A Procrustean Bed of Pronominal Correctness

Rather like smoking pot, chronicling the lunacies of gender theory is fun at first, and then becomes mind-numbing and miserable. But the news that Oxford University, which may be the world's most renowned seat of learning, has drunk the Kool-Aid of gender-neutral pronouns is hilarious.

Repeatedly "mispronouncing" a transgender person already constitutes harassment under Oxford's behavior code for transgender students.1 But outside the cloisters and manicured lawns of the university, the policy was little known. So when an Oxford University Students' Union leaflet recently instructed Oxonians to use gender-neutral pronouns such as "ze" rather than "he" or "she" so as not to offend transgender students, The London Times reported it with po-faced glee.2

Standard Practice

This provoked a media storm that scattered the news to the four winds, much to the surprise of the Oxford University Students' Union. To them, extreme caution in the use of pronouns is "standard practice, not just in Oxford but in student communities and LGBTQ-friendly spaces all over, and we encourage its spread."

What constitutes caution? Explaining to people what your preferred pronoun is.

We . . . recommend that at events like campaign meetings, workshops and training sessions, people introduce themselves with their pronouns. It reduces awkwardness, emphasizes that gender cannot be assumed, and most importantly helps make trans students feel comfortable. It's a very small step that can have massive positive effects.3

This must make Students' Union committee meetings even more tedious than they usually are. Here is a typical self-introduction:

Hullo, my name is Jan Brown and I am gender-fluid and my preferred pronouns are "zie" for close friends, "tey" for casual acquaintances, "ver" for social inferiors, "twee" for social superiors, "ve" for family members, and "ugh" for bureaucrats. Vietnamese has at least ten ways of saying "me," so please do not complain about my infinitely simpler system. Before moving my amendment, I shall review my preferred pronouns, giving some instructive examples and explaining my journey to discerning this week's chosen gender. When I was a child of five, my nurse . . .

Okay, I made that one up, but reality is not far behind. Oxford's code of conduct for dealing with transgender students includes this gem:

Mr Simon Bates wishes to be known in future as Mx Si Bates, with the invented gender-neutral pronoun Zie. "Zie is not transitioning, but does not feel like a man or a woman. Zie is genderqueer."4

Whatever else may be said about gender-neutral pronouns, they certainly add a layer of complication to social life, turning ordinary student chitchat into a minefield of offense and harassment.

Boot Camp for Bureaucrats

What will this do to Oxford's stellar reputation?

Oxford is training the best and brightest in Britain to become aspiring Sir Humphrey Applebys.5 Tiptoeing through pronominal minefields will surely be an excellent boot camp for pussyfooting, pettifogging, prevaricating bureaucrats.

But on the negative side, it's likely to bind students to a Procrustean bed of political correctness, making them afraid to speak their own mind. I wish Zie well. •

This article originally appeared in Salvo, Issue #40, Winter 2018 Copyright © 2019 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/article/salvo40/im-not-me