If you know me, you know I’m the proud parent of a genderqueer artist. Learning to address someone you adore with gender-neutral pronouns is like learning to speak a second language. It challenges the way that you think about gender and identity. When you hear someone speaking your first language (referring to your loved one in old familiar terms), it is too easy to slip back into old ways of speaking, even though you are trying to show your loved one the respect they deserve.
Clearly, these changes to my language infiltrate the rest of my life. I’ve searched in vain for genderqueer folk in the nineteenth century, but have only been able to locate their trans and cross-dressing friends. ‘Genderqueerness,’ as a concept, didn’t exist yet. Victorian England was a very heterosexist gendered society, but they still had gender-neutral terms of endearment.
Many of the labels that signify closeness use gender to personalize the connection. For this reason, it is easy to think of gendered terms of endearment as ‘traditional,’ or more ‘natural,’ but even the Victorians were capable of expressing affection without binary language.
A ‘cobber’ is a late victorian way of calling someone your ‘BFF.’ Likewise, ‘pally’ was a more affectionate way of saying ‘pal.’
Calling someone a ‘crackerjack’ was like calling them a pro, or super-talented. In fact, there are many contemporary ways to refer to someone affectionately by complimenting their abilities.
Though it has connotations of snobbery today, ‘fancypants’ was a way to compliment someone on their good looks.
Which brings us into romantic relationships, where your ‘mash’ is someone (of any gender) that you are infatuated with.
An ‘out-and-outer’ was a bold Victorian, but the term could be used to insult someone for being too outspoken about their beliefs. The Victorian Era was, after all, a time when referring to someone as a ‘squarehead’ was a way of saying they were honest. Out-and-outers were extraordinary people, who were reckless and beautiful. ‘Ripsnorter’ and ‘ripstaver’ were other ways of saying basically the same thing.
Leave your favourite gender-neutral terms of endearment in the comments.