Aug 192019
 

As promised, here is why I think they/them pronouns are more harmful than useful.

Up through the 2000s, we were making good progress on diversifying the sexes. Gender was coming to be understood as more of a spectrum. There were many ways to be a man. You could be a drag queen or a bro. You could be a stay-at-home-dad or a metrosexual. Being gay or straight didn’t even matter anymore. Sure, there was still some toxic masculinity enforced in various hellholes, and lots more internalized toxic masculinity everyone was trying to get over. But it was accepted that there was no one script for “manliness” anymore.

Women, of course, have always had multiple options, and as men’s options expanded, women’s kept pace. Dozens of TV shows and movie roles explored the myriad ways one could be a woman, and there were role-models galore.

And somehow our progressive movement managed to take this spectrum and cut it down to just three options. Just last week I saw a friend bemoaning “a binary culture which only allows masculine males and feminine females.” The new dogma is that there exists only this binary, that we’ve only ever had this binary, and that if you don’t think of yourself as a He-Man Woman Hater or a Barbie Doll Girly Girl you are non-binary and should adopt a neuter-sex position.

This is stupid. It erases all the people who’ve come before who pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be male and what it meant to be female. The people who made it OK to be a guy and cry without crippling shame. The people who made it OK to be a woman and like casual sex, or heavy metal music.

It also tells everyone who doesn’t identify as neuter-sex that they must adopt the traditional ultra-masculine or ultra-feminine roles or they aren’t really part of that gender. This is almost exactly the same message that the assholes had been preaching before. This is a regression. When someone says “I’m not the kind of person who enjoys slamming back beers and hitting on random chicks all night” and someone else tells them “There’s a word for that! It means you’re non-binary!” I die a little inside. I guess that, since I was born with a penis and I don’t ask people to deny that fact with awkward pronoun-usage, I’m just like all those chads. That’s great.

Obviously there’s no reason our language needs to have gendered pronouns. But inventing a neuter-sex and trying to shoehorn people who aren’t inter-sex into it is the opposite of a good way to reform the system. That’s adding complications rather than removing them. Since so few people are inter-sex, this neuter-gender can only be filled by creating a false gender-binary and offering the only alternative. This is not so different from creating a false “original sin” and then offering the only absolution. And since the invented neuter-sex doesn’t carve reality at the joints, its use can only be enforced with shame and social ostracism… which will make these reforms deeply unpopular even among the sympathetic.

If one wants to make our language gender-neutral, one would be advised to stop using gendered language themselves, rather than trying to create a neuter-sex and require others to contort their thought-processes around it. At least as a first step.

  5 Responses to “Reducing the Spectrum to a Binary”

  1. Alright, I have a lot of things to say here, but I’m going to cut it down to my three favourites:

    Up through the 2000s, we were making good progress on diversifying the sexes. Gender was coming to be understood as more of a spectrum. There were many ways to be a man. You could be a drag queen or a bro. You could be a stay-at-home-dad or a metrosexual. Being gay or straight didn’t even matter anymore. Sure, there was still some toxic masculinity enforced in various hellholes, and lots more internalized toxic masculinity everyone was trying to get over. But it was accepted that there was no one script for “manliness” anymore.

    This is… a very rosy picture. The past always looks a bit sunnier, of course; and it could also be that the people you were around then were just a very progressive bubble. I for one don’t remember a time when e.g. ‘metrosexual’ was anything other than vaguely disparaging, and being a stay-at-home-dad has always been tolerated at best.

    The new dogma is that there exists only this binary, that we’ve only ever had this binary, and that if you don’t think of yourself as a He-Man Woman Hater or a Barbie Doll Girly Girl you are non-binary and should adopt a neuter-sex position.

    So you definitely don’t want to identify as a ‘He-Man Woman Hater,’ (duh! who would! It’s worrying that that’s your go-to description of maximum masculinity?) but you do want to ID as a man, not NB? I’m not trying to repeat ‘the dogma’ here or play any Socratic games, but if you’re somehow not burned out on this subject, would you be willing to write a little about what being a man means to you? It seems like you’d want to say something like “it shouldn’t mean anything, but right now for me […]”?

    My own position is: gender abolition would be great, but we aren’t there yet and were never close; people growing up in a gendered society inevitably adopt gender roles and values, and some (transgender and NB people) are especially hurt by the expectations of those roles; ideally this will decrease as society moves towards a genderless paradigm but in the here-and-now, we have a duty to help people with their identity within that system. In short, there are no ethical pronouns under genderism.

    • This is… a very rosy picture. The past always looks a bit sunnier, of course; and it could also be that the people you were around then were just a very progressive bubble. I for one don’t remember a time when e.g. ‘metrosexual’ was anything other than vaguely disparaging, and being a stay-at-home-dad has always been tolerated at best.

      It could certainly be that Denver is a remarkably liberal place. I am one degree of separation from at least two stay-at-home dads, possibly more that I’m unaware of. And when I was married in the early 2000s, my quite religious wife (don’t ask) had an equally religious brother. Hispanic, accountant, Pentecostal, and called himself metrosexual. I assume it was like this in all the major metropolitan areas, but I don’t have any hard evidence.

      So you definitely don’t want to identify as a ‘He-Man Woman Hater,’ (duh! who would! It’s worrying that that’s your go-to description of maximum masculinity?)

      That’s a reference to the name of the club in the old Our Gang tv show, which was itself a bit of a joke. https://ourgang.fandom.com/wiki/He-Man_Woman-Haters_Club

      but you do want to ID as a man, not NB? I’m not trying to repeat ‘the dogma’ here or play any Socratic games, but if you’re somehow not burned out on this subject, would you be willing to write a little about what being a man means to you? It seems like you’d want to say something like “it shouldn’t mean anything, but right now for me […]”?

      I wrote how I feel about the male sex a couple years ago, over here – http://www.deathisbadblog.com/unwanted-attributes/ I’ve changed a little bit, but the basic feelings are the same.

      The thing is, it doesn’t matter in the slightest if *I* identify as a man or not. I am *identifiable* as a man, and that won’t change no matter how I “identify.” Whether female people are nervous when I’m walking behind them after dark is predicated on how I am identifiable, not how I self-identify. I belong to the sex more likely to resort to violence when displeased, more likely to take risks and break laws, more likely to be creepy and make the vulnerable around me afraid and uncomfortable – all those things are literally (statistically) true. And “identifying as non-binary” doesn’t change that this is the statistical reality about my sex, and that anyone who looks at me can see I am part of that group. That I don’t want to ID as a part of that group is as meaningful as saying I don’t want to ID as white.

      My own position is: gender abolition would be great, but we aren’t there yet and were never close; people growing up in a gendered society inevitably adopt gender roles and values, and some (transgender and NB people) are especially hurt by the expectations of those roles; ideally this will decrease as society moves towards a genderless paradigm but in the here-and-now, we have a duty to help people with their identity within that system. In short, there are no ethical pronouns under genderism.

      I would be more amenable to people who actually said “there are no ethical pronouns under genderism, and no one should ever use them.” At least that is consistent and coherent. Saying “I want you to remember my specific pronoun choices which don’t match the normal associations, but there’s nothing wrong with genders or gendered pronouns in general, anyone else should feel free to use them” is what I really dislike.

      • That’s a reference to the name of the club in the old Our Gang tv show, which was itself a bit of a joke.

        alright, that’s a rel…ief…

        I wrote how I feel about the male sex a couple years ago, over here – http://www.deathisbadblog.com/unwanted-attributes/ I’ve changed a little bit, but the basic feelings are the same.

        Oh, of course! I’m sorry, I totally forgot. And wow, that is an absolute nightmare.

        I would be more amenable to people who actually said “there are no ethical pronouns under genderism, and no one should ever use them.” At least that is consistent and coherent.

        That doesn’t sound consistent and coherent? Sorry, either I’m not following or not explaining properly.

        The phrase “no ethical consumption under capitalism” doesn’t imply “and therefore you should go live innawoods, is the only good praxis.” It means the opposite: do what you must to survive the system you’re in, while working to change it. Don’t be gratuitously evil, but don’t fret so much about small systemic harms on the personal level that you fail to work to prevent them on a broader scale. In a way, it’s a kind of permission to be slightly hypocritical. Don’t tell the reactionaries.

        Similarly, “no ethical pronouns” doesn’t imply “and therefore never use any,” but rather that people should identify the way they identify regardless of whether doing so makes them complicit in any oppressive systems of gender. Whether to respect that identity is then a matter of simply whether you want to hurt those people or help them, as neither option will achieve ethical purity wrt gender’s long-range effects / long-term existence.

        … which just leaves the really thorny core.

        That I don’t want to ID as a part of that group is as meaningful as saying I don’t want to ID as white.

        I think if people want to make sketchy statistical inferences based on your sex, that’s basically their problem. And yes, changing that would be extreme. Whereas gender, the social construct built on top of that… I guess I just really disagree, it would be meaningful to want to ID as a gender group you don’t obviously belong to. It would mean, even if nothing else whatsoever, that I’d use different pronouns for you. Is that circular? It doesn’t seem any worse than the opposite circle?

        Thanks for the extended discussion, I’m clarifyng a lot of thoughts on this.

        • The phrase “no ethical consumption under capitalism” doesn’t imply “and therefore you should go live innawoods, is the only good praxis.”

          I think this is a big part of where we differ. To me, this is exactly what it implies. Not just implies in fact… this is the inevitable and only coherent conclusion.

          If it turns out that capitalism actually makes life for all humans in general much better than everyone agreeing to live innawoods, then that must mean that consumption under capitalism IS ethical. Of course, one could make it better! And one should! But if there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, than there are only immoral people living in capitalist systems, people who have stated that they don’t care if they are being unethical, they are not willing to do the ethical thing if it’s too inconvenient. That’s what “no ethical consumption” *means*. To say otherwise is to debase the meanings of these words past the bounds of perversity.

          do what you must to survive the system you’re in, while working to change it.

          Sounds like compromising with evil. https://geekwisdom.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/never-compromise-watchmen.jpg

          Similarly, “no ethical pronouns” doesn’t imply “and therefore never use any,”

          As per above, it not only implies it, it’s the inevitable only coherent conclusion.

          • You’re presumably aware that this level of scrupulosity is unhealthy, and want to keep it anyway, soooo… yeah, this is just too big a disagreement =(

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