By Seth Barron -
Gender neutral pronouns: Is the movement about promoting good manners or empowering thought police?
It seems fair and just to refer to people as they present themselves and wish to be addressed. It would be rude to call a transman “Miss” just to make a point, and within reason, going along with whatever benign fiction people might have cooked up about themselves is simply good manners. “Preferred-pronoun” usage, however, is a bridge too far, and not just because it’s impossible to expect everyone to memorize lists of declensions of made-up words. The pronoun debate is also an effort to force us to change the way we talk about people who are not actually present: when we speak of “he” or “she,” we are almost always talking about someone who is not there. When speaking face-to-face, the only pronoun we commonly use is “you.” It’s considered improper to use third-person pronouns in the presence of their subjects; hence the old saying, “‘She’ is the cat’s mother,” meant to admonish against using the pronominal form instead of the individual’s proper name, if he or she is present. Insisting that we refer to absent people according to made-up vocabulary words upon threat of punishment is to interpose political ideology into conversation under force of law. It deputizes all listeners or interlocutors as surveillance agents in the name of gender equality.