi Lu

[email protected]

(626) 869-6373

ae/aer/aers or they/them/theirs

Office hours:

By appointment only

Course Description

Recent high-profile works of fiction, such as JY Yang’s The Black Tides of Heaven and Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth, include prominent nonbinary characters that use they/them pronouns. However, singular they isn’t the only option for gender-neutral pronouns—as early as 1976, Marge Piercy used the invented pronoun, or neopronoun, “per” in Woman on the Edge of Time. This workshop, led by nonbinary writer, translator, and editor S. Qiouyi Lu, will explore the history of neopronouns, discuss examples drawn from literature, and provide participants a welcoming space to draft their own work that uses neopronouns.

Who Should Take This Workshop?

Writers from all genres—non-fiction, literary fiction, YA, middle grade, science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, children’s books, romance—and all mediums—prose, poetry, playwriting, screenwriting, comics/graphic novels, games—at any point in their career from newbie to professional. 


As a result of this course, you will be able to:

  • Broadly define the term “nonbinary.”
  • Broadly describe the social and historical contexts of at least one nonbinary experience.
  • Provide at least three reasons why research helps to create richer narratives.
  • Define what a “neopronoun” is.
  • Recall at least three sets of neopronouns.
  • Demonstrate how at least one set of neopronouns is used in a sentence.
  • Name at least two examples of neopronoun use in speculative fiction published before the year 2000.
  • Name at least two examples of speculative fiction published since 2010 that use neopronouns.
  • Define the terms “high-context” and “low-context” in reference to narrative and worldbuilding.
  • Analyze whether a story’s engagement with gender is high-context or low-context.
  • Explain whether the use of neopronouns in a work demonstrates high-context or low-context expectations of the reader.
  • Articulate your reasoning behind choosing whether to write a high-context or low-context narrative.
  • Write at least a 100-word passage using at least one set of neopronouns.

Required Texts


Shawl, Nisi and Cynthia Ward. Writing the Other: A Practical Approach. Aqueduct Press, 2005. 26,000 words.

Wigmore, Rem. “Grow Green.” Capricious, vol. 1, no. 9, 2018. 1,500 words.


Chu, John. “The Law and the Profits.” The Revelator, vol. 139, no. 1, 2016. 4,400 words.

Lu, S. Qiouyi. “Curiosity Fruit Machine.” GlitterShip, vol. 1, no. 33, 2017. 700 words.

Anders, Charlie Jane. “Love Might Be Too Strong a Word.” Lightspeed Magazine, vol. 1, no. 27, 2012. 5,400 words.

Takács, Bogi. “The Handcrafted Motions of Flight.” Stone Telling: The Magazine of Boundary-crossing Poetry, vol. 1, no. 7, 2012. 500 words.

Total Reading: 38,500 words (2.5 hours at an average reading rate of 250 words per minute)

Course Philosophy and Code of Conduct

I am approaching this course with the following assumptions and ground rules:

People in this classroom are here to learn. I am assuming good faith of everyone in this space and expect everyone to assume good faith of each other in turn. “Good faith” here means that we practice compassion for each other and interpret each other’s words and actions generously. Learning means making mistakes. Sometimes mistakes are frustrating to witness, but this is a space for us to grow, and growth only comes from making mistakes and studying how we can improve and iterate over those mistakes to create a stronger result in the future. Practicing compassion also means practicing self-compassion: beating ourselves up only robs us of the energy we could be investing in learning. Forgiving ourselves will carry us far further than shaming ourselves.

We are also here, fundamentally, to write about people. Don’t forget that this isn’t an intellectual exercise about aliens or insect people, but about living humans who share this space with you. Extend your compassion to the subjects of your writing. This statement still applies to the nonbinary writer writing about nonbinary characters: Extend your compassion to yourself that you will not represent all experiences, and that it’s not your duty to. You are just here to write your own stories, and that is enough.

On the other hand, neither I as instructor, nor your fellow students, are here to give you permission to write outside of your experience, if that is the story you’ve chosen to written. No one person or subset of a group can ever grant you permission or absolve you of responsibility if you do write something insensitive. We are not here to ask whether it’s “okay” to do something, because the entire purpose of attending this class is to expand our understanding to realize that the answer is more often than not, “it depends.” We’re here to consider how context influences our choices and how to make better choices in our writing that allow us to more accurately represent actual human experience.

To that end, while this course focuses on neopronouns, I will also provide a background on who uses neopronouns and why so that the course has a grounding in people’s experiences from a more first-person perspective for those writing outside of their experience, and to validate or offer additional experiences for those writing within their experience, as well as offer intersecting perspectives that anyone of any background might not have considered.

I understand that neopronouns are new to most people and can be difficult to grasp, but that only practice changes that. So this is a nonjudgmental space for you to practice using neopronouns. If you make a mistake, simply correct yourself and move on. But also remember that not all spaces—particularly when you are a cis person entering a non-cis space—are spaces where you can expect people to pick up for you and do the emotional labor of letting you practice. Be mindful of people’s needs in a space.

Attendance Policy and Workload

This course does not have set meeting times. You can access class material and discussion and participate in class at any time, day or night, from anywhere in the world as long as you have an internet connection. 

You’ll be given lectures to read, exercises to complete, and fiction to evaluate in addition to discussions relating to the topic ongoing throughout the week. You should expect to spend 1–2 hours per day on discussion and homework, although you may do the work on your own schedule.


I want this course to be as accessible as possible to people. If you encounter any difficulties, please feel free to contact me, and I will do my best to accommodate.

I would also like to take the time to highlight two particularly underserved groups when it comes to accessibility in the classroom. The first is neurodiverse students. I am using “neurodiverse” broadly here to describe people with mental illnesses, personality disorders, brain disorders, developmental disorders, and other similar experiences. The other group is first-generation students. I am using the term here to refer to people who, because of differences in opportunity often rooted in institutional oppression (race, class, gender, immigration status, etc.), have not had or have had limited access to higher education, online classes, or other formalized education.

I want to be mindful in particular of these two groups, and in acknowledging them I hope to create a safer space for people to ask for accommodations, though anyone can ask for accommodations for any reason. If you find yourself struggling to keep up with the course, please know that you may email me privately at [email protected] to ask for extensions, additional resources and clarification, or any other accommodation that would help you get what you want out of the course. If I cannot provide the accommodation, I will let you know; please do not self-reject: ask first and I’ll see what I can do about it. You do not need to disclose why you are asking for an accommodation; I will assume good faith on your part.

Course Requirements and Calendar

There are no grades for this course; you are here for your own edification. You can also do the coursework in any order. However, here is the course order as I have designed it to scaffold the concepts so that they build on each other for the most thorough understanding of the material:

Read Writing the Other: A Practical Approach (26,000 words)

I will proceed assuming all students have read Writing the Other and will reference concepts and discussions from this work throughout my discussions and responses in the course.

Lecture 1: Background on nonbinary gender (1,400 words)

Introduction to nonbinary gender; historical, social, and cultural contexts of nonbinary genders; common misunderstandings of nonbinary genders.

Lecture 2: Background on neopronouns (420 words)

Introduction to neopronouns; examples of neopronouns and neopronoun use.

Lecture 3: High-context and low-context narratives (780 words)

Introduction to the terms “high-context” and “low-context”; examples of high-context and low-context narratives; discussion of implications for how gender can be portrayed and engaged with in a narrative.

Reading 1: “The Law and the Profits” by John Chu (4,400 words)

Read story and answer discussion questions.

Reading 2: “Curiosity Fruit Machine” by S. Qiouyi Lu (700 words)

Read story and answer discussion questions.

Reading 3: “Love Might Be Too Strong a Word” by Charlie Jane Anders (5,400 words)

Read story and answer discussion questions.

Reading 4: “The Handcrafted Motions of Flight” by Bogi Takács (500 words)

Read poem and answer discussion questions.

Reading 5: “Grow Green” by Rem Wigmore (1,500 words)

Read story and answer discussion questions.

Writing Exercise 1: Picture game (450 words)

Write for 10–15 minutes inspired by the image or otherwise about a single person from a third-person point of view using neopronouns; answer discussion questions.

Writing Exercise 2: Picture game (430 words)

Write for 10–15 minutes inspired by the image or otherwise about a group of people from any point of view about another character who uses neopronouns; answer discussion questions.

Open Discussion

Optional. Ask any further questions or comments by email.

Syllabus last updated on December 1, 2019.

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