What was the first gender-neutral pronoun?
Likely the oldest gender-neutral pronoun in the English language is the singular they, which was, for centuries, a common way to identify a person whose gender was indefinite. For a time in the 1600s, medical texts even referred to individuals who did not accord with binary gender standards as they/them.
The earliest recorded use of “they” as a gender neutral personal pronoun was in the 14th century in a French poem called William the Werewolf. Xe Ze Phe Er Ou And ne. There was a brief attempt to use one gender neutral pronoun in the 1880s called “thon”, but it didn't become popular.
The history of neopronouns
One of the first recorded uses of a neopronoun dates back to 1789 where one William H Marshall documented the use of “a” as a pronoun (used previously by John of Trevisa, a 14th century English writer). One of the oldest noted examples of a neopronoun is “thon”.
'They', for instance, is a third-person pronoun that is gender neutral. Other gender-neutral pronouns include 'them', 'this person', 'everyone', 'Ze', or 'Hir'. If you're not sure which pronoun to use, you can also use that person's name.
I, we, and us are the first person pronouns, with I as the singular and we and us as the plural forms.
Swedish thus became the first language to have a gender-neutral pronoun added by an authoritative institution. Hen can be used to describe anyone regardless of their sex or gender identification.
Anthropologists have long documented cultures around the world that acknowledge more than two genders. There are examples going back 3,000 years to the Iron Age, and even further back to the Copper Age.
Norrie May-Welby has become the first person to be officially designated as gender 'not specified' - being neither a man nor a woman. May-Welby, born a man 48 years ago in Scotland, became a woman at age 28 after a sex change operation in Australia.
Linguist Dennis Baron found a reference to gender-neutral pronouns as early as 1841—specifically, “e,” with “em” for the object and “es” for the possessive.
The oldest genderless pronouns are lo and zo, for French, and e, es, em, for English | Illinois.
Where did the pronoun Xe come from?
Apparently independently invented by several people, including Don Rickter (the pronoun appeared in the Unitarian Universalist publication UU World on 1 May 1973 and Mario Pei gave Rickter credit on page 145 of his 1978 book Weasel Words).
The ze/hir, ze/zir pronoun sets come from the trans community as another gender-neutral pronoun set. It's up to each individual to decide which pronoun best fits them and their identities. Ze is typically pronounced like the letter Z.