Friday, October 28, 2016

Third person genderless pronouns a storm in a tea-cup

What I still don't understand about all the fuss and breast-beating that is being generated recently over the use of appropriate genderless or non-binary pronouns for transgendered or gender-fluid people, is that the issue only even becomes an issue at all when talking of a transgendered person in the third person. And, in practice, how often does that actually happen?
Take, for example, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, who single-handedly kick-started most of the current shenanigans (in Canada, at least) with his point-blank refusal to accommodate people who are asking to be referred to by genderless pronouns (like "xe", "ze", "ve", "hu", "hir", "nem", or even the inoffensive singular "they"). Peterson sees this trend, which is increasingly being taken up by other institutions of higher education, as part of a great political correctness conspiracy, and a step along the road to what he calls " totalitarian and authoritarian political states”.
Now, Professor Peterson is clearly a bit of a nut-job with a personal agenda and a huge chip on his shoulder, and should not necessarily be humoured too far. But my question is: how often in practice would he have occasion to refer to a transgendered person in the third person. I can see that he may have to speak directly the odd student who may have a chip on their own shoulder about what pronouns they feel are appropriate to their own particular minority sexual identification. But in that case he would be speaking in the second person and, as far as I am aware, "you" is not a problematic designation.
For the problem to arise, it seems to me that he would need to be speaking of the individual in question in the third person, and in that case (in most cases, anyway) he would probably be referring to them by their name. In order to require a third person pronoun, he would need to be speaking of someone to someone else in that person's actual presence, or perhaps repeatedly referring to a person after initially introducing them by name, surely both vanishingly unlikely eventualities in everyday professorial practice. I'm not wrong, am I?
So, storm in a teacup or what? And how much virtual ink has been needlessly spilled on this issue!
What I also wonder is just how many transgendered people are actually concerned by this pronoun issue, and whether there might even be an internal movement against it all by people who just don't care that much, or who perhaps see it as a distraction from more serious issues of gender identification.
The issue is muddied further by the fact that the trans community itself can't decide on a viable alternative pronoun, and everyone seems to have their own preference. So, each individual is expected to make their own preference known when they are introduced to a new acquaintance, and everyone else (friends, professors, dentists, etc) are expected to remember this. Sounds like a recipe for disaster to me, and I can't help thinking that "that way madness lies".

No comments: