When I say it's impossible to talk about someone in French without gendering them, this is not strictly true. There is an entire system of "inclusive writing", complete with neopronouns (there are no gender-neutral pronouns in what I'm going to call "classical French") to remedy the language's huge flaws.
But the use of gender-neutral language in France isn't simply a question of using the words to make them more commonplace. It's a political battle.
In English, when people talk about "prescriptivist versus descriptivist", they're usually talking about a theoretical debate between linguists. "Prescriptivists" in English are just people who will call you a pleb for using "literally" as an intensifier.
In France, the State uses its monopoly on violence to force the language it wants people to speak onto them. Prescriptivism is a form of systemic violence, wilfully carried out by the State.
The organisation which is charged with deciding on the language that the State will enforce is the French Academy.
In English, the reason your parents believe that "they/them" can't be used to refer to a single person, is because grammarians in the 18th century actively changed the language to make it more misogynistic, gendered, and boring.
The same thing happened in France, where the rule of "the masculine always wins out over the feminine" was forcefully introduced into the language in the 18th century. There are dozens of texts from grammarians explicitly stating that their aim was to inscribe misogyny into the language in both France and England.
The difference is that in France, these men are still in power. That's what the French Academy is.
Since the second half of the 20th century, feminists and, later on, LGBT+ activists have developed a way of speaking French which is not only less misogynistic, but more inclusive. This, helpfully, has come to be known as "inclusive writing."
Inclusive writing properly entered the national consciousness in 2017. Right-wing newspapers wrote about a "feminist-style school textbook", which included a couple of pages that covered inclusive writing.
Soon enough, the French Academy rose to the occasion, and published its opinion on this version of French which doesn't exclude women and nonbinary people by design.
They described it as a "mortal peril".
I'm not joking, this is a real quote from its official declaration. Including women and nonbinary people in your spelling puts the French language in "mortal peril".
Following this decision, the State came down hard to enforce this misogynistic ruling. On the 22nd of November 2017, the French Prime minister published a memo "Relative To The Rules Of The Feminisation Of Texts".
In it, he states categorically that "the masculine is the neutral form."
The PRIME MINISTER OF FRANCE stated, in an official memo, that women are a divergence from the norm.
Nonbinary people are not even mentioned, but the language that includes them is also declared illegal.
@regnskog I'm ashamed to say I don't know where to direct you, I don't know much about French neopronouns, and what I do know I learnt from reading and listening to people using them. Here's the official page for the main organisation promoting inclusive writing, which is unfortunately all in French but if you speak it it's probably a natural place to start: https://www.ecriture-inclusive.fr
@garfiald Thank you! Err I think "speak" is a bit of an over-statement but I'm learning
@regnskog well I'm always happy to help if you have more questions! In terms of linguistically including nonbinary people, mainstream France is much further behind than Anglophone countries, which is saying a lot! But the French nonbinary community is growing stronger by the day and they are making all kinds of exciting progress in the linguistic department. They'd be able to inform you better than I ever could, I follow some of them on this platform but haven't interacted much
@garfiald thank you! I'll remember that for later!
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