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Respect, Rights, and Freedoms in an Era of Identity Activism

Ever since he was awarded a knighthood in the 2001 honours list, the British actor Ben Kingsley, probably most famous for his eponymous role in the film Gandhi, has apparently insisted on being referred to as “Sir Ben Kingsley.” This is his right and he is, by all accounts, quite offended if the honorific is overlooked. Not all recipients of such honours are quite as sensitive to the careful observation of such proprieties. Nevertheless, although it is his right, we are not obliged to comply with his wishes. There is no law that requires us to do so besides the conventions of a polite society, regardless of any damage inflicted on his self-esteem.

I have nothing against Sir Ben. I have used him merely as an illustration of the principle that the right to receive a particular good, service, or respect does not automatically oblige other members of society to fulfil that right to the holder’s affective satisfaction. If I have bought a lottery ticket, I have a right to participate in the lottery, but not a right to win. If I have paid for some goods, I have the right to receive them in good condition, but not to be perfectly satisfied by them. In a court of law, I have a right to hear my case heard, but not the right to receive the verdict I want. And so on.

Nevertheless, we have travelled from the well-founded and established proposition that the rights of others must be respected to a belief that people themselves have a right to be respected. The confused logic of this pathway is not limited to the layperson; it permeates academia and the judiciary, instigated by intellectual sophistry and compounded by legal activism. The problem, though, from a societal perspective, is not a logical one. It is that the notion of a right and the necessity of respecting it are so fundamental to legal culture, that anything that can be established as a right now enjoys the force of law.

The entire debate has become confused around the conflation of “rights” with “respect,” both of which have suffered from an inflation of meaning over the past few decades. A right, at least as established under English law, ought to mean simply a freedom that could not be interfered with by those in authority, such as the state, or by any other individual. These rights include the freedom of belief and conscience, the right to free speech, and the right of assembly. Sir Ben Kingsley’s right to his honorific is a right in that mould; he has the freedom to append that title to his name, a freedom which those of us not similarly honoured do not have; it is, moreover, a freedom which he is not obliged to practice but I am obliged to respect. However, and this is the critical point, I am not obliged under law to use his honorific when addressing him. I am free to do so, but also free not to do so.

But in the post-war period, rights have been transformed from negative freedoms to positive goods for the individual, such as education and employment, and then to positive goods for groups, including the protection of identities. With each step there has been a move away from holding the authority of the state to account, towards empowering the state over goods which it is increasingly difficult to guarantee. The result is that the state has become more coercive in its attempts to deliver those goods.

At the same time, there has been a confusion between two meanings of the word “respect.” The first of these is defined as the “deference to a right, privilege, or privileged position,” the second as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality, or ability.” These meanings are clearly different, but they have been conflated under the banner of group rights. Such rights are invariably based on “identities.” This is a slippery term because identities are largely self-constructed and weakly bounded, which means they can be restructured and multiplied, almost without limit. Identity as a self-construction necessarily evokes the sense of worth of the group to which one belongs; and as a right it commands deference to that judgment. Hence, the conflation of the two senses.

The decision by some states in America and Canada—likely to be replicated elsewhere—to give legal force to preferred pronouns highlights the extremes to which this idea can be pushed. This is a legal requirement that, in any public setting, transgender people—or anyone with specific gender identity requirements, for that matter—must be referred to using the pronouns with which they have decided to self-identify. For those not up to date with this area of identity advocacy, this extends far beyond the use of gender neutral terms such as ‘they’ and its lexical cognates (which, despite its grammatical awkwardness, I, like many, have been using for the past 30-odd years when gender is unknown or unimportant). Facebook now lists over 70 varieties of gender identification.

Standard gender pronouns are not an honorific or a mark of respect, they are simply an instrument of categorisation that emerged with the evolution of language. It is fallacious to claim, therefore, that we are required to respect any form of gender identification that a person might whimsically conjure up. We are used to making allowances for the individuality of others; although most of us do not consider this to be entangled in questions of rights, we are willing to accommodate a person’s reasonable requests in the name of decency and shared social bonds. However, the requests—actually demands—being imposed upon those working in the public domain, such as in businesses, schools, and universities under those legal jurisdictions, to match every individual’s gender self-identification with their preferred pronoun or other title (including tags such as “gender fluidity” which entail switching gender identity upon a whim), are so arbitrary that they resemble an ideologically driven agenda.

Moreover, unlike the case of Sir Ben, whose honours mainly have the force of tradition and whose demands for recognition we are under no legal obligation to meet, gender identity is not predicated on any recognised accomplishment. Instead, it is asserted on the basis of a belief not yet founded on any reliable empirical evidence, but backed by the full force of the law. Of course, people have a right to their beliefs regarding gender and identity, but they should not have the right to respect for their belief, or acquiescence in the charade that their identity is sovereign. All identities are self-constructed and negotiated.

This is the point on which legal activism has betrayed the inner meaning of a right, which is that a freedom always comes with consequences, including the consequences of disapproval and disavowal. Activists, however, have carved out a selective realm of pure freedom purportedly protected from any consequences whatsoever, on the pernicious premise that anyone else exercising their own freedom to disagree can be accused of spreading “hate speech” or “abuse” and punished accordingly. The truth is that freedom is never without consequences, whether we choose to believe it or not, and promoting the idea that it can be gives rise to psychological and social chaos.

I have dwelt on the issue of gender identity as a current manifestation and illustration of what happens when philosophy abandons logic and evidence, and the ramifications of that on a societal level. On a personal level, I have been acquainted with a handful of people with complex gender identities. Some of those earned my respect for being people of integrity, whose character and accomplishments transcended the singular dimension of their gender. I suspect for many more it has become a fashionable eccentricity engendered by the extreme liberality of the societies we inhabit in the West, to which the young are particularly susceptible. If so, it has uncoupled respect from accomplishment and freedom from consequences. This is a dangerous game, and it is one in which academia has been particularly complicit.

 

Don Trubshaw is a social science and research methods tutor in HE. He holds a PhD in the philosophy and sociology of education and is co-founder of the website Societal Values.

89 Comments

  1. the gardner says

    To imagine you can gain societal acceptance by forcing another to address you with a made up pronoun is just dumb. Better to behave with the same dignity that everyone else relies on to earn respect and acceptance in society. If it is so important to a trans person that I address him/her in a specific way, then ask me politely and I will oblige. But resort to laws and human rights declarations to compel me, and I will resist.

    • David of Kirkland says

      Somehow they can “make up hundreds of genders” but refuse to create a single new pronoun for them. The idea of “they” to mean a single person confuses language — did they mean the person or the person and others too?

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @D of K

        Somehow in contemporary English, “you” and “your” work as both singular and plural pronouns. Does that cause confusion? In a few cases yes, but context is usually sufficient to reveal meaning. Or, as in the American South, one can use the term “you-all.”

        So the angst over “they” as a third person genderless singular pronoun is unwarranted. See also my reply to @d below.

        • Colin Turfus says

          Surely the point about language is that it follows usage, not the other way round. If we accept the principle implicitly being proposed and allow one group to outlaw the normal language usage of another group, where might it all end?

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Colin Turfus

            Language IS usage; dictionaries, grammars, style manuals, etc. are commentaries on language. ‘Normal’ is meaningless in this context because any widespread language has dialects, sub-dialects and so on, all of which are perfectly normal.

            So guess what? “They” has been used as a singular pronoun in English for over 750 years, including by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and other writers. Just google ‘usage of they as singular pronoun’ and follow the links to the dictionary websites.

        • Mark H. says

          In some portions of the American South, “y’all” is singular. For plural, “all y’all”.

          • Farris says

            @Mark H

            With all due respect y’all is always plural. The term “all y’all” is used to delineate members of a group. Such as: are all y’all going or just some of y’all? In others words “all y’all” is used in place of “all of you”.

          • peterschaeffer says

            JBN, the dictionary defines ‘they’ as follows.

            they
            /T͟Hā/
            pronoun
            pronoun: they

            1. used to refer to two or more people or things previously mentioned or easily identified.
            "the two men could get life sentences if they are convicted"
            people in general.
            "the rest, as they say, is history"
            informal
            a group of people in authority regarded collectively.
            "they cut my water off"
            2.used to refer to a person of unspecified gender.
            "ask someone if they could help"

            Can exceptions be found in the vast history of the English language? Sure. Exceptions can be found for almost everything.

            By contrast, “it” is clearly a singular form. If people don’t like “he” or “she”, “it” is the obvious alternative.

            Note that the dictionary also defines “them” as a plural form.

        • TMac says

          Point of clarification, Jack: It’s “y’all.” One word, really.

      • John B says

        Someone in the shop said they felt unwell, then they fainted. Is that confusing?

        English contains a non-gender specific third person impersonal pronoun, ‘one’. As in, for example, ‘One usually washes one’s hands before eating’.

        • Shatterface says

          Someone in the shop said they felt unwell, then they fainted. Is that confusing?

          If someone said that I’d understand straight away. And my question would be ‘Who was it?’ and they’d understand me perfectly.

          Yet those demanding I refer to them as ‘they’ would throw a hissy fit if I called them ‘It’.

        • Cassandra says

          That is incorrect. .’One’ is used as a generalising pronoun ; it is a direct borrowing from the French ‘on’, although it has come to imply usage in the first person, as your example shows. It is not an equivalent for ‘ it ‘ or ‘they’, as a few simple substitutions would demonstrate.

    • Alexander says

      I question whether or not it’s worth obliging at all; recalling endless bizarro pronouns seems like an extremely tedious burden to place on others.

  2. Jack B. Nimble says

    “……a belief that people themselves have a right to be respected…..’

    But there is another angle to this issue that the author ignores. What if a government restricts the right of individuals to use a title that they have earned?

    For example, in Germany there is/was a Nazi era [!] law that provided criminal penalties for individuals who used the title ‘Doctor’ or ‘Dr.’ without holding the appropriate degree from a GERMAN university. The law has been modified several times starting in 2001 [and holders of doctorates from some American universities can now legally use their titles in Germany], but is still on the books.

    How do we reconcile the rights and autonomy of individuals to use their preferred titles, versus the ‘right’ of the community to police these matters in the name of social order?

    …..Non-European PhDs In Germany Find Use Of ‘Doktor’ Verboten
    By Craig Whitlock and Shannon Smiley, Washington Post Foreign Service, March 14, 2008

    BERLIN, March 13 — Americans with PhDs beware: Telling people in Germany that you’re a doctor could land you in jail.

    At least seven U.S. citizens working as researchers in Germany have faced criminal probes in recent months for using the title “Dr.” on their business cards, Web sites and resumes. They all hold doctoral degrees from elite universities back home.

    Under a little-known Nazi-era law, only people who earn PhDs or medical degrees in Germany are allowed to use “Dr.” as a courtesy title.

    The law was modified in 2001 to extend the privilege to degree-holders from any country in the European Union. But docs from the United States and anywhere else outside Europe are still forbidden to use the honorific. Violators can face a year behind bars…..

    The proper use of honorifics is no small matter in Germany, a society given to formality where even longtime neighbors insist on addressing each other using their surnames. Those with advanced degrees like to show them off, and it is not uncommon to earn more than one. A male faculty member with two PhDs can fully expect to be called “Herr Professor Dr. Dr. Schmidt,” for example.

    In effect, forcing Americans to forsake their titles amounts to a social demotion. “It’s an indication of the hierarchization of German society,” said Gary Smith, director of the American Academy in Berlin. “Germans are much more status-conscious about these things, and the status is real.”…..” [emphasis added]

    A less dramatic example of this phenomenon is the requirement in several US states that married women must take their husband’s surname. I think that most or all of these laws have been repealed.

    • Alexander says

      The reconciliation is that there is no ‘right’ of the community to legally police the matters in the name of social order

    • I don’t think there is an issue. First, your example is from Germany, not America (different laws about compelled speech, social norms, and freedom of speech, rights of the individual) and secondly very esoteric, and possibly no longer applicable. At any event, there are not many Americans who will walk around passing out their business cards saying “Dr.’ when they’re professors; and anyway, there is no real social demotion, since a professor doesn’t call him/herself “Dr” much anyway (I don’t.). Simply putting Professor Mary Smith, PhD, is just fine. And finally, we don’t have the same hierarchies as they do (Herr Professor Dr. Dr….) so your bold-face has almost no application to us.

      But if it did have application and it were in America, not in another country, I do agree it’s a form of gov’t compelled speech and should not exist, albeit not nearly as stringent as the lunatic ones now, penalizing you for calling another person by the gender they were born with and which scientifically they still are (as opposed to not allowing you to use your own title you legally and factually have).

      Second, there is no law that requires a woman to take her husband’s surname. Indeed, you may legally choose whatever name you wish. Since you acknowledge this has been repealed, then I’m not sure what the point is anyway. But again, if there were such a law compelling me to not call myself what I want (within bounds) then that would be wrong. Again, that is not the same as gov’t compelling us to call someone else what they imagine themselves to be, and enforcing this through law, and multiple means of punishment including losing careers and jobs. Not that I personally have a problem at all calling a trans person by their own pronoun; I think it’s rude not to. I just don’t want to be compelled by the gov’t and/or my place of work on pain of punishment.

      • Jack B. Nimble says

        @d

        “……….. And finally, we don’t have the same hierarchies as they do (Herr Professor Dr. Dr….) so your bold-face has almost no application to us…..”

        Your take is naive. Social hierarchies exist in all countries and are often reflected in language including pronouns. English is unusual in that it used to have a ‘familiar’ or ‘intimate’ pronoun set thou/thee/thy/thine that was also the singular counterpart to ye/you/your/yours**. Now these archaic pronouns mostly survive in the KJV Bible, but only a few centuries ago the thou/you distinction indicated social relationship.

        So pronoun usage changes over relatively short time frames, and using gender-free pronouns is just another form of language evolution, analogous to the way that English lacks gendered nouns. Pronouns don’t NEED genders anymore than nouns do.

        On another point you raised, suppose Mary Smith, PhD asks a person to call her Dr. Smith. If they insist on calling her Ms. Smith, isn’t that a social demotion or dismissal of her credential? Sure seems that way to me.

        **Using a plural pronoun to indicate social superiority can also be found in English in the ‘royal we.’

        • Ryan says

          The issue in Germany, where I live and where free speech is not a thing, is not to do with hierarchy, but with qualification. It is similar to how in the US you can’t call yourself a MD without actually going to med. School. I am pretty sure someone like Dr. Dre could get away with it by making it clear it is a Kunstlername.

          Also, it is not compelled speech, you don’t have to call a Dr. a Dr.

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Ryan

            I had to google Kunstlername to find that it is a pen name or pseudonym.

            And I never claimed that the German law compelled speech, only that it regulated the use of foreign academic titles that were legitimately earned.

    • Argan Ndomw says

      @Jack B. Nimble

      “They” has been used as a singular pronoun in English for over 750 years, including by Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen and other writers. Just google ‘usage of they as singular pronoun’ and follow the links to the dictionary websites.

      There are actually two singular “they” pronouns. One is the one you refer to above, which is reserved for unspecificed or unidentified individuals, e.g. “If a subscriber calls, they must be treated with respect”. This is indeed ancient and extremely common — virtually all native English speakers use it without even realizing it.

      The other singular “they” is the one that trans activists and their allies are seeking to force others to use. This one refers to known individuals, and is not used by anyone other than said activists and allies. Examples of it: “John called and said they are coming” (he is coming), “Mary just had their first baby” (her first baby), “Brumy’s death is something even they didn’t see coming” (she didn’t see coming).

      The second singular they is ungrammatical in all varieties of English except the idiolect of trans activists and allies. Speakers refuse to use it not because they are phobic of any person or group, but because their native grammar does not include it and every time it’s used they get an N400 spike in their brain making them instantly feel that what they just heard is not an acceptable utterance.

      • Asenath Waite says

        @Argan Ndomw

        Thanks for clarifying that. I hadn’t thought about how “they” is used to reference undefined singular individuals but not defined singular individuals in common English. You’ve articulated why it sounds so wrong to me when used artificially in the new activist manner.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @Saw file

      Well, according to the link you supplied, bill C-16 deals with hate crime and hate speech in the criminal code, plus it adds the words “gender identity or expression” to the Canadian Human Rights Code. Disclaimer: I’m generally not in favor of hate speech laws, but–hey–that’s not my country. And the change to the HRC seems minor.

      The examples of Canada and Germany show that, even among what are called the ‘western democracies,’ there are big differences in how individual rights and autonomy versus social norms are reconciled. The US is an outlier in tilting in the direction of individual rights, and most Americans seem to believe that this is a good thing, as do I.

      • Stephanie says

        Jack, yes, but misgendering someone is now a hate crime, punishable with a fine and prison if you refuse to pay it. Just a couple of weeks ago a man in Vancouver who put up posters disparaging a MTF electoral candidate was found guilty and fined for putting up the posters, but thousands of dollars of additional fines were levied because he “misgendered” the plaintiff during the proceedings.

        If you watch JBP’s original video about this, he goes through the enforcement policies and they are disturbing. This recent case sets a bad precedent totally in line with what JBP predicted based on the policy.

        • Sydney says

          @JackBNimble

          Not so quick (pun intended).

          In Canada, ‘misgendering’ someone is understood now understood to be a form of hate speech.

          You can ask the police to file charges against someone if they ‘misgender’ you. The police will likely comply, and the lawyers will duke it out. Your lawyer, acting for the Crown, will obviously bring ‘hate speech’ into their argument, claiming that the person is doing grievous harm to you in all sorts of ways. You can’t separate pronouns from hate speech anymore in real-world Canada.

          https://www.feministcurrent.com/2019/04/10/i-supported-trans-ideology-until-i-couldnt-anymore/

          https://nationalpost.com/opinion/bruce-pardy-meet-the-new-human-rights-where-you-are-forced-by-law-to-use-reasonable-pronouns-like-ze-and-zer

          • Jack B. Nimble says

            @Sydney

            The linked opinion piece by Bruce Pardy talks mostly about compelled speech, but governments compel speech all the time.

            For example, today across the USA people are filing their tax returns, which include the following statement that must be signed and dated:

            “…Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have examined this return and accompanying schedules and statements, and to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are true,
            correct, and complete….”

            Taxpayers who strike out the above sentence on their return can be fined [gasp!] for filing a ‘frivolous’ return.

            Even if we accept that Canadian law compels persons to use particular pronouns [and I haven’t seen strong evidence that it does], the real question is whether or not the govt. has a legitimate interest here in compelling speech.

            I don’t think that the govt. does have a legitimate interest in regulating speech in this instance, but the point may be moot if C-16 in fact doesn’t compel anyone to use particular pronouns in everyday speech, or else face criminal penalties. The Oger v. Whatcott suit isn’t a good test case, since Whatcott seems to have done everything he could to lose that case and become (in his mind, at least) a Christian martyr.

      • Ryan says

        A important thing to remember about Germany is that insults are illegal, but the definition of insult is narrower. Also, as a legal principal it predates nazism. So it is neither a reaction to Hitler, nor a new progressivism. At least not purely.

  3. Sean Leith says

    There is man and there is woman, of course like everything, there is anomaly. But anomaly doesn’t make a separate identity. Just like digital world, there is 1 and 0, occasionally there is signal that not strong enough to be 1 and not low enough to be 0. But that is qualify to be separate class beyond 1 and 0. People have known this since forever. Now the left drive us all the way to stupidity.

    • David of Kirkland says

      But you can’t discard “anomalous” people. They exist. What to call them?

      • Kencathedrus says

        @David of Kirkland: ‘gender-ambiguous’ or nothing at all.

      • Cassandra says

        But most of the individuals you refer to are not physically anomalous (or at least, most did not start out that way, though they may have been surgically or chemically altered). The anomaly lies in the individual’s psychology , and increasingly, only there.

        It is unfortunate but true that most of us categorise another individual on sight as male or female. Many people who now ‘identify ‘ themselves as a different sex to that which they would be physically categorised are not clearly of that other sex,or even in between .

  4. Mr. Left says

    The logic of the initial example of Sir Ben’s right to an honorific is suspect, and it muddies the argument that follows. If it is indeed his “right” to be called Sir Ben, then we are indeed “obliged to comply” with it–that’s what makes a right a right. The fact that there isn’t legal recourse to enforce this right does not eliminate the obligation; it merely renders the obligation unenforceable. The difference is subtle but significant. (A separate issue is the fact that his right to the honorific is legitimated by the Crown, which means that to me, an American citizen, his right is not a right but merely a wish.) The important point here is that if a right is legally established as such (regardless of whether violations of the right are made legally punishable), we do, in fact, have to recognize it. It is therefore nonsensical, technically speaking, for one to “not recognize someone else’s right,”–yet it is, of course, possible for one to violate someone else’s rights by not acting or speaking in a manner consistent with the right in question.

    • Knitted Brow says

      Interesting. Does Kingsley have ‘a right to be called Sir Ben’, though, or just ‘a right to call himself Sir Ben’? This is making my brain ache.

  5. Morgan Foster says

    @Mr. Left

    “If it is indeed his “right” to be called Sir Ben, then we are indeed “obliged to comply” with it …”

    The author wrote that Kingsley has the right to insist on being called Sir Ben, not a right to be called Sir Ben.

    Just as the author has the right to insist on being addressed as Dr. Trubshaw, and we, the readers, have no obligation to comply.

    • Mr. Left says

      Morgan, the distinction between the right to insist on being called Sir Ben and the right to be called Sir Ben, as it applies to titles, is precisely what I see as a flaw in the author’s logic. Titles do place an obligation on the members of the relevant community to recognize the title holder. As relational quantities, titles–much like pronouns–establish a set of constrains between the title holder and the persons he or she engages in social discourse. In this titles are different from other forms of recognizing merit, such as, for example, medals. You may choose not to look at a medal, but as long as you and the title holder are co-members of the community to which the title applies (in this case, the British society) you are indeed under obligation to use the correct title. If you choose not to, you would be in the same breath refusing to recognize the merit that had led to the bestowing of the title. Your example of the doctorate does not apply here because this forum lies outside of the boundaries of the relevant community: the academia. You are not under obligation to address Dr. Trubshaw accordingly at the grocery store. But had you been having a conversation with him as part of an academic colloquium, you would absolutely have an obligation to comply.

      • David of Kirkland says

        Nope, not as long as freedom of expression/speech exists.

      • Lance says

        He has the right to be called “Sir” because an arbitrary authority (The Crown) gave him that right. He does not have the authority to require others to thusly address him. He can only ignore those who do not, by his own choice.
        Consider as an analog, one may have the right to free speech; one does not, however, have the right to an audience.

      • Stephanie says

        Mr. Left, you are neither required to call a knight “Sir” or a PhD or MD “doctor” in any setting. You do so out of courtesy. The reason there is no enforcement mechanism is exactly because it is absurd to compel people to comply with courtesy.

  6. Lightning Rose says

    I see the whole thing as the far Left’s experiment to see exactly how far they can push 2 + 2 = 5.

  7. Pingback: Respect, Rights, and Freedoms in an Era of Identity Activism – The winds are changing

  8. Saw file says

    @Jack B. N .
    I wouldn’t consider the criminalizing the usage of a ‘wrong’ preferred pronoun to be “minor”, because the potential interpretations are so open ended
    that they’re almost impossible to reasonably abide by.
    Canada has a type of secondary judicial system: the Human Rights Commission. These exist federally and provincially. They carry (essentially) the same weight as the regular judicial system, without having to strictly adhere to precedent law. I can’t think of any instance where an appeal has succeeded in overturning a ruling. They’re a prototypical ideological starchambers, and are the preferred method of retribution for those who feel slighted.

    https://nationalpost.com/opinion/jonathan-kay-human-rights-commissions-have-had-their-day

  9. TheSnark says

    Last time I looked, I was a male. So if I am called “she” by someone, I might bothered but cannot do anything against them legally. But if one day I decide that I am really a female, and then someone called me “him’, in certain countries I could sue them?

    Sounds like blatant discrimination against the hetero-normal.

  10. E. Olson says

    It seems to be perfectly legal and even encouraged in some circles for the media, celebrities, politicians, and various others to call President Trump a Nazi, Hitler, Putin’s stooge, “not my President”, and a variety of other “titles” besides the one that he earned by winning the 2016 election, and in fact it seems most go out of their way in fact to avoid calling him “Mr. President” or “President Trump”. And contrary to his critics who frequently call him a Fascist, I have yet to see President Trump put a journalist, celebrity, or political opponent put in jail for referring to him in a hateful or derogatory manner. Yet in some places it is against the law to call a biological girl “she” or “her” or “lady” whenever she decides to be a he and wants to be referred to as “him” or “he” or “ze”, but is it also against the law to refer to trannies as “mentally defective” or “crazy” or “wacko” – as in “see that wacko over behind the counter”?

    • Barney Doran says

      Perhaps if Trump was referred to as ‘she’ that would help remove in the minds of politically correct detractors some of the opprobrium surrounding this ‘man.’ ‘Tranny’ Trump might just pull a few confused votes right.

      • David of Kirkland says

        I prefer Kim’s “dotard.” It’s accurate and archaic, a throwback like the the person (“man” seems unsupported by his constant fear and disgust of others).

    • TheSnark says

      Trump is definitely not a Hitler. Hitler had a coherent, if mad, program of what he wanted to accomplish, and the competence to almost successfully execute it in the face of enormous odds (ie, having to fight Russia, the US, the UK, and most of Europe). Trump has shown no coherent plan about anything other than to keep his base riled up for 2020, and he has show little competence in accomplishing anything other than that.

  11. Vincent Vega says

    I have to ask; where are all these trans people? I never seem to encounter any. I live in New Orleans (not exactly a city that repels unconventional people) and as an innkeeper I meet about 50 new random people a week. Week after week, year after year, and yet I’ve never met a trans person before. It seems to me that a very small group of people is making an enormous amount of noise about something that in the scheme of things is rather insignificant.

    • David of Kirkland says

      How do you know you never encountered any? Do you check genitalia?

      • the gardner says

        There are obvious signs, a “woman” with an Adam’s apple and broad shoulders. A “man” with shaven head and delicate hands.

    • @Vincent, I’m sure you’ve met a trans. Two of my friends’ kids are trans, both F to M. I doubt you would notice either being originally female. One has a heavy beard and so you wouldn’t see the Adam’s apple. The other one actually has one. But I doubt you’d study their Adam’s apples closely. They definitely present as male; they move as male, gesture as male, and just seem male. They bother no one and make no demands, either. They are just happy in themselves.

      I do agree that the trans bathroom ‘issue’ is extraordinarily rare. In my nearly 60 years of going to public bathrooms I have literally never once, ever, seen anyone question anyone’s right to be there. Never. I don’t think I saw a trans in the bathroom, even, but I may have. No one cares. They look like girls, they’re minding their own business–what business is it of mine? Where people have objections is a) men who are still men who say they’re women and, as men, threaten women by violating their own space and sense of safety (there are several examples); and b) the gov’t compelling and the hysterical accusations and false sense of extreme danger. (Yes it’s dangerous but so is being a Jew, which I am, and I’m not walking around demanding the gov’t crack down on people calling me ‘ki*e” or whatever insult they want.)

      • the gardner says

        D, there was a case in a Chicago suburb high school where a trans girl insisted on using the girls’ gym locker room. The girls objected, the school tried to accommodate the tranny by providing a curtained area in the girls’ locker room. Wasn’t good enough, complained s/he felt isolated. The parents of the girls sued. Don’t know how/if this has been settled, but it was bad form for the tranny not to agree to the proposed accommodation. What about the feelings of the girls? Guess they don’t count.

    • Stephen Phillips says

      I have but only in the mental health setting and very rarely then. In fact only twice.
      Im 50 and very observant. Thats part of my purvey, I notice carrying angle, accessible veins and the like and unlike many here (unfortunately) I do get to observe the genitalia.

  12. MATTHEW E CAVANAUGH says

    This article is poorly researched. Under British common law principles, a right is something that the government’s courts will enforce by granting damages or an injunction to the possessor of the infringed right. No American state has legally required particular pronouns for anyone (and such a law would violate the American constitutional guarantee of free speech).

    • Colin T says

      The comment is poorly researched. The definition proposed is tautologous. If indeed common law principles define a right as anything which someone can claim was infringed and which causes them damage, then rights are established by court decisions upholding them, but have no prior basis for existence. But the basis of common law is that it follows precedent, not that it seeks to create it. In relation to the issue of identity, rights which do have putative prior existence are distinguished into two types by the author (indeed by John Stuart Mill); your right to define your identity, and your right to demand that I behave in a way which you deem respectful of your chosen identity. The former rights are recognised in law and established internationally by treaties guaranteeing freedom of expression. The latter are not in general enforceable other than in totalitarian regimes and immediately become problematic when an attempt is made to do so, usually through nonjudicial means such as introducing clauses into employment contracts, regulatory bodies given quasi-judicial powers to impose and interpret regulations or, increasingly nowadays, by creating a Twitter-storm and engaging in emotional blackmail.

  13. Ghatanathoah says

    I think one thing to consider about titles like “Sir” and “Doctor” vs. pronouns like “him” and “her” is that the first set are rewards for doing something impressive, while the second set are descriptions of characteristics that you don’t need to do anything to get. Calling someone “Sir” or “Doctor” implies that they merit a greater level of respect and should, in some situations, be treated a bit differently than someone without that title because of their impressive achievements (i.e. being knighted, graduating from a doctoral program).

    This isn’t supposed to be the case with gender, however. We’re supposed to treat men and women equally and show them the same amount of respect. It makes sense to get angry when someone without a doctorate demands to be called “Doctor” because they are demanding we honor them an achievement they didn’t do. But men and women aren’t supposed to deserve different levels of honor or respect.

    So why does the idea of calling people by their chosen gender pronouns upset people so much. The pronouns don’t change anything important, so what’s the big deal, why not just humor transpeople and stop being pedantic? It’s not like with “Sir” or “Doctor” where you are robbing something of their deserved respect. The answer, of course, is that many people still believe, on some level, that men and women deserve different levels of honor and respect, so they feel like transpeople are demanding undeserved status and respect.

    This explains the convergence of opinions between traditionalists and TERFs. Traditionalists believe women deserve extra respect because they pedestalize them, TERFs believe women deserve extra respect because they are a Sacred Victim Class. So both believe transpeople, especially transwomen, are demanding rights and respect they don’t deserve.

    If you just teach yourself to see men and women as true moral equals, people’s pronoun choices don’t seem like a big deal. Imagine a world where we had different pronouns for people who were over 5’5″. Short people who feel tall inside wear platform shoes and ask to be called by the pronouns reflected by their natural+shoes height. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, does it? Because we don’t give tall and short people different levels of rights and respect.

    • TheSnark says

      Gatanathoah says; “So why does the idea of calling people by their chosen gender pronouns upset people so much. The pronouns don’t change anything important, so what’s the big deal, why not just humor transpeople and stop being pedantic”

      I have little problem with humoring transpeople and calling them whatever they want to be called. I have a big problem with being subject to legal consequences for failing to do so.

    • Stephanie says

      Ghata, consider the possibility that preserving respect for objective reality is a motivator for refusing to use incorrect pronouns. This may not be a priority on the left with its fetish for deconstructionism, but it is an important value on the right. When you use words incorrectly, when you lie, you twist reality and make the world around you worse.

      The consequences of what you think of perhaps as a white lie may be minor for the gender dysphoric person you’re humouring (reinforcing their delusion, emboldening them to pursue unhealthy body modification, ect), but the consequences for society are serious and just beginning to be felt. We’ve undermined the principal of freedom of speech to enforce coerced speech. Not only should the state not be telling us what we must say, it should certainly not be telling us to assert a falsehood. The precedent set is chilling.

  14. The public is confused by the difference between true freedom, which requires personal responsibility, and licentiousness. Too many folks view licentiousness as freedom, and that is an error.

    • Kencathedrus says

      @larryzb: that’s very observant of you. I am very open-minded, but I don’t want to follow laws that force me to equate licentious behavior with healthy behavior. My philosophy is to live and let live but apparently that makes me right-wing.

  15. Andrew Scott says

    If someone insisted that I call them “sir” I would ask that they call me “sir.” If one man may bestow that title on another then surely I may bestow it upon myself. In the off chance that someone argues that one cannot self-title (why not?) then a coworker and I would easily bestow them upon each other. Does a king or queen of another country have greater authority than my coworker or I to grant a title? If so, why?

    Why Ben Kingsley and not my local postal worker? The mailman hasn’t played Ghandi, but Kingsley hasn’t delivered mail. What am I missing?

    Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Ben Kingsley. I don’t want a knighthood and I ask everyone to call me by my first name. I respect everyone. Actors don’t get extra.

    • A mailman could get a knighthood for being a really good mailman who made a contribution worthy of being knighted. “Normal” people (i.e. non-celebrities) get awards (including knighthoods, which are not the top honours) all the time (a list is published at least twice per year, at New Year’s and on the Queen’s official birthday).

      Anyone can nominate anyone else for an honour, you just fill in the form and explain why the person deserves to be honoured and it goes to a committee who make a judgement. If the committee judge that the contribution to the nation or achievement was sufficiently praise-worthy and the person is eligible (they do criminal background checks and you normally need citizenship) you receive one of a list of potential awards which a congruent with the achievement or contribution.

      Good ways to get on the honours list is be a successful sportsperson, businessperson, actor, politician or scientist. Service is another way to receive an award, do your job exceptionally well and you might be nominated. Charitable works are another good way.

      As for why the monarch can grant them, well they don’t really, the elected government do via the civil service, the monarch just “approves” them. I think you think the monarch has far more power and influence than they really do, when the only real power they have is to refuse Royal Assent on a Bill, and it would be the last act they did because it would precipitate the abolition of the monarchy, at least in the UK.

      As for calling someone like Ben Kingsley “Sir”, you only do it when you use their first name, so instead of saying “Ben”, you say “Sir Ben”… I don’t know about you but when I’m talking to someone I rarely say their name much if at all except to greet or introduce them.

      • Andrew Scott says

        Part of what I’m drawing attention to is the implication that while I may nominate someone for a given honor, I may not grant it. Obviously I cannot grant a British knighthood. And what’s more, I don’t expect anyone to address me as “sir” even if I asked them to, which is unlikely to ever happen. And despite what I’ve said, I’d probably cave and.call someone else “sir” if they wanted me to unless I really didn’t like them.

        It just feels wrong, the idea thar I would elevate one person above others based on the opinions of people I don’t know who applied criteria I don’t value as much as they do.

        Here’s another facetious, implausible response to Ben Kingsley asking me to address him as “sir:” I could comply and address everyone present the same way. Or “lord.” Just to see if the individual’s insistence is really on the formality or on being elevated above others.

  16. neoteny says

    I self-identify as an alpha male, but most (nowadays all) women flatly refuse to treat me as one; I just can’t get the respect due to my identity.

  17. Just call him by his proper name and title: Sir Krishna Sahib sir. Problem solved.

  18. Daniel V says

    The article presents a pretty big strawman right at the beginning. Nothing about human rights laws, at least in Canada, compel someone to use a specific pronoun. They only limit them based on the situation.

    If Paul has transitioned to Paula it means you can’t continue referring to Paula as he or male. You don’t have to use Paula’s preferred pronoun of she either since you can use Paula or they. Paula cannot lodge a complaint against you for referring to them as Paula or they instead of she. You can only be compelled to so something of you have no reasonable choice of action and since there are reasonable alternatives the laws are not compelling anyone to do anything.

    Fruther to this we know Paula being referred to as he or him in a workplace or school will cause mental distress. We also know Paula is suffering from gender dysphoria and the cause of that is something outside her control. That leaves little good reason for someone to be allowed to cause distress against another person in the same way there is no good reason to allow racial slurs against other people. Saying it’s a slippery slope is insufficient.

    All this being said the fact remains making this accommodation is not easy for people in the least and when you know Paula used to be Paul it feels off. It should be understandable, instead of shamed, since it’s something outside the control of the individual just like Paula’s gender dysphoria. However that doesn’t mean we ought to let that discomfort excuse harming another person or limiting their ability to pursue their own happiness. The actual accommodation you’re being asked to make is minor whereas not making it can have a major impact on the life of the other person when the interaction is in a space both of you are expected to share.

  19. Colin T says

    Jordan Peterson might argue otherwise. He left his university post over precisely this point and has made a living out of making a principled defence of his position.

    • Daniel V says

      @colin t – That doesn’t mean Peterson is correct. It just means lots of people are receptive to the feeling of the idea while also not being willing to check the actual law themselves.

      Nothing in the law explicitly states the pronoun of someone’s choosing must be made. There is nothing stating that their name or a neutral pronoun like they cannot be used. Therefore their is choice and where there is choice there cannot be by definition compulsion.

      • Peter from Oz says

        Daniel V
        You are quibbling. The fact is that the Canadian law makes people not call someone by the wrong gender. That is enough to make it an evil law.the government has no place making people think or say anything.
        Most people would quite happily comply with another person’s request to be called he or she. What is evil is the government forcing that upon us, for the sake of a few people who are mentally ill. It is the best way to ensure that this mental illness spreads.

    • Jack B. Nimble says

      @Colin T

      ‘……..Jordan Peterson….left his university post……’

      I understand JP is on sabbatical leave from UT until later this year–not at all the same thing as giving up his job.

  20. Colin T says

    Much confusion is I believe caused by conflating (deliberately?) two things: people who have successfully made a legal and often biological transition from one gender to another. Such people will often not be recognised as “transgender” and would likely not want to be viewed as such but as possessing their adopted gender; and people who are “transitioning” or fluid who are much more likely to identify explicitly as transgender and less likely to be seen by others as having the identity they are asking to have recognised. This has led very quickly in recent days to the emergence of a new right, often even recognised by officialdom, to have a non-binary gender. The pressure to have such wishes recognised is actually even in tension with the interests of those who wish to establish a settled new gender, since the first group see their binary choice of gender as important whereas the second group reject a binary categorisation. I cannot see that the imposition on the general population of pronoun rules based on the subjective preference of each individual is helpful to resolving the complexities of this situation in an amicable, pluralistic way.

  21. Stone says

    Before the author criticises the judiciary for confused thinking about rights, he would do well to correct his own naivety in the area. He betrays a lack of knowledge of decades of thinking about rights and the other basic legal relationships. Most of the things he gives as examples of rights are not rights, properly so called, but freedoms (or “privileges” in Hoehfeld’s terms, not to be confused with the current usage of that word). A freedom is something the state permits you to do, like speak your mind or call yourself Sir if you have a knighthood, but which the state will not coerce others into respecting. A right is something the state willl compel others to respect, like giving you possession of goods you have bought and are entitled to receive.

    The author would also do well to understand the difference between legislation (the source of which is parliament, and for which the judiciary can not be blamed) and rules of law borne of judicial decisions.

  22. Andrew Roddy says

    The Queen of England might do well to advise recipients of royal honours that they (ie. he or she) don’t need to be a dick about it.

  23. Pingback: Samizdata quote of the day « Samizdata

  24. ‘At the same time, there has been a confusion between two meanings of the word “respect.” The first of these is defined as the “deference to a right, privilege, or privileged position,” the second as “esteem for or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person, a personal quality, or ability.” These meanings are clearly different, but they have been conflated under the banner of group rights. ‘

    So very glad the author notes this important point! More and more, it seems, supposedly intelligent and educated folks are incapable of holding in their head more than a single meaning of a given word. Not only is most nuance lost, it creates much confusion and leads to grossly mistaken conclusions.

  25. Pingback: Respect, Rights, and Freedoms in an Era of Identity Activism - Sovereign Nations

  26. Julia says

    Enforcing pronouns means enforcing English only environment, as no grammar rules are specified for about 6,000 other languages. Also, English is a gender neutral language with pronouns being the only indication of gender while many languages (such as European) are gendered and you have to rewrite the entire grammar to accommodate every pronoun. You had 2 forms for adjectives, now you’re supposed to have 70, and don’t you dare to mess it up. Just stop speaking Spanish and Russian. How is it for non-discrimination?

    • Julia says

      Forgot, you also need adjectives for groups, for every combination. Such as, if currently you have forms for a group of males, a group of females and a mix gender group, you will need a specific form for every combination of 70 or whatever genders. You just can’t assume that there is only one gender non-conforming person around.

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