A short comment on preferred pronouns

I just posted something on Facebook using someone’s preferred pronouns of “them and their”, which I know is an issue that riles some people up, so I want to explain that issue as I see it:

If I started calling you, and referring to you, as “dickface”:
– “Hi dickface””morning dickface how’s it going?”
– “fancy a quick pint after work, dickface?”
– “have you seen dickface lately?”
– “Let’s invite dickface to our meeting, he might have some useful input”

I don’t think it would take very long before you got pretty pissed and asked me to stop.
And having been asked to stop, the considerate (of your point of view and experience) thing for me to do is to stop.

I might not have realized that me calling you “dickface” bothers you (this is a bit of an extreme example, to make the point clear) but after you’ve told me, I now DO know, and the only respectful thing to do is to respect your feelings about how you would like me to refer to you.

Likewise with pronouns: It’s someone saying the way you refer to them bothers them, and giving you guidance on what they would prefer. It’s not censorship or anything even close, it’s just “please stop that it bothers me”.

Or as Neil Gaiman put it (paraphrasing): it’s not “political correctness” it’s “treating people with respect”. That doesn’t seem like an unreasonable ask. The respectful thing to do is acknowledge their wishes, do your best to correct the thing that bothers them, and move on.

Now I do understand that being asked to speak differently can feel a bit like an attack on your freedom. This actually happened to me yesterday:

In class (on Zoom) I was telling a funny story, and I used the phrase “oh my god” several times. Eventually one of my students piped up with

“Could you say “Oh my gosh” instead, I’m a Christian and the phrase “oh my god” bothers me.”

And for one brief moment annoyance flared, and I was tempted to reply with:

“Look, “oh my god” is a very common phrase in English, I don’t think you can ask me not to say it.”

But then I realized that it was a very simple request, and bravely put (to her teacher, and in a language she is learning), so I let go my anger (star wars?) and continued my story using “oh my gosh”, because the alternative was to, well, to be a dick.

Recently I also posted something about silencing someone’s authentic voice, so I realize this issue can have two sides. To help us make judgements on this issue I’d say: look at where the social power lies in the situation. Punch up, not down. Make the world more equal, not less.

Peace, love, and respect, everybody.