Since beginning to talk, Sasha has been interested in language—not in learning and speaking multiple languages, but in the shape, structure, and “Lego blocks of sound that snap together to make words and sentences.” By the age of four, Sasha was “reading independently,” and by the age of six, Sasha had invented an entirely new language.
Sasha’s interest in language from such a young age foreshadows their attempts to make language more inclusive later in the text. Sasha’s nongendered identity means that they are not represented within the English language, and this sparks their interest to create new and more comprehensive languages.
Now in high school, Sasha is still interested in language and hangs out with other “conlangers,” or people who invent new languages. Sasha’s newest language doesn’t have a name, but it is spoken in an “imaginary agricultural society something like that of ancient Mesopotamia.” Languages, Slater explains, “embody the obsessions of the people who speak them,” and this imaginary society is “dominated by growing seasons, grains, and harvests.” As such, all pronouns within Sasha’s language “distinguish between animate and inanimate objects,” not male and female.
Since languages “embody the obsessions” of those who speak them, Slater implies that people who speak English are obsessed with gender and sexuality, which is exactly why Richard targets Sasha for wearing a skirt. Sasha exists outside of the generally accepted binary of male and female, and their new language and the imaginary society in which it exists represents an alternative reality that is more inclusive.
The English language does not work this way. The English pronouns of she or he, her or him, and hers or his reflect gender, and even though many English-speaking people think that “is just how languages work,” many languages use gender neutral pronouns. Armenian, Thai, Turkish, and Hindi, to name a few, do not assume a speaker’s gender, but English “poses a challenge” for Sasha and others who don’t fit “neatly” into “either/or categories like male or female.” Because of this, Sasha prefers the nonbinary pronoun they. “It might feel awkward at first,” Slater writes, “but you’ll get used to it.”
Here, Slater implies that gender is a social construction rather than an innate quality or trait. Things and people are not inherently masculine or feminine, they are made that way through language and the presumption of gender. For Sasha, the word “they” does not imply these same gendered assumptions, and the “awkward” way in which this nongendered pronoun fits into everyday speech and grammar is a testament to how deeply engrained gender is in the English language.