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I am preparing for a large academic event where Latin is used. Latin will be used in the spoken ceremonies and, more importantly for this question, in written diplomas. The gender of the recipient of the diploma will have an effect on the text: for example, a master will be magister or magistra.

There is a chance that some of the participants have non-binary gender identity and do not see themselves as clearly male or clearly female. This presents an issue for Latin. I see two main options here: using masculine (as people of unspecified gender are treated masculine in Latin) or neuter (more emphatically neither masculine nor feminine). I think masculine is the best choice, but I have no experience about the reception of such a choice.

So: Can anyone share experiences about how people with non-binary gender identity prefer to be gendered in Latin? Experience from other languages and extrapolation to Latin is fine, but in that case I prefer languages with masculine, feminine, and neuter. I am looking for actual experiences of people with non-binary gender identity in relation to Latin (or other gender-wise comparable language). I do not want anyone to feel misgendered, provided that they understand how gender works in Latin. For example, if you took a Latin class with such a person, do you remember how they preferred to be gendered in Latin?

I assume the question is whether people prefer masculine or neuter (there are probably both), but I want to leave the question a little open-ended, as I might not be aware of all aspects of the issue. Probably different people have different preferences, but I would like to have at least a small sample of opinions. The best thing imaginable is a study on this matter, but I doubt it exists.

(There is also a question about pronouns for such cases.)

  • I have no personal experience with this issue, but, as you say, masculine is used for the common gender in all European languages that I know. Neuter is just not used for people in Latin, so I would rule that out. If you feel like it, you could rewrite the entire text using only nouns and adjective with common genders, such as poeta and words of the third declension. – Cerberus Apr 22 '18 at 13:22
  • @Cerberus I agree that masculine is best, but I would like to see some more direct evidence from the relevant people themselves (for any such language). In some cases one might be able to work around gender-specific words, but in the said academic context this will be hard. The key nouns referring to the recipient of the diploma are candidatus/candidata, magister/magistra, licentiatus/licentiata, and doctor/doctrix, and adjectives are easily in superlative. In fact, the diploma I mentioned earlier uses the phrase femina praeclarissima. – Joonas Ilmavirta Apr 22 '18 at 13:33
  • ♦: Even so, it can be done! Words can be replaced and constructions recast...it's just a lot of work and it will uglify the text. – Cerberus Apr 22 '18 at 13:53
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Given that this question has gone unanswered for over a year, I'll provide what partial evidence I can. Here's what Macrobius had to say about the gender of Venus (Sat III.8.2 onward):

signum etiam eius est Cypri barbatum, corpore et veste muliebri, cum sceptro ac natura virili et putant eandem marem ac feminam esse. Aristophanes eam Ἀφρόδιτον appellat. Laevius etiam sic ait,

Venerem igitur almum adorans,
sive femina sive mas est,
ita uti alma Noctiluca est.

Rough translation:

There's even a bearded image of them [ambiguous] on Cyprus, with feminine body and clothing, but also a sceptre and male genitalia, and they think of her [feminine] as both male and female. Aristophanes calls her [feminine] Aphroditus [masculine], and Laevius says the following:

Thus adoring the nourishing god [masculine] Venus,
whether they [ambiguous] are female or male,
just as nourishing [feminine] as Noctiluca.

Which seems like solid evidence that poets and prose authors alike have no qualms about mixing grammatical genders: Macrobius combines Aphroditus (masculine) with eam (feminine), and Venus (feminine) with almum (masculine), without issue.

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That Macrobius quote is interesting because before reading the Latin version I took Ἀφρόδιτον to be neuter. Anyway, for what it is worth, I have had several gender non-binary students in my classes, and I always meet with them one-on-one to explain about how gendered the language is and discuss how they would like to be referred to. The students (teenagers) are always excited to hear that there is a neuter gender and usually ask to go by neuter forms—even after I explain that in Latin the neuter implies an object.

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I don’t have any relevant experience in the context of Latin, so this is just a partial answer. However, I have talked to and seen things written by some non-binary people online in English and this answer is partly based on my understanding derived from that.

My main recommendation would be to ask for each person's preference individually, rather than just following some uniform, general policy for all nonbinary people. Different nonbinary people have different preferences about how to refer to them, and people who are out as nonbinary are probably comfortable with communicating further information about their preferences for how people should refer to them. Some nonbinary people are OK with being referred to with masculine or feminine pronouns in English, and they might similarly be OK with masculine or feminine gender in Latin.

In Latin, for nouns and adjectives that have different masculine and feminine forms, I would not recommend using either the masculine or the feminine form to refer to a nonbinary individual who has not specifically indicated being comfortable with that usage. I would also not recommend using neuter forms unless asked by the person to do so, as that seems similar to using the pronoun it in English: something that can cause offense because it can seem dehumanizing.

The first option that comes to my mind for avoiding reference to a person's natural gender in Latin is abbreviations; e.g. perhaps magister/magistra could be replaced with “magistr." (and similarly, "candidat.", "licentiat.", "doct."). This kind of abbreviation does not have a clear pronunciation, but I don't know how much of a problem that is. In some situations, abbreviations might seem unclear, but in the context of a formulaic text like a diploma, I don't think omitting gender and case endings would make the text unreadable.

There is precedent in Latin for using abbreviated forms of words in formulaic expressions. I'm not sure whether there's precedent for the exact type of abbreviation I mention in the preceding paragraph, but I cite a source in this answer that mentions that on curse tablets written in Latin, "quem peperit" and "quam peperit" were both commonly abbreviated to "q p" ("Notes from Carthage", by David R. Jordan, aus: Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 111 (1996) 115–123). Some Latin phrases or terms are commonly used in abbreviated form in modern academia, such as Ph.D., e.g., et al., etc.

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