Looking for gender netural terms
February 6, 2021 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Is there an accepted or widely-used gender-neutral term for someone who produces sperm? And also for someone who produces ovum?

I'm finding it difficult to Google the answer to this. Not all men produce sperm, for various reasons. Trans and gender-non conforming people may produce sperm, even if they do not present as biologically male. I am looking for a short, specific way to address this in a character description for a play I am writing. This is not something that will be discussed in the story of the play; I am trying to keep the possibilities for casting open, but the character will be required to provide sperm at a point in the story.

I could resort to explaining this in detail on the character page of my play, but I was wondering if there is a term for this. Maybe it's just as simple as "sperm producer" or "sperm producing person"?
posted by crossoverman to Human Relations (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have seen "people with penises" and "people with vaginas" or "people with uteruses" used in a medical context when discussing those organs. If the actual relevant fact is sperm, the I'd say "person who produces sperm."
posted by gideonfrog at 5:48 PM on February 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I propose seminiferous. A seminiferous person produces spermatozoa, in their seminiferous tubules. "Seminiferous" is sciency Latin for "makes sperm". The problem with penis language is lots of people have penises but do not produce sperm.

I am a biologist but not your biologist. Also not that kind of biologist.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:56 PM on February 6, 2021 [16 favorites]

I teach genetics and A&P and genetics at a community college have been working on creating inclusive materials for each of these classes. I think the people at Gender Inclusive Biology have some great language guides and suggestions for inclusive language in biology.

The other place to look for guidance is from gender inclusive sex education language guides. There are a bunch out there with many different suggestions.
posted by a22lamia at 6:14 PM on February 6, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah in my queer circles it would be “person/people who can make sperm” and that would be as simple as you could get until specific people are talked about. Also if it’s in the context of someone with a uterus trying to get pregnant, “sperm donor” with they/them pronouns is what I’ve used in conversation with friends who were looking to do that last year, and then the humorously ominous “the donor” for short.
posted by Mizu at 8:46 PM on February 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

I don't know how character pages work besides what I just Googled, but could it state "C will be a sperm donor"?

(If you feel like educating, what function does this serve in the character page? For the reader of the manuscript? For eventual casting, for actors who want to rule themselves out?)
posted by away for regrooving at 9:58 PM on February 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

If the person is providing sperm you could call them the sperm donor. For an ovum provider, you could go with egg donor. Those are common, gender-neutral terms the audience will understand. But it really depends on the story you're telling, and there are plenty of scenarios where "donor" wouldn't apply. A bit more context will probably get you better suggestions.

On preview: Mizu beat me to "donor," but I still think the answer depends on the context.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 10:08 PM on February 6, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions. I guess I was so hung up on finding a "new" term that was inclusive that perhaps "sperm producer" is enough. "Sperm donor" is probably a little too clinical for the personal relationships in the play.

I am writing a play where I'm not specifying gender; I'd like it to be cast with a wide variety of gender representation with the story only being tangentially related to the fact that two of the characters produce a baby. So those characters are not gendered in the script, but I wanted to flag that one was a sperm producer early on.

I may include the word "seminiferous" now, though. Perhaps in the text of the play itself.
posted by crossoverman at 12:23 AM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I feel like "seminiferous", unless offered with an explanation that might make render the use of the word moot, might be too obscure to be useful in casting. I've never heard of the term and I don't think it's widely used.

Not to dig in too deep here, but I would question why it's necessary to have this specified in the casting at all, unless you're going to ask your actors to be nude or have sex on stage at some point. I understand that you want gender neutral casting, but in that case can't you just specify that alone? Why do you need to ask your actors if they can produce sperm or not? Will the sperm production (or not) come up in the plot?

I think you may be getting too hung up on ticking boxes when it's unnecessary and (IMO) may be considered invasive to ask whoever is casting the thing to see if they can "pass" as a "sperm producer" (or even if they do produce sperm or not), at which point you're going down all sorts of difficult roads of asking your audience to interrogate someone's gender presentation in ways which would actually strike me, as a trans person, as more offensive than if you'd just asked the audience to accept the premise. As an additional point you may not have considered, some trans people may conceive a baby before undergoing bottom surgery, so they, at some point, produced sperm or carried the child, but are no longer biologically capable of that, making the whole idea of "sperm production" as an indicator of anything kind of pointless.

Personally I would just refer to the characters as "parent #1" or "parent #2", or say "character #1 and character #2 have a biological child together" and leave it at that. Let the audience accept that this has happened at some point, no matter who you have cast. That's the point of gender neutral casting.
posted by fight or flight at 5:15 AM on February 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

Just to add, for what it's worth, one of the best ways of handling this language I've seen comes from, of all places, the character creator in Sims 4. It asks you to specify if the Sim you're making can stand up to pee or not, and if they can become pregnant or make someone else pregnant (or neither). If you have to get into this sort of detail, I would advise using something like this and saying "character #2 was pregnant" and "character #1 got character #2 pregnant". That says everything you need to without going into too much unnecessary detail about the status of their reproductive organs.
posted by fight or flight at 5:22 AM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Since no-one has addressed the second part of your question yet:
posted by heatherlogan at 6:45 AM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

spermmaker and eggmaker
posted by at at 7:51 AM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

"Born male" isn't acceptable terminology to refer to an AMAB trans person, fyi.
posted by augustimagination at 11:37 AM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted, and augustimagination is exactly right; "born male/female" is not okay for referring to transgender or non-binary people, unless they themselves express a specific wish to be referred to that way. People will sometimes use "assigned male/female at birth" (often shortened to AMAB or AFAB, but again, more suitable for people describing their own situation, not others describing them.
posted by taz (staff) at 11:49 AM on February 7, 2021

This is not something that will be discussed in the story of the play; I am trying to keep the possibilities for casting open, but the character will be required to provide sperm at a point in the story

Unless the actual actor literally needs to provide sperm during the play -- and even if there is going to be a microscope with a video projector providing a close up view for the audience I think you can probably manage to do this with a recorded image? -- I'm not sure why you would exclude people who have had a vasectomy from being cast. But I'm assuming that's important for some reason.

I think you need to break down specifically what capabilities the actor needs to have -- particularly since for many actors this will also affect whether they are even interested in your project. There is no point in auditioning people who will not want the role. This doesn't have to be in terms of gender. Maybe the actor needs to display an erection under clothing, or display an erection with full frontal nudity, or ejaculate, but these things don't actually require the actor to produce sperm. If you genuinely need the actor to produce viable sperm, you might want to get some testing done as some people are infertile but aren't yet aware of that. (Also some people produce small amounts of sperm, but have trouble getting their partner pregnant without a lab getting involved -- I don't really know the details of that, but it's something to consider)

If this is a play that is actually going to be produced, instead of just a writing exercise, I would also suggest you talk to a lawyer to make sure you aren't violating any antidiscrimination laws. And other laws as well -- it's certainly not unusual to require an actor to ejaculate, but there are many different laws that apply.
posted by yohko at 12:24 PM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

If I'm understanding it right, crossoverman is writing a play where the roles don't call for actors of specific genders but one of the characters produces sperm at some point... presumably not onstage! So, for example, you might have a situation where a trans woman gets someone pregnant. I'd definitely avoid the word seminiferous, because I doubt many people have heard of it and it also sounds really clinical and alienating.

Honestly, I'd just handle it with a note at the beginning saying that you're open to anybody, of any gender, playing these roles, then not specify that a character can produce sperm until it comes up in dialogue. Let the director and actors read the script and then figure out how they want to present it. A character description noting that they can produce sperm will probably just seem weird and clunky, any way you write it.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:22 PM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Based on what you’ve said about how this comes up in the plot: Just because the character can produce sperm doesn’t mean the actor playing the character needs to.
posted by amaire at 7:09 AM on February 8, 2021

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