Should we use personalized pronouns?

A big trend amongst the “genderqueer” and other supertrendy “gender is a performance” people is to push personalized pronouns. There are a great number of such pronouns, from the obvious “it” to “ze, “xe,” “thae,” and so on. There are also animal-themed pronouns, mythical-themed pronouns, royal-themed pronouns, and so on and so forth.

It’s easy to make fun of all this. Who speaks like this except a bunch of teenagers on tumblr who want to feel special? To have personalized pronouns is to force other people to remember your personal preferences. It’s an imposition on someone’s else attention and time. It’s a selfish demand on other people.

Now I know some people will argue that you should be respectful of others. I have no qualms with that proposition. I do think we should respect others. Political Correctness, for example, aims to respect others. We shouldn’t go around saying “bitch” or “nigger” because those words are established as demeaning or offensive words when used against women and black people (note that I said they were offensive, not that they offended people: whether anyone is offended or not is besides the point). We shouldn’t go around gratuitously demeaning people just because they are different from us. This is just common sense.

But where do pronouns factor into it? Obviously we can misgender as a way to demean someone: as telling a man that he is woman-like is the greatest insult one can utter, using feminine words or pronouns to a man can be seen as a provocation. Women can also be punished for their feminism or gender-rebellion by being called a man. This, however, rarely entails using the wrong pronouns, at least in my experience.

Calling a man a she or calling a woman a he can be an honest mistake (if one does not know that person and their personal appearance is ambiguous) or it can be a personal attack. But is it a personal attack to call someone the appropriate pronoun, because they demand that you use a different, made-up one?

I don’t see how it could be. Certainly the other person is free to be irritated at you. If a person asks to be called by a different name than their original one, and you keep calling them their original name, they may very well be irritated about it, but there’s nothing disrespectful about it. Living in a place where people speak English, I prefer when people can say my name right, but most people can’t, and that’s fine. Even when they get it hilariously wrong, I’m not too beaten up about it. It’s not a personal attack. Calling someone their actual gender is not a personal attack, it’s a statement of fact.

Then there are people who actually do have dysphoria and who have wrestled with their gender identity for a long time. The voices of those people get lost in the sea of wannabes, pretenders, and egoists. And I think that’s a very regrettable thing. Because those people deserve more attention and encouragement. Actual gender rebels are constantly under attack in our societies and the fact that so many genderists pretend to be gender rebels just takes attention away from the good people.

It may seem obtuse for someone who is against gender, like me, to denote gender with pronouns. When gender is unknown or abstract, I use ey and em, or they and them. The former has a tendency to confuse readers, and the latter is obnoxious because it looks plural. The obvious solution is to use “it,” which I use to clearly identify cases where using gendered pronouns is grossly inappropriate, but people greatly prefer “he”/”she” to “it”. There’s no good solution here. And in cases where there’s no good solution, I can’t recommend one solution above any others. It would be nice if we only had neutral pronouns, but that’s not the language we’re using (at least English does not go overboard with gendered words, unlike Romance languages like French or Spanish).

What about transgender people and their pronouns? That’s another issue altogether, because in this case it’s not simply an issue of personal taste. Transgender people actually claim to be of the opposite gender, and that therefore not calling them the “correct” pronoun is a form of profound disrespect (at best). Transmen should be called “he,” and transwomen should be called “she,” according to this ideology.

This goes back to the concept that gender is performance. If you agree with that statement, then you may believe that their position makes sense. If a transwoman is performing womanhood well enough, either through following stereotyped clothing, mannerisms, and makeup, or through biological mutilation, we should call them “she.” If a transman is performing manhood well enough, we should call them “he.”

But gender is not just performance. Gender is a hierarchy, based on the oppression of half the population against the other half. This hierarchy is maintained through socialization. Men are men because they have been socialized as men, and women are women because they have been socialized as women, each to fulfill their assigned roles by looking, acting and thinking in accordance with existing gender standards. To call a transwoman “she” is to ignore the fact that they were born male, assigned men as gender, socialized to be men, and reaped the benefit of manhood up to that point.

Look for instance at Caitlyn Jenner (if you have to). They became famous for winning at an Olympic sport which is not even open to women. And now they’re a woman? A little hypocrite, don’t you think? My point being, Jenner was socialized as a man and received the benefits of manhood for all their life. This fact was not contradicted by their later “transformation.”

Dressing differently, acting differently, thinking differently, or getting your genitals mutilated, do not turn a man into a woman. A man of 65 years old cannot become a woman, no matter what they do. So why should we call them “she”? A man is a man. They should be called a “he,” not a “she.”

Use by men of feminine pronouns conceal the masculine privilege bestowed upon them by virtue of having been placed in and brought up in the male sex caste. If men are addressed as ‘she’, then all this privilege, which affects their speaking position and may be crucial to their choice to be ‘women’ in the first place, is disappeared.

Sheila Jeffreys

Even if gender is performance, it still doesn’t make much sense. If gender is performance, and you have to tell people what gender you are, then maybe your performance indicates that you are not the gender you claim to be, or maybe you’re not performing very well. In either case, dictating gender pronouns would seem self-defeating.

Just to be clear, I am not saying that transgender people deserve to be called by a pronoun they do not like simply because they are not womanly or manly enough. I don’t believe in gender performance, because it’s all stereotypes anyway. It’s not based on any kind of reality. What I am saying is that, insofar as gender is real (as a social construct or, as they believe, as a performance), then the demands by transgender people to address them by their preferred pronouns doesn’t make much sense.

There is something to be said about trying to keep the peace with transgender people by indulging their choice of pronouns. As I’ve said before, transgender people are not the enemy. They are, by and large, innocent people who got trapped into an ideology of hate. It is the hate peddlers, the advocates of transgenderism, who are our enemies.

3 thoughts on “Should we use personalized pronouns?

  1. sarabandegreen May 27, 2016 at 10:28 Reply

    Reblogged this on sarabandegreen.

  2. Leo June 4, 2016 at 10:43 Reply

    Interesting thoughts. As regards original names – is it necessarily fair that parents name children to begin with? I’ve always really hated my name, so am inclined to sympathise with anyone who wants to change theirs and their right to do so. Do agree it’s not disrespectful to accidentally get someone’s name wrong, but that’s different to refusing to call them what they wish, while pronouns are different again since they refer to the person’s sex, which is objective reality regardless of how they feel about it (though I’d personally be happy temporarily to use the opposite one for someone really struggling with dysphoria, while making clear this is the kind of accommodation I’d try to make for anyone in mental distress). Otherwise I think using the opposite sex pronouns can obscure reality, such as it not being possible to change sex, which may be worse for transgender people in the long run, misleading people or allowing them to mislead themselves not necessarily helping them. I’m coming at this as someone with mental illness who thus feels it can be a difficult balancing act, distressing people overly and unnecessarily doesn’t help, but to an extent cruel to be kind was actually needed.

    • Francois Tremblay June 4, 2016 at 15:02 Reply

      I agree with what you said. As for parents naming children, I agree that there is a childist issue there. I do think it is unfair for parents to name their children. I think the concept of “temporary names” could be useful: assign a child a temporary name until he or she is old enough to make their own determination. The temporary name could then become a middle name (in those places that use them).

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