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Pride in identities: neopronouns venturing the English language

Neopronouns emerged as one of the many language reforms catering to identity expressions that do not adhere to gender representation, deviating from the common binary pronouns such as “he/him” and “she/her.”

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(Artwork by Bernard Louis Garcia/TomasinoWeb)

With the half of 2021 opening upon the entrance of June, internet natives have sparked conversations revolving around gender identity and new linguistic innovations in pronouns to honor this year’s Pride month.

No, it’s not just the standard narrative about non-binary pronouns like “they/them,” but something deeper.

Apart from these conventional gender-neutral pronouns, neopronouns emerged as one of the many language reforms catering to identity expressions that do not adhere to gender representation, deviating from the common binary pronouns such as “he/him” and “she/her.”

According to a New York Times article, neopronouns may vary from created words like “ze” and “zir” that function as a pronoun without indicating gender to pre-existing terms such as animals and mythical creatures like “bun/bunself,” “kitten/kittenself,” “vamp/vampself,” etc.

Even before the pandemic, John Paulo Hererra, a professor in the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Faculty of Arts and Letters’ English Department, said he frequently heard about neopronouns as a member of the LGBTQ and academic communities.

“I’ve read articles about it; I have friends who are currently using it, not just for aesthetic purposes but also for identity,” he told TomasinoWeb.

But it is not all about gender identity, said Herrera. These pronouns are also used by “neurodivergent” people, such as people with Asperger’s syndrome and autism, to get around their complicated relationship with gender identity and expression.

“[I]t’s also now about finding something, or object, or person, or whatever that you feel connected with, and then you identify yourself as such,” Herrera said.

Prof. Rachelle Lintao, the incumbent chair of the UST Department of English, noted that neopronouns are particularly noticeable in a virtual setting.

“I first came across the use of neopronouns on Twitter and during online meetings when people would include in their social media handles and Zoom names of those neopronouns,” Lintao told TomasinoWeb.

‘Creative, innovative, and liberating language’

“It mirrors language [usage] to serve their purpose of inclusivity, of providing space to the marginalized members of the society,” said Lintao, who is also the Philippines’ Country Representative for Clarity, an international plain language association.

With new spectrums in language, Lintao believes that neopronouns denote the creative ways humans use language in a progressive society.

Although neopronouns somehow altered the language spectrum, Lintao does not see it as a complication in the field. Many complex changes have already materialized for centuries, creating the English language people know today.

“There is no such thing as over-complication of the English language,” she said. “People will  definitely adapt to these changes given their ability to use language.”

Herrera, being a language enthusiast, emphasized that the use of neopronouns is more of an innovation than a complication, given the dynamic nature of language.

“[I]t’s innovating [the] use of English language, and I’m big on innovations,” he said.

More than the creativity neopronouns entail, UST Hiraya’s director for gender equity Rozene Adremesin sees the concept as a part of the LGBTQ community’s continuous movement for liberation.

“The use of neopronouns validates and honors their identity and expression,” Adremesin said, who is also an incoming English Language Studies (ELS) junior.

Meanwhile, Marianne Manalo, the incumbent president of the UST English Language Studies Society, believes that neopronouns promote everyone’s preference.

“I think it’s really revolutionary and parang nagiging way siya to accept everyone’s identity,” Manalo told TomasinoWeb.

Problems in innovation

The acceptance of neopronouns is not without flaws and could be regarded with apathy.

“[P]eople could use it to mock or disrespect and use it without any knowledge at all,” Adremesin explained.

This issue has already surfaced. According to Herrera, people on social media have been “joining the bandwagon” and using causes such as Black Lives Matter (BLM) to create neopronouns like “BLMself.”

“[T]hat’s going to offend people that belong to [a certain community] or [stand] with that advocacy,” Herrera stressed.

Having people utilize it solely for aesthetic reasons is also a problem to observe, according to Herrera and Adremesin.

“[Using neopronouns only for aesthetic] defeats its purpose of representing a person’s identity,” Adremesin stated.

Neopronouns in the academe

As a new notion in language, academic studies and publications have yet to acknowledge neopronouns in the field of English, particularly in a Philippine English setting.

However, unpublished studies about neopronouns are “already in the works,” he asserted, as the subject matter is slowly being introduced to students from diverse levels across various institutions, even to ELS undergraduates at UST.

But on a typical campus day, the gender-neutral pronoun culture is alive and growing in the University.

While working with UST Hiraya, the first feminist organization in the University, Manalo stated that they pay high regard to pronouns in emails, where they address people with “Mx” instead of “Ms./Mr.” when the gender of the recipient is unknown.

In a Thomasian classroom setting, Herrera would also see his students invested in the discourse of neopronouns when the topic emerges in their lectures.

“I think it’s becoming a trend also in the academic community who are very much knowledgeable about the topic,” he said.

The future of neopronouns

Neopronouns still have a long way to maintain sustainability, and it will not happen overnight, Herrera said. But with thorough research, he believes that people in the academe like him can educate people about the matter and eventually have it entirely accepted in society.

“Again, we go back to educating them,” he said.

As a call for inclusivity, neopronouns will be indeed be sustained in the future, according to Lintao.

“Given that language and society are inseparable, as people may clamor for equality and inclusivity, then such use of neopronouns may legitimize,” Lintao said.

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Unang taon bilang Tomasino sa ilalim ng pandemya, isang mapanglaw na katotohanan?

“Iba yung happiness, yung excitement, if it’s really in person that you’d be able to cheer and experience the spirit of the Thomasian community,” saad ni Pascual sa TomasinoWeb.

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Litrato ni Abbie Vinluan/TomasinoWeb

“Ma, nakapasok na ako sa Arch!”

Iyan ang mga salitang nasambit ng BS Psychology freshman na si Reigne Carla Pascual sa kanyang ina nang live niyang mapanood sa Facebook ang mga mistulang taong bloke na tumatawid sa Arch of the Centuries sa Minecraft.

Bagama’t isa nang ganap na Tomasino si Pascual, naiisip pa rin niya na mas makabuluhan sana ang kanyang karanasan kung sa personal ito naganap.

“Iba yung happiness, yung excitement, if it’s really in person that you’d be able to cheer and experience the spirit of the Thomasian community,” saad ni Pascual sa TomasinoWeb.

Si Pascual ay isa lamang sa 7,772 Tomasinong freshmen na kabilang sa ikalawang Minecraft Thomasian Welcome Walk noong ika-5 ng Agosto. Tulad niya, mayroon pa ring ibang mag-aaral na nakararamdam ng panghihinayang dulot ng posibilidad na sa online na lamang gaganapin ang mga susunod na pagdiriwang ng kanilang unang taon sa Unibersidad. 

Kawalan ng ‘excitement’

Tulad ni Pascual, naniniwala rin si Samantha Gayle Sindico, isang BS Pharmacy freshman, na mas masaya sana kung ginanap ito nang face-to-face.

“I believe it would be more fun and memorable if we could actually walk through the arch and celebrate the experience with our fellow Thomasians,” saad ni Sindico.

Ganoon rin ang pahayag ni Alliesa Tan na isang BS Accountancy freshman. Ayon sa kanya, iba ang magiging karanasan ng kanyang mga kapwa freshmen kung sa Unibersidad sila mismo pumapasok. 

Bago ang naturang kaganapan, inamin ni Pascual na hindi niya masyadong inabangan ang pagdating ng okasyon. 

Honestly, walang that much excitement,” pahayag ni Pascual, na dati ring mag-aaral ng UST Senior High School (SHS).

Para sa kanya, kahit na buhay ang interaksyon sa live video, hindi pa rin niya naiwasang malungkot dahil wala siyang pisikal na kasama para ipagdiwang ang bagong kabanata ng kanilang mga buhay.

Limitadong espasyo sa server

Ayon sa mga nakapanayam, limitado lamang sa isang kinatawan kada block section ang maaaring makadalo sa server ng UST Minecraft. Ang mga natitirang mag-aaral ay inanyayahan lamang na manood ng live broadcast sa Facebook.

Isa si Pascual sa mga hindi nakadalo sa server at nanood na lamang sa live video nito. Ngunit kung bibigyan ng pagkakataong makapasok sa server, sinabi ni Pascual na dadalo siya.

“It would still be exciting to go through it kahit virtual,” saad ni Pascual.

Sa sitwasyon ni Julia Angela Padilla, isang BS Speech-Language Pathology freshman, wala sa kanyang hilig ang Minecraft at wala rin siyang access dito.

“Hindi ako naglalaro ng Minecraft at wala rin akong app nito sa aking pc,” pahayag niya.

Noon at ngayon

Bago pa man ang pandemya, naranasan na ni Pascual ang UST Roarientation events o ALAB para sa mga Grade 11 SHS noong 2019. Bagama’t hindi sila kabilang sa mga tumawid sa kilalang Arch of the Centuries, dama pa rin niya ang saya ng karanasang iyon.

“Sobra po yung feeling, parang sobrang overwhelming na maririnig mo yung sabay-sabay kayong nag ‘g-Go USTe! Go USTe,’” aniya.

Hindi rin naranasan ni Tan na tumawid sa Arch of the Centuries noong siya ay nasa UST SHS pa lamang. Kaya naman umasa rin siyang magaganap ang Welcome Walk ng kanilang batch nang personal.

“Inaasahan ko noon na magkaroon ng pagkakataon na maganap ang event na ito [nang] face-to-face dahil hindi ko ito naranasan noon nung SHS,” wika ni Tan. 

Kaya naman para kay Pascual, tila “robbed by the pandemic and the government” ang kanilang karanasan bilang mga Tomasinong freshmen.

Gayunpaman, mahalaga para sa kanya ang maging matatag at maangkop sa sitwasyon.

“[W]e’re already here, we’re already in the middle of it and we have no choice but to learn to adapt,” aniya.

Pagsisikap ng Unibersidad

Sa kabila ng lungkot, hanga si Pascual sa ipinamalas na paghahanda ng Unibersidad at mga taong parte ng proyekto upang maging posible ang Minecraft Thomasian Welcome Walk.

Pinapahalagahan din niya ito sapagkat kahit papaano, naparamdam nito sa kanya ang mainit na pagtanggap ng Unibersidad.

“[K]ahit na hindi po siya same nung sa traditional, [we are] still able to have that memory that we’ve passed through the Arch of the Centuries kahit virtual lang,” saad ni Pascual.

Isa rin si Sindico sa mga namangha sa ginawa ng UST. Aniya, kahit na birtwal lamang ang mga susunod pa niyang karanasan bilang isang freshman, malugod niya pa ring inaabangan ang mga hinahandang sorpresa para sa mga bagong Tomasino. 

I can truly say that no one does it like UST,” pahayag niya.

Gayunpaman, umaasa pa rin si Pascual na balang araw ay mararanasan niya at ng kanyang mga kapwa freshman ang face-to-face classes sa Unibersidad.

“Iba yung pakiramdam, iba yung saya,” wika niya.

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Balik eskwela sa gitna ng pandemya: Paano naghahanda ang mga Tomasino?

Bagama’t isang taon na ang nakalilipas mula nang sumabak ang milyon-milyong mag-aaral sa virtual learning, hirap pa ring sumabay ang ilan dito, dahilan para gumawa sila ng kani-kanilang paraan ng paghahanda para sa panibagong panuruang taon.

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Litrato ni Vince Imperio/TomasinoWeb

Hindi para sa lahat ang online classes.

Ito ang pahayag ni Mia Ysaiah Pechon, isang College of Information and Computing Sciences freshman sa Unibersidad ng Santo Tomas, tungkol sa papalapit na bagong panuruang taon na gaganapin muli sa ilalim ng flexible learning setup.

“I, too, [have] experienced difficulties and stress throughout a year of online classes,” saad ni Pechon sa isang panayam sa TomasinoWeb.

Bagama’t isang taon na ang nakalilipas mula nang sumabak ang milyon-milyong mag-aaral sa virtual learning, hirap pa ring sumabay ang ilan dito, dahilan para gumawa sila ng kani-kanilang paraan ng paghahanda para sa panibagong panuruang taon.

Para maghanda, kinikilala na ni Pechon ang kanyang mga kaklase at inaalam na rin niya ang sakop ng aralin ng kanyang kurso upang hindi siya mangapa pagdating ng ika-12 ng Agosto.

Tulad ni Pechon, isa rin sa paghahandang ginagawa ni Kirov Vonne Conception, isang mag-aaral mula sa College of Engineering, ang pag-aayos ng kanyang mga gawain. 

Ayon sa kanya, mahalagang maging organisado pagdating ng panibagong taon sa ilalim ng online class.

Ngunit sa kabila ng mga paghahandang ito, idiniin niyang hindi na niya masyadong inaabangan ang mga tradisyon sa Unibersidad, tulad Paskuhan at Agape, dahil isinasagawa lamang ito online.

“Kung face-to-face sana, some of the things na I [look forward] to [are] the course itself [and the] new friends I will meet,” saad ni Conception sa TomasinoWeb.

ECQ vs. Edukasyon

Para sa ibang mga Tomasino, malaki ang epekto ng pansamantalang pagsuspinde ng face-to-face na klase sa Unibersidad, lalo na sa mga mag-aaral na kinakailangang magsagawa ng mga aralin sa laboratoryo.

Isa na rito si Kayla Nadine de Guzman, isang mag-aaral mula sa College of Nursing, na sabik inabangan ang kanyang pag-duty sa ospital na naudlot kasunod ng muling pagsasailalim ng Metro Manila sa Enhanced Community Quarantine noong ika-6 ng Agosto.

Dama niya ang pagkalungkot nang muling ipagpaliban ng Unibersidad ang pisikal na klase para sa mga mag-aaral sa larangan ng medisina dahil sa tumataas na kaso ng bagong Delta Variant ng COVID-19 sa bansa.

“We’re not really doing the skill that is required because again, it’s all virtual. So, it’s actually [hard] to perform the skill that’s needed for us [to do],” saad in de Guzman sa TomasinoWeb

Dahil rito, kailangan nilang gumamit ng clay para bumuo ng mga parte ng katawan na gagamitin para sa online class

Dagdag pa ni De Guzman, iba pa rin ang karanasan noong face-to-face classes kung saan nakahanda na ang mga dummies para sa kanila at kanilang isinasagawa ang mga  return demonstration sa harap mismo ng kanilang clinical instructors.

Kaya naman ngayong nalalapit na pasukan, ang paghahandang ginagawa ni De Guzman ay ang paglalaan ng ilang linggong bakasyon upang magpahinga.

“[It exhausts] your mental health and it drains you physically and mentally even if we’re just doing it virtually,” aniya.

Dagdag niya, nagpasya siyang unahin na muna ang kanyang sariling kalagayan at gamitin ang nalalabing araw upang makihalubilo sa kanyang pamilya.

Sa pagbuo naman ng koneksyon sa blockmates at block facilitators itinuon ng College of Architecture freshman na si Szjekinah Bathan ang kanyang paghahanda para sa nalalapit na pasukan.

If ever I can’t get through it alone, I can always ask for help [from] them,” saad ni Bathan sa TomasinoWeb.

Inaasahan din ni Bathan na magiging mahirap ang kanyang pag-adjust sa kolehiyo dahil sa online setup. Naniniwala siya na ang paggawa ng mga plates ang kanyang magiging pinakamalaking pagsubok.

Pagiging organisado at pursigido

Para naman kay Richel Delos Angeles, isang estudyante ng College of Rehabilitation Sciences (CRS), noong buwan ng Hunyo lamang siya nagbakasyon dahil sa pre-internship seminar ng kanilang kolehiyo na nagsimula nitong Hulyo.

Maikli man, maituturing ni Delos Angeles na produktibo pa rin naman siya sa kanyang paghahanda.

“I started downloading organizer apps and designed my planner for daily, weekly, and monthly tasks,” saad ni Delos Angeles sa TomasinoWeb.

Ibinahagi rin niya na gumawa siya ng desktop wallpaper kung saan naka ayos ang kanyang mga aralin.

Para kay Delos Angeles, makatutulong ang pagbabasa niya ng readings at reviewers araw-araw bago ang nalalapit na pasukan. Tuwing katapusan ng linggo, nag-aaral rin ang CRS senior para sa National Medical Admission Test (NMAT) na gaganapin sa Nobyembre.

Puno naman ang schedule ni James Briggs Ortega na isang psychology senior sa College of Science dahil sa On-the-job Training (OJT) na ginawa niya nitong bakasyon. Naging abala rin siya sa data gathering para sa kanyang magiging thesis

Ayon kay Ortega, na siya ring kasalukuyang pangulo ng UST Psychology Talent Pool, ang pagiging abala niya nitong nakaraang dalawang buwan ay maituturing niyang “work mode.” Binigyan siya nito ng momentum para maghanda sa paparating na pasukan.

Magiging abala man sa mga responsibilidad bilang mag-aaral at pangulo ng kanilang organisasyon si Ortega, hindi niya nakalilimutang ibigay ang kanyang buong makakaya. Ayon sa kanya, mabuting gawin ang mga bagay nang paisa-isa. 

Gayunpaman, ayon kay Ortega, minsan ang pagpupursige at pagpapatuloy lamang ang natatanging paraan upang kanyang malagpasan ang hirap ng online learning setup.

“[M]ay mga times na nahihirapan din tayo magbigay ng one-hundred percent [natin] pero kailangan mo talaga i-push yung sarili mo kasi wala naman talagang magpu-push sayo kundi [ikaw] lang,” saad ni Ortega sa TomasinoWeb.

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AB org? How two Artlet graduates conquered the UST org life

Although a myriad of degree holders share the same story annually, the two went beyond the pursuit of academic learning.

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Batch 2021 Faculty of Arts and Letters graduates Loreta Arroyo (left) and Miguel Punzalan (right) from the program of Journalism and Communication

Before their awaited virtual graduation wrapped up another milestone for them on Friday, July 30, Loreta Arroyo and Miguel Punzalan were struck with nostalgia as they approached the end of their stay in the University to become newly declared Thomasian graduates.

Although a myriad of degree holders share the same story annually, the two went beyond the pursuit of academic learning.

Arroyo and Punzalan, two recent graduates from the Faculty of Arts and Letters (AB), upheld extracurricular duties as organization executives while enduring academic responsibilities as students. In the end, they did not only graduate with flying colors, but they also became holders of cherished memories beyond the four corners of the classroom.

Arroyo, UST Journalism Society’s former president, reminisced on her memorable experiences as a student leader, especially on her first leadership training seminar in July 2019.

“I got to meet a lot of [student leaders] [and] marami pala sa kanila [ang] kagaya ko na aligaga [at] loka-loka […] yung mga taong may ugali na talagang nag l-lead because of the passion to lead, not because of the titles,” Arroyo, who is also a Cum Laude graduate, told TomasinoWeb.

She also shared a touching reminiscence of her time with AB’s Board of Majors. She defined their relationship as something that is “united above everything.”

“These are the people na sobrang mahal ko talaga, na sobrang grabe yung wholesomeness nila,” she said.

Apart from the memories they’ve made over their four-year stay at the institution, they’ve established a great attachment to it and its people, prompting them to serve not for themselves but for the sake of their promised oath.

Punzalan, the former president of the Tomasian Media Circle of Talents (TOMCAT), admitted that serving an organization is not always convenient as students have to endure academic and organizational responsibilities simultaneously.

Despite these, the communication graduate said that an organization’s established rapport helps students ease the pressure and distress.

“With the help of the organization, you can at least somehow relieve the stress by doing the stuff you like,” Punzalan, who is also the Benavides Outstanding Award recipient of the academic year, said in an interview with TomasinoWeb. “I usually work for TOMCAT lang, and everything just goes in place,” he added.

Conquering the difficulties

Arroyo found it challenging to juggle all of her obligations at the same time in senior year, making it the most challenging phase in her university life.

Apart from managing her thesis and internship, she also had to look out for her constituency as a student leader.

Last August 2020, she met with her co-members in the UST Journalism Society to prepare for the freshmen week event, all while having to comply with a meeting with her internship supervisors later that day.

“Imagine how hard I have to multitask, halos mangiyak-ngiyak ako nung mga panahon na yun kasi sobrang hirap talaga,” Arroyo said.

Like what Arroyo experienced, Punzalan also acknowledged that he faced difficulties during his presidency in TOMCAT. The difference was that students had to transition from face-to-face to online learning, which limited the number of events the organization could host.

“The shift [from on-site] to digital is really something else [and] we came in unprepared,” he said.

Arroyo echoed this sentiment, who found that the lack of personal communication affected her relationship with her colleagues. According to her, sincerity through online messages is not always conveyed or translated well.

“[S]a online na not everyone is available all the time, it sounds so robotic,” Arroyo said.

To prevent that from happening, she had to make herself available all the time, not only for her org mates but also to other students who see her as an ‘ate.’

Concurrently, Punzalan’s way to connect with his members is by conducting frequent online kumustahans or kulitans, a monthly or weekly meeting for the organization to check each other’s well-being.

“I think that it’s really an effective way of bridging the gap of what the digital setup did during this term,” he said.

From rookies to leaders

Punzalan said a key element to achieving his goals is to “never start what you cannot finish.”

“It’s cliché as it seems, but it’s a process. You don’t just get something nang basta-basta lang,” he said.

Likewise, Arroyo asserted there will always be failures and disappointments, which is fine in the long run. For her, it is essential to detach oneself from the fear of being a rookie.

“You will be a rookie, and you have to learn how to be a master in whatever comes your way, tsaka ka pa lang gagaling, tsaka ka pa lang makaka-achieve ng perfection,” she added. 

Now that she already graduated, she wondered if she made enough memories as a Thomasian.

“I-enjoy niyo ang bawat araw or bawat month na nasa UST kayo, ‘wag kayong magmadali kasi sobrang bilis lang ng mga pangyayari, and if mamadaliin niyo, you won’t create as much memories as you would like,” she said.

As a last piece of advice from Punzalan to aspiring Thomasian student leaders, he said that they should serve for the sake of the University.

“Mahalin niyo rin yung UST,” he said. “It really starts [with] your love for the university and for its people.”

With their degrees, the two AB graduates are currently employed in their respective fields. Punzalan now works as a Performance Marketing Specialist at the Universal McCann, while Arroyo is employed as a Multimedia Specialist and writer for Edukasyon.ph.

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