Swedish church group offers choice of three genders

Sensus, a Swedish church-backed study association, has adopted a new policy to allow prospective employees to classify their gender in three ways: Female, Male or Other.

The study association, which runs courses in a range of disciplines for more than 350,000 Swedes, has decided to introduce a third alternative in its standard online application form.

“It is a question of letting you as an individual decide for yourself how you want to be defined. Or if you turn it around, you should not have to have one role privately and another as an employee,” explained Johan Welander at Sensus to Church of Sweden newspaper, Kyrkans Tidning.

Applicants can now choose between Kvinna (woman), Man or Hen, a gender-neutral pronoun and alternative to the Swedish Hon (She) and Han (He).

Hen is a gender-neutral pronoun that has long been in circulation as an alternative to get round problems that sometimes arise when talking about people in the third person. It is also used by many within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) movement for people who do not wish to conform to the prevailing two gender norm.

The word does not feature however as a pronoun or definition of a gender in dictionaries of the Swedish language.

The Language Council of Sweden – the official language cultivation body and publisher of an annual “New Swedish Words” list – recommends the use of the pronoun Den (It) or Man (One) for the third person.

“It is difficult to change the use of words that are as deep-rooted and commonly used words as personal pronouns. It is much easier to add a new adjective, for example,” a spokesperson at the council told The Local.

“I am not aware of whether the use of Hen is being encourage by the council. But if people start to use the term then it is a Swedish word – that is how language develops.”

Malinda Flodman, press spokesperson at The Swedish Federation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights for Sexuality Education (Riksförbundet för sexuell upplysning – RFSU) told The Local on Wednesday that it was not currently an issue that the rights group is taking a stand on.

“It is a word that that is used by many who do not feel that they fit into any of the current alternatives, or just think that gender is irrelevant in a context,” Flodman said.

While the Federation is not actively working to broaden its use, Flodman said that more linguistic alternatives are always useful.

“Hen is a practical alternative to avoid having to write around it, but I don’t know how broadly it is used; it is perhaps more common among younger people.”

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