June 07, 2017

Transgender preferred pronouns?

By Hendrik van der Breggen
The Carillon, June 15, 2017

Transgender preferred pronouns?

If passed by Canada's senate, Bill C16, a.k.a. the Transgender Rights Bill, will add "gender identity" and "gender expression" to Canada's human rights and hate-crime laws.

According to U of Toronto psychology professor Jordan B. Peterson, a staunch critic of Bill C16, this bill will require us to use pronouns preferred by transgender persons (e.g., hir, ve, ver, vis, xe, xem, xyr, ze/ zie, etc.). But others disagree with Peterson's interpretation.

If the law does require citizens to use "preferred pronouns," then I am inclined to follow Professor Peterson: I, too, will refuse.

Before I provide my reasons, let's get some clarity.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould sets out key concepts: "Gender identity is a person's internal or individual experience of their gender. It is a deeply felt experience of being a man, a woman, or being somewhere along the gender spectrum."

Moreover, "Gender expression is how a person publicly presents their gender. It is an external outward presentation through aspects such as dress, hair, makeup, body language, or voice."

So why will I refuse to use a transgender's preferred pronoun? Answer: Because I refuse to be compelled to speak falsely.

I think it's false that a man who feels he is a woman is in fact a woman and false that a woman who feels she is a man is in fact a man. Enter: gender dysphoria, formerly known as gender identity disorder.

Also, it seems to me that, aside from the small percentage of intersex people, the idea of a "gender spectrum" doesn't ring true to biological fact. So it seems to me that using a pronoun that is contrary to fact is like agreeing an anorexic is "fat" when she's not.

At this juncture, three objections might be raised.

Before I consider these objections, let me say this: All people—including people who identify as transgender—deserve respect, compassion, plus protection from bullying, violence, and unjust discrimination. God loves everyone.

Objection 1: My view should be dismissed because I am (allegedly) "transphobic."

Reply: This is an ad hominem fallacy (i.e., attacking the person rather than the ideas/ reasoning).

Objection 2: The freedom to identify as transgender is like freedom of religion, so just as I am free to determine and live according to my religious identity, so too transgender persons are free to identify and portray themselves as such to the world.

Reply: According to Dr. Bruce Pardy, professor of law at Queen's University, "Those are the equivalents."

"But," Professor Pardy quickly adds, "here's the one thing that people who claim freedom of religion do not have: they do not have the right to demand that other people agree."

In other words, in a free society religious people have the freedom to believe (and live as if) religion X is true, but they don't have the right to require others to say they agree X is true too. Similarly, transgender people have the freedom to believe (and portray) themselves as other than their biological sex, but they don't have the right to require others to say they agree with what they believe. (Such agreement is implied by preferred pronouns.)*

Objection 3: Oh, come on, just use the preferred pronouns for the sake of courtesy!

Reply, from American attorney and journalist David French: "I’ve encountered many well-meaning people who’ve told me that I should acquiesce to new pronouns because it’s the polite thing to do. I want to avoid hurting feelings, don’t I? I want to treat someone the way I’d like to be treated, right? What’s the harm in a little white lie?"

French answers: "But when your definition of manners requires that I verbally consent to a fundamentally false and important premise, then I dissent."

"You cannot use my manners to win your culture war. I will speak respectfully, I will never use a pronoun with the intent of causing harm, and if I encounter a person in obvious emotional distress I will choose my words very carefully. But I will not say what I do not believe."

(Hendrik van der Breggen, PhD, is associate professor of philosophy at Providence University College. The views expressed in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)

* Reasonable inference (drawn by me, after listening to Professor Pardy's response), an inference that may be of interest to public school boards: Just as our government shouldn't promote/ enshrine a particular religion, so too our government shouldn't promote/ enshrine transgenderism—thus just as our public schools shouldn't promote/ enshrine a particular religion, so too our public schools shouldn't promote/ enshrine transgenderism.

Further reading/ viewing:

Transgender ideology (Apologia column)
Phobic anti-phobia? (Apologia column)
Why there are only two sexes (Public Discourse article)

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