non-binary sibling

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USA, English

I was interviewing a student in class(virtually as we are virtual) and asked if she (the student) had any brothers or sisters. She has a sibling who identifies as non-binary. She didn't know how to respond and neither did I. I know there is no official term for "sibling" in French, but what do I tell her to say in this situation because she doesn't feel comfortable using either frère or soeur? I've seen froeur and adelphe used in Canada. What is being used in France?

Merci bien.
  • StefKE

    Senior Member
    French - Belgium

    I can't think of a word that is "being used" here for this because non-binary gender is a rather new concept, or at least it has started to gain attention only recently. So the vocabulary on this theme hasn't become common language yet.

    "Adelphe" seems to exist on this side of the Atlantic too (A toi ma sœur, mon frère, mon adelphe), but few people would understand the word and she would have to explain its meaning.

    The meaning of "froeur" sounds more obvious to me but I have no idea whether it's used by people who identify themselves as non-binary in Europe. Besides you would still have a gender problem with the possessive determiner (should you say mon or ma froeur ??). With "adelphe" this issue doesn't exist as only "mon" is possible.

    Maybe we'll get other solutions from people who are more familiar with these issues? I'd be interested!


    USA, English
    I figured here would be a good place to start. I know in Canada they are a bit more advanced on this topic but I don't want to teach my students a bunch of words that they would not be able to use elsewhere. It's a new topic for me too, honestly. I've been teaching French for 20 years now so I've been learning all about écriture inclusive the past few years, but this was the first time this particular situation has arisen. :)


    New Member
    English & French - Canada
    My experience is that these terms don't translate well because the context isn't the same in the anglo and franco cultural spaces. That isn't a reason to not try, it is just to highlight that an easy equivalent doesn't exist right now, in part because of the structure of the language and in part because the conversation around non-binarity and language has not been the same.

    The language around non-binary gender in English is strongly influenced by the grammatical accident that it was already common to use the prounoun "they" in the singular, gender neutral sense: "Did you ask your doctor what they recommended?" where they refers to "the doctor". Although we understand this can be a bit awkward, this simplicity of adoption has caused "they" to become widely used by non-binary people

    In French, there is no agreed upon approach to this. For instance, my partner is non-binary and uses "they" in English, but in French we treat them as transgender and use the appropriate pronoun. My partner is unilingual anglophone and we came to this after a little discussion about how things work in French. I know several other non-binary, bilingual people who take this approach and it is often simplest.

    Common practices vary between milieux and by individual though. You just need to ask what the individual prefers for themselves, which is not at all rude in the LGBTq world (as long as stating prounoun preferences is done for everyone, not just those who are read as gender deviant).

    There is no good way of talking in French about a non-binary person who is not a francophone, whose self-identification does not occur in that language, and with whom you have not had time to discuss the issue. So for our question here, I would probably suggest (for an assigned-male-at-birth sibling) saying, "Ma soeur non-binaire"

    Here are some other things that I do if treating anglophone non-binary people as trans in French doesn't feel right:

    -Feminise singular adjectives and nouns: "Mon ami.e français.e"
    -Use the most easily understood gender-neutral pronoun: "Ille est venu.e en visite"
    -Just switch chaotically between pronouns: "Mon ami.e, il aime les chats mais elle a flippé quand je lui ai dit que j'en ai cinq"

    This article is not bad as a reference: Respecter la non-binarité de genre en français

    Except that I would suggest just abandoning gendered honoratives like "mister" and "madame" in both languages.

    Sorry for the very long reply. I hope it is useful!


    USA, English
    I hear everything you are saying, but at this point I was trying to help this student to communicate how she has a sibling in a way that made her feel like she can speak candidly in class. Part of my job as a language teacher is to help students communicate but also to feel included and welcome no matter their situation in class. It just so happens that this sibling is also in French class, so in fact both siblings are now francophone.
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