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I am wondering how to use a grammatical gender in Italian for non-gender-conforming people. For example, how should I use adjectives when referring to a person who does not identify as either male or female?

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  • Welcome to ItalianSE! – abarisone Apr 26 at 12:15
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    Could you please expand your question by adding an explicit example of a sentence? – Federico Poloni Apr 26 at 13:02
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    Not the answer to your question, but please note that you can't infer the gender of a word from its last letter alone. See here for several examples. – The Footprint Apr 26 at 15:17
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    Are you refering to gender non conforming people? If so it would be helpful if you stated it explicitly – Denis Nardin Apr 26 at 18:34
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    @LauA I've tried to rewrite the question to make it clearer. Please feel free to revert or edit if you feel I'm misrepresenting you. – Denis Nardin Apr 27 at 7:46
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Italian has just two grammatical genders, masculine and feminine (no “it” or the like). Every noun (including objects and abstract notions) has one of these two grammatical genders, which, even in the case of humans or animals, doesn't necessarily relate with the sex (if any) of the person or animal involved.

For instance, sedia (chair) is feminine, while tavolo (table) is masculine; sole (sun) is masculine, while luna (moon) is feminine. Many animals have a single word for their kind, either masculine or feminine, independently of the actual sex of a single individual. For instance, pesce (fish) or topo (mouse) are masculine, and you should resort to a periphrasis to specify that a particular fish or mouse is a female; the reverse holds for tigre (tiger) or tartaruga (turtle), which are feminine.

For human beings, we normally use distinct words for females and males (or equal words with adjectives and pronouns agreeing with different genders): scrittore ([male] writer) - scrittrice ([female] writer); professore ([male] professor) - professoressa ([female] professor). But even so, some generic terms that refers to generic humans have a specific grammatical gender (an Italian noun cannot not have a gender). For instance, essere umano (human being) is grammatically masculine, while persona (person) is feminine. Moreover, such nouns as spia (spy) or guardia (guard) are feminine, whatever the person they refer to.

All of the above to say that Italian language and its speakers perceive grammatical gender as less connected to personal gender (or lack thereof) than, say, in English, where “he” and “she” refer just to male and, respectively, female people (or some animals and rare exceptions, such as ships).

(Once we know the grammatical gender of a noun, the adjectives and pronouns that refer to it have automatically the same grammatical gender: Mario è una persona molto generosa = “Mario is a very generous person”.)

So, I believe that a person who doesn't recognise themself as either male or female can use whatever words they prefer, perhaps choosing a single conventional grammatical gender, or alternating both or whatever. Keep in mind that in Italian no one objects if virile James Bond is called a spia (feminine only word for “spy”) or a woman singing as a soprano is called, well, soprano (a masculine noun in Italian).

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    I think DaG's answer covers pretty much all there is to say in terms of standard language and grammar. Just as an additional note, please be aware that, due to the modern debate on gender neutrality, it is becoming more and more common to see people writing an asterisk * or, more rarely (because it is not a character available on a standard Italian keyboard), a schwa ə to replace the gender-related vowels at the end of adjectives used as nouns. [...continue...] – secan Apr 27 at 7:51
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    [...] For example "Good morning everyone!" in standard Italian is "Buongiorno a tutti!" (because the grammatical rule is that for groups of mixed or unknown gender, you use the masculine) but nowadays it is not uncommon to see "Buongiorno a tutt*!" (or, pretty seldom indeed, "Buongiorno a tuttə"). It happens with nouns too: for example "un gruppo di bambin*" for "a group of children". – secan Apr 27 at 8:03
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    @secan Actually I've never seen either form used. – Zab Zonk Apr 29 at 4:39
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    @secan Thank you for the links: I see it's a very recent trend. But I still find the whole issue ludicrous at best. – Zab Zonk Apr 29 at 12:17
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    @ZabZonk I also cannot imagine a person saying Buongiorno a tutt*! (Buongiorno a tutt asterisco?) – kiamlaluno May 5 at 9:17

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