Not him or her, but transgender 'hen' added to Swede's official dictionary

by Gregory Tomlin |

STOCKHOLM (Christian Examiner) – Sweden took another step last month in its war on gender designations, adding a new generic personal pronoun to its official dictionary as a means to avoid references to "him" or "her."

"Hen" is now available for use as a replacement to the common personal pronouns "han"("him" in English) and "hon" ("her" in English). Use of the newly-coined word "hen" first appeared in print in the children's book "Kivi & Monsterdog" in 2012 and many educators immediately followed suit and replaced gender specific pronouns with the generic term.

But the word has been in unofficial use at least since 2011, when Stockholm's upscale Egalia school began using it as a gender-neutral pronoun. The BBC reported the school also avoids categorizing students as boys or girls – instead, they are "friends."

What started as a fad, according to members of the Swedish Academy, has now gained traction – so much so that it merited inclusion in 13,000 additions and edits made to the 2015 dictionary from the Swedish Academy. "Hen" may be used in two cases, according to the dictionary: when the gender of a person is unknown (such as a transsexual) or if the designation is viewed as irrelevant by the audience.

Sweden has long been considered an activist in the area of gender equality. The Christian Science Monitor reported in 2012 that the shift toward gender-neutral language is an official government policy aimed at increasing egalitarianism. According to the paper, the Swedish Department of Education in 2008 pushed 110 million Swedish crowns (about $16.3 million) into an effort to have teachers "actively counteract gender stereotypes and promote equality."

Now, even bathroom facilities are considered a battlefield in the fight to abolish gender identity. A new bathroom in the northern Swedish town of Umeå reportedly bears a sign with the silhouette of a man and a women, with arrows pointing both directions. According to The Local, an English language news site in Sweden, the gender-neutral signage is confusing even veteran advocates of gender equality.

The Local also reported in January that one municipality in Sweden even took gender issues into consideration when deciding how to employ the town's snow plow, presumably giving the same priority to plowing bike lanes used heavily by women as the plowing of roads driven predominantly by men.

Sweden's parliament overwhelmingly approved same-sex marriage in 2009. It also continues to pursue its 40-year-old policy of multi-culturalism, which critics say has further eroded traditional views on gender.