Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Sorry, Miss Gender, I didn’t see your pronoun badge


Student union officials at Edinburgh University plan to hand out pronoun badges to freshers so they know whether to refer to each other as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’.

This is intended to avoid any potential misgendering of non-binary or transgender students who may display the physical attributes of one gender while associating more closely with another, or none at all.

Kai O’Doherty, vice-president for welfare at Edinburgh Students’ Association, said pronoun badges would be available through ‘Welcome Week’ which precedes the start of term.

The students’ union has also published a guide to correct pronouning which explains why it is important to ‘normalise’ the practice of making gender pronouns public. It says: ‘Many people assume that the pronouns they should use for an individual are obvious: people who look like men should be referred to using he/him, and people who look like women should be referred to as she/her.’ But these assumptions can be ‘frustrating and harmful’ for transgender or non-binary students, who may prefer to use gender-neutral pronouns. The guide warns: ‘If we choose to make assumptions about which pronouns are correct, we risk misgendering people and/or singling out trans people who want to clarify their pronouns.’

Resistance is useless, as the guide adds that students saying they don’t care which pronoun is used is offensive, as it ‘suggests that trans folks are silly for requesting that their pronouns be respected’. It adds: ‘Asking people about their “preferred” pronoun should also be avoided, as it can imply that pronouns are a mere preference rather than a necessity.’ Apparently individuals cannot be expected to dress in the manner of their chosen ‘gender’ to aid strangers in the task of identifying the correct pronoun – although, with so many to choose from, their ‘gender choice’ may be too obscure to be easily recognised.

Not only does the student guide explain how to discover the correct pronouns for people they have never met, it advises: ‘Even where you are fairly confident you know people’s pronouns, it’s still good to refresh our knowledge and give folks the opportunity to provide their correct pronouns’ since they ‘may wish to change their pronouns throughout their life for a variety of reasons. Giving them the opportunity to do that without having to single themselves out is part of being a good ally to trans people.’

The guide does acknowledge that in some situations, such as meeting someone for the first time, pronoun confusion may be unavoidable. It suggests that students share their own pronouns and ask their new acquaintance ‘How about you?’ or ask ‘Could you just remind me of your pronouns?’

This may seem bizarre, as though an alternative comedian had wandered in from the Edinburgh fringe and was trying out some new material. But in a few years’ time these students could be in positions of real power, dissenters having been frozen out of the public sphere.

At this rate ‘misgendering’ will become a hate crime and totalitarianism will emerge triumphant. Probably by then we will all have to display a badge indicating that our thoughts have been pronounced politically pure, or risk being sent to a gulag for rock-breaking and compulsory pronoun practice.

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Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer
Ann Farmer is the author of By Their Fruits: Eugenics, Population Control, and the Abortion Movement (Catholic University of America, 2008).

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