Binary Genders, Biological Sex, Default Pronouns, Gender Dysphoria, Gender Fluidity, Gender Neutrality, Gendered Pronouns, Genderqueer, Identity Politics, LGBTQ, LinkedIn, Non-Binary, Plural Pronouns, Preferred Pronouns, Transgender
A subset of my LinkedIn connections list “preferred pronouns” after their names, but I don’t think I’ve ever had any misapprehensions about their “gender identities”. Not one of them. Their “gendentities” are obvious based on the names and/or photos they’ve chosen to use on social media. In fact, the “default” pronoun designations in the English language work pretty well that way. So, apart from the fact that LinkedIn invites its users to list pronouns, why do these people bother? Would they introduce themselves that way in person? “Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Jane Smith, she / her.” Maybe on a name tag. Otherwise, unlikely.
Let’s face it: precious few of us have any doubt about our own biological sex. Do you have a penis and no vagina? Or vice versa? That settles it! But if you wish you didn’t have a penis, or wish you did, or you’re not sure… then you have a gender quandary and a pronoun problem. Still, those who decide to “take” one gender via transition will have chosen their pronouns. They typically make an effort to “present” that way as well.
There’s a tiny minority of individuals whose biological sex is ambiguous, and there are others who simply consider themselves “non-binary” or “genderqueer”. They represent three to four people out of every 1,000, if a recent survey can be believed (and surveys like this can be terribly flawed). These people are actually included in the broad definition of transgender. But again, for biological or other reasons, they identify as neither male nor female. It would be natural for these individuals to prefer gender-neutral pronouns (for example, possibilities are they / them and zi / hir, rather than he / him or she / her). That’s understandable, but: 1) using the plural “they” as a singular pronoun can lead to awkward grammar, inviting the use of the plural verb form as a fix*; and 2) remembering different pronouns for different people is a complexity to which most of us are quite unaccustomed. This is a practical issue, and social encounters with non-binaries are fairly unusual for most of us.
If tolerating the use of “he” or “she” just won’t do for this tiny minority, even as a courtesy to the “unschooled”, then it must be very important to make one’s non-binary status clear to everyone. That suggests a different problem, and one of a psychological nature. The insistence on strict adherence to alternative pronouns reflects a narcissism common to most manifestations of identity politics. And no, there is no reliable research showing that use of non-gendered pronouns reduces non-binary suicides, as one advocacy group has claimed.
I speak as one who has been called by the wrong gendered pronoun! I’m a male and I’m confident I present that way. However, I’ve worked with many Chinese over the course of my career, and gendered pronouns aren’t used in Chinese. The distinctions between “he” and “she”, or “his” and “hers”, can be as foreign to them as the pronouns “zi” and “hir” are to me. I’ve heard myself referenced by Chinese colleagues as “she”. Did it offend me? Not at all, because I knew the speaker was not fluent in the English language.
It should be easy to tolerate members of a minority who get it wrong because we empathize with their language challenge. We don’t demand their absolute conformity, but they understand their minority status and might prefer to avoid the potential embarrassment of getting it wrong. Contrary-wise, if I’m in the minority, say at a gathering of Chinese, shall I press the issue by demanding that every member of the majority distinguish between me and my wife using the correct English pronouns? I think not. But non-binary activists are so offended by gendered pronouns, which have been in common use among English speakers for centuries, that they demand the majority change the language to accommodate them. That is unreasonable. It’s okay to let others know what you prefer, but you shouldn’t feel slighted by every miscue or be a complete prig about it!
Now, if you happen to be a plain-old binary individual, what’s your excuse for listing preferred pronouns on social media? It seems completely unnecessary, so why bother? Here are a few possibilities:
- You have transitioned to your gender and list pronouns as a courtesy to anyone who knew you before your transition.
- You are an HR functionary having a career imperative to signal your evenhandedness.
- You are a plaintiffs attorney chasing genderqueer discrimination business.
- You simply like the Chinese practice and want to adopt gender-neutral pronouns. Good luck at your high school reunion!
My guess is that pecuniary and career motives are less important to most pronoun-listers than simple political correctness. Either way, it’s a virtue signal. Of course, you might have non-binary friends or relatives and wish to demonstrate to the world your unerring respect for their preferences. That’s admirable loyalty, but it’s an unnecessary compulsion.
Pronoun lists seem designed to announce support for all things LGBTQ+. I also suspect that some believe it more firmly establishes their socially progressive bona fides, that the pronoun-lister is beyond reproach no matter the nasty capitalists for whom they might toil. Therefore, announcing one’s preference for default pronouns seems both unnecessary and pretentious.
I am fairly tolerant of the notion that gender identity can transcend biology in some individuals. However, that is a controversial metaphysical assertion that many do not accept. Certainly, a decision to reject one’s biological sex should not be made hastily. In particular, these decisions should not be encouraged in children except for cases in which biological sex is ambiguous and where medical procedures might be appropriate. Yet LGBTQ+ doctrine teaches that questioning one’s gender identity should be normalized, even among impressionable children. That is highly objectionable and even abusive. Persuading straights to engage in pronoun pretensions of the kind described above is part of the LGBTQ+ crusade to normalize gender dysphoria.
Beyond all that, changing the structure of the English language to accommodate LGBTQ+ advocates requires a change in language curriculum for young children. One might object on purely grammatical grounds, but it would also raise questions as to why dual sets of pronouns are necessary. To whom do these pronouns apply? That broaches the sensitive topic of gender fluidity that many parents and taxpayers do not wish to be taught as standard curriculum in elementary or even secondary schools. I’m inclined to agree with them.
My general attitude is “whatever floats your boat, but leave me out of it”. I submit that the use of non-gendered pronouns is not “owed” to anyone. It would be easier for the rarefied non-binaries to accept the same fluidity with respect pronouns that they profess with respect to their own gender identities.
* I have occasionally used plural pronouns (they, them, and their) with plural verb forms in reference to “one”, “someone”, or “you”), who might be either male or female. In those cases, the sentence is meant to apply to both genders, but I admit it’s sloppy writing.