Tag Archives: LGBTQ

The Battle Over Pronouns Coming to a College Near You

Last year, Jordan Peterson, a professor at the University of Toronto, made news when he refused to use the invented pronouns of the transgender movement as prescribed by Canadian law (see chart).

Pronouns these days are a new battleground, as recommendations admonish us all that the standard English pronouns, which traditionally distinguish she from he, him from her, are discriminatory and must now be reassigned or reinvented upon request.

Still, it’s worth asking: By changing nouns and pronouns, is one changing one’s sex? If I force you to refer to me as he when all anatomical and biological signs indicate I’m a she, have I thereby consolidated a new identity? Does saying it make it so? But then, if physical reality has no traction, why should a “woman” get outraged at the uninvited display of a “penis” in one setting (such as a late-night meeting in a hotel room), but not at precisely the same intrusion in another setting (say, a bathroom or shower room now accessible to all those who “identify as female”)?

Although the purpose of a common language is to enable people to communicate in agreed-upon ways, lately that accord has been breached at the most fundamental level. Why should the existence of a small number of people who decide they “identify” as another sex dictate the use of nouns and pronouns to the rest of the population? Because the real energy behind this seemingly minor adjustment to our language is something much greater: a desire to disguise a fundamental fact of mammal life: sexual dimorphism. This explains the demand that each person’s choice of pronoun must be respected by others (all 7.6 billion of us).

Obviously, the true target isn’t that vast majority of the population that has no difficulty with being referred to by words that correspond to their biological sex. But when sex is transformed into something “assigned at birth”—with the implication that this was a random or an ideologically tainted act—no one is allowed to be comfortable with being a mere he or she, despite clear biological evidence of maleness or femaleness. That’s why we now have terms such as cisgender, heteronormative, and transphobic.

An odd fantasy lies behind these demands: that changing one’s language means changing one’s reality. The material world, however, is intractable, unforgiving. Men who identify as women are no more likely to die of uterine cancer than women who identify as men will develop testicular cancer. Yet these days it’s become necessary to state the obvious. Identifying as female won’t make one menstruate (a term itself offensive since it contains within it the syllable “men,” particularly unfortunate in this context; etymology be damned). Even worse, languages that do not have gender-specific pronouns –such as Hungarian– have had no trouble manifesting traditional gender roles and even, gasp, patriarchal traditions nonetheless. Perhaps we should all switch to Hungarian anyway, on the slim chance that this will usher in a glorious future.

The new pronoun dispensations naturally depend upon a prior transformation in the use of nouns.  Professors should, therefore, avoid referring to students as man or woman (e.g. “the man sitting near the window”). To accommodate a few individuals, then, the rest of us must pretend that sexual dimorphism has been “theorized” out of existence through decades of insistence on the social construction of everything.

Critics, however, note that transsexuals often seem determined to reinvigorate sex and gender stereotypes. Those who think this is merely a “transphobic” observation might want to check out the entirely traditional exploitation of “feminine” sexuality evident in Bruce Jenner’s transformation into the glamorous Caitlyn Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair in 2015. Throughout the country, women pushing 70 probably wept with envy. And pronouns, uncaring, rapidly realigned themselves.

The effort to do away with conventional language norms in English is not new. Many creative writers have played with these ideas. The first such book I came across was the utopian romance Beatrice the Sixteenth, by “Irene Clyde”–who turned out to be the British jurist Thomas Baty, whose unofficial life’s work was dismantling gender roles while actually promoting “feminine” values. Published in 1909, the novel assiduously avoids any nouns or pronouns indicating gender, so that the reader has no way of identifying the sex of the characters. Numerous other writers, especially starting in the 1970s, have engaged in similar language games as they spun out their imagined societies. Marge Piercy’s 1976 utopian novel Woman on the Edge of Time, for example, uses “person” for he/she, and “per” for his/her. To this day creative writers continue in their quest for societies without gender.

In the real world, psychologist Barbara Greenberg (2018), who describes herself as “a huge fan of social inclusion,” recently argued that schools should prohibit students from forming “best friends.” Why? Because this practice leads to emotional distress: “The word ‘best’ encourages judgment and promotes exclusion.” Instead, parents should encourage their children to have a small group of close friends. Or, one might add, they could just send their kids to convents, which have a long history of attempting to suppress what were called “particular friendships.”

L.P. Hartley’s book, Facial Justice, published in 1960, features a fictitious newspaper called The Daily Leveller.  The “paper” argues that correcting grammar and spelling errors should be banned because it can lead to envy and bitterness. Particularly unacceptable is the tyranny of the Objective Case, because, “it wasn’t fair for a word to be governed by a verb or even a preposition. Words can only be free if they’re equal, and how can they be equal if they’re governed by other words?”

Perhaps the linguistic totalitarianism in Lou Tafler’s inventive novel Fair New World (1994) will soon set the standard. Tafler (the pseudonym of philosophy professor Lou Marinoff) takes the battle of the sexes to new extremes. He imagines three separate societies, two of which are dystopias: Bruteland inhabited by men, and Feminania by women. The third is an amusing utopian alternative called Melior.

In Feminania, the Femininnies have created a language called Fairspeak. The letter combinations (not merely morphemes) man and men, regardless of the context in which they occur, have been replaced by feminist-inspired alternatives: womb, womban, and womben. This produces terms such as wombdate, wombanacle, and dewomband.  Etymology counts for nothing, just as in the real-world preference for herstory, promoted by feminists starting decades ago.

Even gender-neutral endings are revised in Feminania: er and or are replaced by her, as in acther and disasther. Naturally, son becomes daughther, producing words such as pherdaughther,, pridaughther, readaughther, and just plain daughtherg (= song). Gent is replaced by lady, as in intellilady, dililady, and ladylewombanly.

In all sections of the book dealing with Feminania, then, the reader must slog through a soup of zany, multisyllabic terms such as wombanufacture, docuwombentary, wombagewombent, and comwombencewombent.  The author, however, has thoughtfully provided a glossary. In addition, for the 20th anniversary edition of Fair New World, in 2014, Professor Hardy Orbs of Amherst College contributed a foreword that, among other things, clearly explains the basic rules of Fairspeak.

All these fictional efforts reflect a strict, even obsessive, adherence to rules. And this makes it impossible to avoid noticing that the new pronoun policing, meant to facilitate breaking the rules of sexual dimorphism and encouraging self-selection of sexual identities, is paradoxically dictatorial. We must give up the gendered language that a few individuals find uncomfortable, for not being comfortable is now taken to be identical to experiencing discrimination.

In practice, however, comfort is hardly the issue, since transgender rights must supersede all others. To refuse to conform is dastardly – and it’s unclear what the consequences might be: Perhaps the language police will come calling. In Canada, they’re already in place.

In June 2017, Canada passed Bill C-16, which added the categories “gender identity or expression” to its Human Rights Act, thereby prohibiting discrimination directed against trans people. That’s on the federal level. Most Canadian provinces have made similar reforms to their codes, covering workplaces, schools, hospitals, etc.

It all sounds reasonable enough, until one considers the effect of these new statutes on free speech, as law professor Bruce Pardy explains. The Ontario Human Rights Commission, for example, declared that “refusing to refer to a trans person by their chosen name and a personal pronoun that matches their gender identity … will likely be discrimination when it takes place in a social area covered by the Code, including employment, housing, and services like education.”

The law’s defenders dismissed critics’ concerns as absurd and “transphobic.” Yet when one senator proposed an amendment to the bill clarifying that it was not intended to actually require particular language use, this was summarily rejected. The same article notes that the ostensible pursuit of human rights has turned into a zero-sum game, one that expands even further government’s intrusion into daily life. Until now, individuals never got to impose their particular noun and pronoun preferences on all others. “When speech is merely restricted, you can at least keep your thoughts to yourself. Compelled speech makes people say things with which they disagree,” Pardy observes. And that, of course, is the point: to force conformity to a new social agenda, rooted in identity politics.

What if one forgets? Will there be a punitive fine? Re-education? Perhaps harsher measures for repeat offenders? Canada is ahead of the U.S. in such legislation, though in fact, equal protection is patently not the aim. Earlier in 2017, for example, the Canadian parliament passed a (non-binding) motion condemning anti-Islamic rhetoric and behavior – in the guise of an anti-discrimination bill. When amendments were offered that would include other religions in the motion as well, they were rejected.

But in the United States, the First Amendment (a word with two “men” in it) thus far prevents the government from compelling speech. You can’t be forced to recite the pledge of allegiance, or to show respect when it is recited by others. Perhaps pronoun justice will supersede such old-fashioned notions of individual rights, not based on group affiliation.

Sexual harassment law and the numerous regulations that follow from it, policing of language, and other related obsessions seem to aim ultimately at denaturing sexual identity to the point that anyone can claim to be anything (thus far, still confined to the human realm), which entails the right to be addressed by the noun and pronoun of one’s choice. This may look to some like respect for individualism, but it is in fact group coercion. There’s no demand here for tolerance, only for obeisance. Not just: don’t interfere with my desires and preferences, but: you must support them and subordinate your own to them. Yet this diktat applies only to gender, not to race, as we see in the denunciations of those who “identify as” Black or Native American but really aren’t. In those cases, somehow, biology still matters.

As Humpty Dumpty says to Alice, “When I use a word… it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” But, objects Alice, the question is “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Not so, Humpty Dumpty replies; the real question is “which is to be master—that’s all.”

You Will Attend Purdue’s ‘Safe Zone’ Training Session

On January 18, the academic leadership of Purdue University received a letter from Mark Smith, dean of the graduate school. It said:

On behalf of the Diversity Leadership Team, I’d like to invite you to attend a special safe zone training session …  arranged exclusively for deans, associate deans, and department heads.

This, you must understand, was not an invitation but a disguised summons. Diversity enthusiasts like Smith stress on our overwhelmingly liberal campuses that faculties need lots of training amid non-minorities to protect gays, women and ethnic and racial minorities. 

We hope all (or at least most) of our faculty will become safe zone certified in the near future, which would be a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale.  Many thanks in advance for your support and participation.

What does safe zone certification mean? It sounds ominous, and it is.

Related: How a University Moved from Diversity to Indoctrination

Safe Spaces are of course designated places on campus where identity groups and their allies cluster to avoid supposed stereotyping, marginalization, and persecution. LGBT Safe Zone certification goes much farther, involving indoctrination sessions, where correct principles are announced, not debated, semi-coerced faculty pledges to act as “allies,” then displaying rainbow badges on office doors or in classrooms to signal support.

Are identity groups at Purdue in such peril that high campus officials need to sign a contract and be formally designated, after three hours of training in diversity principles, as safe zone certified? There’s very little real discrimination left on campus of the kind that LGBT activists want to quell; except for the rare kook, pretty much everyone opposes the kind of intolerance and homophobia presented as threats. Even sympathetic faculties think such diversity training sessions are a silly waste of time. Yet they are also career essentials.

This veiled coercion should offend liberals – but doesn’t. It should terrify anyone unwilling to profess full allegiance and faith to the diversity catechism.

What’s disconcerting, or should be, Purdue is one of the saner colleges and universities around, with a big STEM element, and run by the able president, Mitch Daniels. We are not talking about Wesleyan or Bard. Purdue is a land-grant university in the state that gave the nation Dan Quayle and Mike Pence. It’s a long way from Vermont or the Left Coast. And what’s going on at Purdue is also going on — often far more aggressively — at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide. With American Federation of Teachers endorsement, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is pushing safe zones in middle- and high-schools nationwide.

Purdue explains in its promotional flyer that “the purpose of the Safe Zone program is to challenge homophobia, transphobia, cisgenderism, and heterosexism by encouraging welcoming and inclusive environments for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, Queer or Questioning, Asexual, and Ally.” using language almost identical to hundreds of other programs. (Intersex and Asexual are recent Purdue additions.) As the flyer puts it,

Upon completion of the workshop, attendees can choose to become a Safe Zone member by completing a contract expressing their commitment to supporting diversity and inclusion.

A loyalty oath to the diversity movement is being sought here. The parallels to the McCarthy era loyalty oaths are striking. There’s more:

Additionally, Safe Zone members display a placard in a visible location such as a door to an office or residence hall that identifies them [and] dedicated safe spaces on campus for LGBTQ people to connect with allies in the community.

At schools nationwide, then, a placard or rainbow-colored sticker appears on an office door so the kids will know a professor’s office or classroom office is a “safe zone” occupied by an “ally.” Whole hallways in august universities are now so decorated. Don’t these badges stigmatize non-stickered faculty?

Moreover, when a graduate dean writes such a letter to fellow deans and department heads across this 38,000- student university, who signs ups and who doesn’t will be noted, however obliquely. Who gets Safe Zone certified, that too: who obeys and who does not, who answers the call. When Smith calls the advent of safe zones a quantum leap for our campus on the diversity metric scale, he signals to deans and department heads that diversity is the right and proper metric, the sacred creed of the modern university. Put up your rainbow sticker or suffer the consequences.

The word ally utterly misses the mark of education. It re-purposes college life and degrades it. Safe Zones encourage instructors whose expertise is in literature or social science to dive into private spheres that might best be left to other authorities such as family, or if need be, psychologists. Instructors have a task to perform: cerebral, ethical and aesthetic. As allies, they turn into life coaches or voyeurs.

Laity assumes that after the good laugh, higher education will get a grip. But the summonses and the autos-da-fé are destined to go on. The campus Diversity Machine operates with religious zeal, and it hates heretics. Federal regulations, state and federal money, tuition payments and student loans, and prevailing moral sentiments are its batteries.

The outlay and opportunity cost are vast. The debasing process to get your rainbow sticker requires personnel, offices, training sessions, facilities, and centers. This apparatus not only crowds out academic learning. It mixes a large number of single-interest ideologues with serious scholars, leading to institutional confusion and turmoil.

Don’t forget that Purdue is a public institution. Safe Zone indoctrination sessions, ally contracts, and rainbow stickers are your government at work. But federal safe-space directives to public and private colleges and universities alike try to make sure that no one is left behind. Legislatures and taxpayers, tuitions and endowments, bear the burden. So do society and culture.