The fact that some languages are more heavily gendered than others can cause difficulties for non-binary people who may prefer to use genderless language. Further, people described as men or women were rated less favorable.
Non-binary people often prefer a gender-neutral pronoun (e.g., they) to express themselves. However, some languages like Polish are heavily gendered, and gender can be seen in nouns, adjectives, and adverbs unlike in English.
Non-binary Polish people have modified the language to speak in a passive voice rather than a gendered word. For example, one cannot claim to be a psychologist in Poland without using the masculine or feminine form of the word psychologist. This is a more passive method of conveying information.
Researchers wanted to know how this differing language might affect how others perceived non-binary people. We preferred personal pronouns and nouns, especially professional names, over gender-neutral passive voices, explained Karolina Hansen and Katarzyna Zotak. Verbs are widespread and difficult to avoid, and both non-binary and other people use them when talking about non-binary people.
Researchers recruited a sample of 130 adult participants via social media posts. Each participant was randomly assigned to read either a masculine and gender-neutral text or a feminine and gender-neutral text. The text contained either the narrator describing their day in a store answering a phone.
Participants completed several assessments of the person on competency, credibility, and niceness. They were also asked to name the person in the text, which was later renamed for masculinity, femininity, and gender-neutrality. In addition, participants completed tests assessing how much they had contact with non-heteronormative people in their lives.
Most participants gave a masculine name for the masculine text and a feminine name for the feminine text, according to the survey findings. One fourth of participants gave a feminine name and 7% gave a gender-neutral name.
Participants rated the gender-neutral text more favorable than those in the gender-neutral texts, and participants rated non-binary individuals less accepting of a new member of their family. There were no differences in comprehensibility, person evaluation, or acceptance as a new family member between the masculine and feminine texts.
Non-binary language forms, such as passive voice, are unknown to most listeners or readers and are perceived as less comprehensible than gendered and active language. Moreover, non-binary persons using such language are evaluated more negatively and are socially less accepted than women and men.
The authors mention some limitations to this work, including the only Polish sample and the fact that this sample had a small amount of contact with non-heteronormative individuals. Future research might employ other recruitment strategies to ensure a more heterogenous sample.
The survey, Non-Binary Individuals' Social Perception, was published on April 25, 2022.