Does the French language impact inclusivity for individuals who don’t fit the gender binary?

Does language impact the expression of identity if an individual is non-binary, that is, if they don’t classify themselves as male/man or female/woman? Our planet has many different languages, some of which are non-gendered or genderless (like Chinese, Estonian, and Finnish), some of which are “natural gendered,” meaning that they distinguish gender through pronouns for people, but not for inanimate objects (e.g., book, house), as in English and Swedish, and some of which are gendered (like Spanish, German, and French). The French language, one of Canada’s official languages, has a significant number of gendered descriptors which “must” be used to express the language “properly”. In French, words like “le” (masculine) and “la” (feminine) are used to refer to inanimate objects (le livre [the book], la maison [the house]), but does it make sense to refer to inanimate objects as masculine or feminine? Things get even more complicated when using pronouns: “elle” refers to a girl/woman (“elles” in plural), and “il” refers to a boy/man (“ils” in plural). But this situation lends itself to the following question: If a person does not identify as male/man or female/woman, then how would one use these descriptors? Would these terms be potentially harmful to someone who is non-binary? Should this method used to describe or identify items and people be updated?   

Non-binary individuals can find themselves in an uncomfortable position when presenting themselves or when others try and communicate with them in gendered languages. Unfortunately, in many cases, there are no alternative options apart from masculine or feminine descriptors in French, and this gendered language may also shape our thoughts about other people (Pappas, 2012). “It’s impossible to [find words that work] in a neutral way, you have to choose. Even the non-sexuated word ‘personne’ has a gender, which is feminine” (De La Marnierre, 2017).

I asked the following question to some Queen’s students: “For those of you who speak French fluently, how do you tackle the issue around speaking with non-binary gendered individuals in order to be inclusive?” I had many responses, most of which included that it would be very challenging, that there aren’t words to replace gendered nouns and pronouns etc., and that it is almost impossible. A friend of a student, Peter Buck, who is a fluent French-speaking officer cadet in the military stated that “it would be extremely difficult and [I] have no idea how [I] would be able to actually speak to someone if they wanted to be referred to in gender-neutral terms” (Buck, 2019).

During an interview, Queen’s student, Ally Forbes (2019) stated, “I feel bad for anyone that’s not cisgendered trying to navigate their identity when they don’t have the same freedom the English language provides.” The pronouns available in the French language are extremely limited and “masculine or feminine descriptors [are] in almost every noun” (Crouch, 2017). In my interview with Rodrigo Palau (2019), he considered my question but couldn’t offer a good answer and stated that “in English ‘they’ can be used as a non-gendered alternative, but [there] is no good option for French.” In a discussion on Reddit for the topic of inclusive language, a contributor also stated “There is no well-known equivalent of the gender-neutral they. The French language was “not made in consideration of non-binary people” (Paolog – Reddit contributor, 2018).

It’s even a challenge for those trying to go ‘against the grain’ and attempt to find a way to be inclusive in their spoken language:

“We Francophones culturally give ourselves great pressure to speak quality French, much more than other languages. If you start messing with the most elementary grammar, you might look uneducated. People will assume you don’t speak like the norm because you don’t know the norm. You would always have to explain to yourself why you are not following the standard model” (De La Marnierre, 2017).

He goes on to explain that the French language doesn’t work well for people who do not assign themselves to the gender binary (De La Marnierre, 2017).

For those wanting change, there is even resistance from the French Prime Minister who is refusing to alter their language to make it more inclusive (The Guardian, 2017). He opposes the idea of creating change and stated that the French language “should not be exploited for fighting battles, no matter how legitimate they are” (The Guardian, 2017). Thus, this refusal to create change is shaping the culture of French-speaking people and “can actually shape our cognitive understanding of the world around us” to which leads to greater challenges for those fighting for inclusivity (Prewitt-Freilino, Caswell, & Laakso, 2011).

A study by Prewitt-Freilino, Caswell, & Laakso (2011) demonstrated that having gendered language can not only impact the interpretation of the world around us but, findings suggest gendered language speaking countries have less gender equality overall in comparison to those speaking a natural gender language. Another study demonstrated gendered language created higher levels of sexism when students were given passages to read in a gendered language and completed a questionnaire afterwards (Pappas, 2012).

According to Crouch (2017), in highly gendered languages like French, agender people (i.e., those who do not use a gender to refer to themselves) struggle the most to express their identity. This language “doesn’t allow for a lack of gender; you always have to pick something” (Crouch, 2017). In Finnish, which as a genderless language, there is only one pronoun, and it is genderless. But this is not always a great alternative either – and gender inequality is still seen in Finnish society as well, possibly due to an assumption of masculinity over femininity (Crouch, 2017; Pappas, 2012). Still, though, it does prevent some assumptions to be made about a person, and there are genderless pronouns available (Pappas, 2012).

Ultimately, gendered languages like French, do not provide flexibility to allow non-binary people to identify themselves or within social contexts. However, in English, there are multiple pronouns (like “they”) a person could use (Crouch, 2017). However, it is important to note that the English language is still not perfect; some people, for example, cringe at the fact that “they” would be used to refer to a single individual, even though the singular “they” is used more often than they might be aware; for example, if you find a phone at a coffeeshop, you can state, “Hey! Someone left their phone here!”

There are some steps being made for the French language, though: Microsoft Word released an edition that is attempting to improve inclusivity in their French writing option (Tismit, 2017). The company explained that this new feature “targets gendered language which may be perceived as excluding, dismissive, or stereotyping,” and encourages “using gender-inclusive language” when possible.” (Tismit, 2017).

So, the answer to my initial questions: There are unfortunately not many options available to attempt to use non-gendered nouns and pronouns in French, and for those who do not fit the gender binary, this language can be harmful to one’s identity. Many French-speaking individuals take significant pride in the specifics of their language, and there is a lot of resistance to any change – even if it would mean that it would be more inclusive. But we must ask ourselves the big picture question, is it better to be proud of tradition or proud of being able to allow everyone to express who they truly are and to feel inclusive in society?


Mandy Patterson, Queens University



Buck, Peter. (Officer Cadet) in discussion with the author, March 2019.

Crouch, E. (2017, September 07). When You're Genderqueer - But Your Native Language Is

Gendered. Retrieved March 14, 2019, from

De La Marnierre, T. (2017, April 14). What pronouns do non-binary French people typically use? Retrieved March 16, 2019, from

Forbes, Ally. (Queen’s University Student) in discussion with the author, March 2019.

Pappas, S. (2012, February 21). Gendered Grammar Linked to Global Sexism. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from

Palau, Rodrigo. (Queen’s University Student) in discussion with the author, March 2019.

Paolog (Reddit contributor). (2018). R/French - Gender neutral pronouns in French. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from gender_neutral_pronouns_in_french/

Prewitt-Freilino, J. L., Caswell, T. A., & Laakso, E. K. (2011). The Gendering of Language: A Comparison of Gender Equality in Countries with Gendered, Natural Gender, and Genderless Languages. Sex Roles, 66(3-4), 268-281. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5

The Guardian. (2017, November 21). No more middots: French PM clamps down on gender-neutral language. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from 2017/nov/21/no-more-middots-french-pm-clamps-down-on-gender-neutral-language

Timsit, A. (2017, November 27). The Push to Make French Gender-Neutral. Retrieved March 16, 2019, from


Cannabis and Sex: High on Sex…or a Sex High?

From Dazed and Confused to That 70’s Show, many industries monopolize the fascinating relationship between cannabis and sex. Now that the use of cannabis has been legalized in Canada, with similar laws as those that pertain to smoking cigarettes, there are a few things that we should know. How does cannabis affect the sexual response cycle in terms of desire, arousal, and orgasm? What does cannabis use mean for consent? Is cannabis use associated with sexual risk-taking behavior?


Cannabis, just like alcohol, has the potential to affect our bodies when it comes to our sexual desire, arousal, and ability to achieve orgasm. Like all substances, everything should be in moderation. The research isn’t conclusive when it comes to whether or not sex can be enhanced or diminished when it comes to the use of cannabis. A side effect of using cannabis is that it can help people relax and focus more on bodily sensations, which could help some people with anxiety issues surrounding sex. However, if you have too much, you could end up feeling distracted and distanced from your partner, which could lessen the intimacy (Chen, 2018). Cannabis contains a range of chemicals, and the most common of which are cannabidiol (CBD) and delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the chemical mainly responsible for producing the feelings of being “high”; it affects a person’s thinking and decision-making processes, and it can produce psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations (Green Relief, 2018). On the other hand, CBD does not produce the same “high” feelings or harmful side effects as THC, and it is more likely to be used for medicinal purposes. If cannabis is being taken to lessen feelings of anxiety experienced during sexual activity, it might be beneficial to focus more on CBD-based methods to avoid the psychoactive effects. Cannabis use can have adverse effects on males, such as not reaching orgasm in the desired time frame, whether that’s too soon or too late, or not reaching orgasm at all (Smith et al., 2010). The only notable effect in women was that some women report that the THC in cannabis can cause vaginal dryness, and in this case, a CBD-based lubricant could help counteract those affects (Kerner, 2018).


When talking about consent while under the influence of a substance, whether it is cannabis, alcohol, or another substance, the laws are the same. When it comes to the amount of cannabis consumed, I like to think of the popular gambling phrase, “know your limit, play within it.” Consent is given when the person is sober and can make the informed decision with a clear head. It’s important to not get too bogged down in the weeds (pun intended) when discussing consent in relation to cannabis use. Consent must be freely given, and not due to any kind of coercion from someone else. Consent is also an ongoing process, so just because someone consented to one activity does not equal consent to all future activities. It’s important to check in with your partner(s) to make sure everyone is on the same page and comfortable with what’s happening. Consent isn’t just the absence of “no”, it’s the presence of an enthusiastic “yes”. This doesn’t always have to be verbal; body language can tell a lot about if someone’s head is truly in it, but it is always a good idea to check in verbally. If you think your partner has been using any kind of drugs or alcohol, then they aren’t of sound mind to make the decision to consent to sexual activity with you. Although it might be upsetting to stop whatever you’re doing, you can always have a conversation with them the next day and see if they’re into it while sober. It’s hard to tell adults that you can never have sex with anyone who has had a drink or a smoke, but this is when you’ve got to use your judgment and make the safest choice for everyone involved.


Research on how using cannabis affects sexual risk-taking behavior is easy to study but hard to generalize, because most research has been done using self-reporting. Using self-report is the only way it can really be studied, because as you can imagine forcing people to smoke cannabis and then engage in sexual activity would be widely unethical! People who reported weekly use of cannabis reported having on average 30% more sex than non-users (Sun & Eisenberg, 2017). When looking at research such as this we have to consider alternative reasons behind this seemingly large increase in sexual behaviour. Because these can’t be true randomized experiments, do people that smoke cannabis generally have more sex? Or are people that have more sex, more likely to frequently smoke cannabis?

When it comes to safer sex practices, a meta-analysis conducted by Schuamacher et al. (2018) found that among adolescents using cannabis, the odds of condom use were significantly lower. However, these results were not transferrable to the adult group surveyed, which makes me wonder if this is due to a lack of education on safe sex practices or a lack of education on appropriate portioning of cannabis. Keeping these results in mind, it’s not hard to imagine how this lower rate of condom use would affect the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Smith et al. (2010) found that women who reported daily use of cannabis were more likely, than men who reported daily use, to report a diagnosis of an STI in their lifetime.  


The legalization of cannabis has brought about a lot of debate among people across Canada, but can we really say for certain who’s right? The age requirements to buy cannabis are the same as the requirements to buy alcohol, and the rules around where you can and can’t use it are predominantly the same as smoking cigarettes. With the legalization in place, it does provide parents and educators the opportunity to have a conversation with youth about use and the effects of cannabis in much, the same way they would with alcohol. It is important for people to engage in educated conversations about cannabis so they get accurate information and can make smart decisions about using a drug that has direct effects on the body and mind. For more information, you can head to, and for readers in the Eastern Ontario area, you can even book a tour of the facility where you can ask questions and gain insight from the staff members. Given that sexual risk-taking behaviour is more common among adolescents and young adults, teaching this population about the effects of cannabis on the body, in combination with sexual consent, is an important part of sexual health education that should be considered.

Natalie Bienias, Queen’s University Psychology Student


CBD vs. THC: A Deep Dive On These Popular Cannabis Componds. (2018, December). Retrieved from

Chen, A. (2018, December). What cannabis does to your sex life. Retrieved from

Kerner, I. (2018, June). Does cannabis increase sexual desire? Retrieved from

Schumacher, A., Marzell, M., Toepp, A. J., & Schweizer, M. L. (2018). Association between cannabis use and condom use: A meta-analysis of between-subject event-based studies. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 79(3), 361-369.

Sun, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. L. (2017). Association between cannabis use and sexual frequency in the United States: A population-based study. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(11), 1342-1347.

Smith, A. M. A., Ferris, J. A., Simpson, J. M., Shelley, J., Pitts, M. K., & Richters, J. (2010). Cannabis use and sexual health. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(2, Pt 1), 787-793.