The modern world is reworking its use of gendered pronouns and other references. While I am, in most circumstances, what David Foster Wallace's family called a "SNOOT" (in his essay "Tense Present"), intolerant of any Trotskyite deviationism in usage, it's surprising, at least to me, how latitudinarian I am about it: I go for the singular "they" in circumstances where the referent's biological sex is unknown or irrelevant, rather than the once-standard "he", the alternating "she" and "he", or any deliberately created new pronoun, like "ze".
Is part of the issue that "they", "them", and "those" are actually Viking in origin, unusually intimate examples of loan words from another language? I hardly think so, but it would be fun if opposition to the usage coalesced around a specifically anti-Viking, pro-Anglo Saxon axis, going for my personally favorite combo of pedantic and perverse.
That will at least give you context for some of the issues I am facing in a story I'm currently trying to wrap up.
It's the first in a planned series of stories set in an city on another planet inhabited by a wide range of intelligent species, and I'm feeling the lack of certain easily used words. Now, SF's history is long, and a vast critical, responsive, and fan literature exists in which these issues may well have been resolved, but if it has, I have not found the answers.
One problem is simply how to refer to these various species. You can already see the slight strain of not using "alien". None of them is alien...or rather, they all are, since none evolved on this world. And how about the other side of the relationship, "human", which is making a kind of tribal, exclusive claim? What is a term a member of one intelligent species uses for all other intelligent species, or for all the species including themselves? And what do Earth-evolved humans call themselves as a species? That might well be a formerly pejorative term used by some other species, which they now use for themselves.
Right now, I'm pretty much avoiding that issue, though am toying with humans calling themselves Oms, or something like that. Part of the issue is how much overhead to impose on the reader, who already has a lot of context to grab in this complex setting.
Then there is the issue of those pesky pronouns. What is the generic pronoun for a representative of an intelligent non-human species (sheesh, you can see how much I need that easy replacement for "alien")? Biological sexes are either different, or manifest in a way that's not clearly read by humans. But "it" seems wrong. Any attempt to use something like "they" brings our current transitional moment into distracting relief. "It" is certainly ungendered, but has a non-intelligent feel, since it's the term we currently use for objects and animals, or for newborns, if we're apprehensive that assuming a sex will let us in for criticism. For now, I'm using "it", albeit uncomfortably.
Finally, and less importantly, what do you call some squirmy segmented thing? "Bug", while generic, really seems to imply something with an exoskeleton. "Worm" implies something really squishy, without visible segments, at least to me. And I do think a lot of smaller creatures throughout the universe will be segmented: that allows your developmental program to pump out a series of standard parts that can then be modified, adding legs, antennae, wings, or whatever, as arthropods do. "Pest" or "vermin" is more about their role in the consciousness of various intelligent beings, rather than about their appearance or biology. "Larva" or "parasite" make judgments about biology or ecological role. "Millipede" is too specific.
But I think I am supposed to be revising this story.... I was hoping that writing through my issues, I would come up with a snappy solution, but that hasn't happened. I don't want the reader to have to do extra work puzzling out non-standard terminology or pronouns, when that really isn't the point of the story.
What is the point of the story? The answer to that will only come when you read it--which you never will if I spend too much more time doing this!