It is hard not to have noticed the transgender culture war currently raging in our society: Endless debates over “gender,” “cisgender,” “gender identity,” “pronouns,” “sex reassignment,” any number of opaque and weird terms.
That boiling ideological stew, writes Daphne Patai at Minding the Campus, is soon to arrive at your college or university.
“Pronouns these days are a new battleground, as recommendations admonish us all that the standard English pronouns, which traditionally distinguish she from he, him from her, are discriminatory and must now be reassigned or reinvented upon request,” Patai writes.
“Still, it’s worth asking: By changing nouns and pronouns, is one changing one’s sex?” she wonders. “…Does saying it make it so?”
Patai points out that the agreed-upon rules of basic communication have been largely abandoned in the transgender debate, to the detriment of our discourse: “Why should the existence of a small number of people who decide they ‘identify’ as another sex dictate the use of nouns and pronouns to the rest of the population?”
“Because the real energy behind this seemingly minor adjustment to our language is something much greater: a desire to disguise a fundamental fact of mammal life: sexual dimorphism,” she writes.
This is an effort to deny reality, Patai says:
Obviously, the true target isn’t that vast majority of the population that has no difficulty with being referred to by words that correspond to their biological sex. But when sex is transformed into something “assigned at birth”—with the implication that this was a random or an ideologically tainted act—no one is allowed to be comfortable with being a mere he or she, despite clear biological evidence of maleness or femaleness. That’s why we now have terms such as cisgender, heteronormative, and transphobic.
An odd fantasy lies behind these demands: that changing one’s language means changing one’s reality. The material world, however, is intractable, unforgiving. Men who identify as women are no more likely to die of uterine cancer than women who identify as men will develop testicular cancer. Yet these days it’s become necessary to state the obvious. Identifying as female won’t make one menstruate (a term itself offensive since it contains within it the syllable “men,” particularly unfortunate in this context; etymology be damned). Even worse, languages that do not have gender-specific pronouns –such as Hungarian– have had no trouble manifesting traditional gender roles and even, gasp, patriarchal traditions nonetheless. Perhaps we should all switch to Hungarian anyway, on the slim chance that this will usher in a glorious future.
The new pronoun dispensations naturally depend upon a prior transformation in the use of nouns. Professors should, therefore, avoid referring to students as man or woman (e.g. “the man sitting near the window”). To accommodate a few individuals, then, the rest of us must pretend that sexual dimorphism has been “theorized” out of existence through decades of insistence on the social construction of everything.
“To refuse to conform is dastardly,” Patai notes, “and it’s unclear what the consequences might be: Perhaps the language police will come calling.”