On “Misgendering”

Author Alex McElroy wrote an essay extolling grudges, which whatever he or she is endorses. By way of defining terms, the author writes,

Resentments are best suited for major mistreatment: the best friend who ran away with your wife, the parents who pressured you into a career you told them you hated, the ex who emptied your checking account. Grudges, however, work best in response to small and singular harms and annoyances: the neighbor who parked in front of your driveway, the cashier who charged you for a drink you never ordered. Did someone truly, existentially wrong you? Don’t waste your time growing a grudge — save it for something pettier.

Yes, in tone and intent, the essay is probably tongue-in-cheek to some extent. But the author has a grudge to declare that is unfunny and telling:

Two years ago I came out as nonbinary and started using they/them pronouns. I was initially a font of forgiveness for everyone who misgendered me: the roommate who remarked on my “masculine energy,” the cis friend who questioned whether I really was trans.

But when a year passed and it kept happening, I started to think of the immense effort it took for me to come out, and of how the misgenderers seemed to be acting as if it hadn’t even happened. I didn’t want to cut people out of my life for one-off comments; most often they were honest mistakes, born of ignorance or confusion. Glib jokes weren’t worth my bitterness. That’s how I discovered my capacity for holding grudges. By expecting people to treat me how I want to be treated, and remembering when they do not — a simple little grudge, nothing as serious as a resentment — I reaffirm my identity and protect my self-worth from those who misgender me.

And now, Alex, I have a grudge against you. It’s similar to my annoyance with virtue-signalers who include their “preferred pronouns” in their social media profiles and official biographies. My reactions are three: 1) Get over yourself; 2) Stop giving power to political correctness bullies, who will abuse it and 3) You’re insulting me, and debasing society.

If you are male, I’ll call you by male pronouns. If you’re female, you get the female pronouns. If you feel are one gender trapped in the body of the other one and on the way to surgery, or want everyone to acknowledge your spiritual real self, OK, I’ll accommodate you, as long as you don’t have male organs and join the women’s swim team.  I’m not certain whether this is real or a mental problem, or whether you have been confused by current cultural insanity, but I’ll take your word for it.

If you are genuinely a victim of sexual dimorphism, with the physiological markers of both sexes–“intersex,” which has been helpfully explained on Ethics Alarms in great detail by currently AWOL commenter Zoe Brain—I get it: you decide. If you are a drag queen, and want to be called “she” while engaging in your fantasy and “he” when you’re not, I’ll even be nice then.

But the non-binary conceit is nonsense. I might agree to call Regan in “The Exorcist” “they” and Sigourney Weaver’s character in “Ghostbusters” “they” because they are possessed. However, just because Alex can’t make up his or her mind doesn’t make him two people (and isn’t it  contradictory claim to be “non-binary” and insist on a plural pronoun?).

Them and they are plural. If we need a pronoun for “I’m confused,” swell: let me know what you come up with. Otherwise, I do not grant you the right to drag me into your faddish delusions. You are one person, not two or many. Language matters to me, and I am especially vigilant these days, when Orwellspeak is rampant because one side of the political spectrum wants to manipulate minds using deceptive linguistics. No, “pro-choice” does not accurately state what abortion advocates are endorsing, which is the right to take an individual human life with society’s full blessing. No, immigration is not illegal immigration. (Don’t get me started again on “black lives matter.”)

And no, no, no, calling Alex either “he” or “she” depending on how Alex appears, or sounds, or chooses to dress is not “misgendering” him (or her). Alex is the one doing the misgendering. I don’t have to jump through hoops because of “the immense effort” it took for Alex to “come out.” You haven’t come out, Alex; you’re straddling the doorway. Your ambiguity is your choice, but I have no obligation to torture the language to make it easy for you. Pick a gender. There are, in fact, only two, and you are only one.


5 thoughts on “On “Misgendering”

  1. “Two years ago I came out as nonbinary and started using they/them pronouns. I was initially a font of forgiveness for everyone who misgendered me: the roommate who remarked on my “masculine energy,” the cis friend who questioned whether I really was trans.”

    I have two trans friends. One came out just last year, and what kind of surprised me was how much anger she (born he, for clarity) expressed for non-binary identities. I made the mistake you see, of asking pronouns. “They aren’t trans, they’re playing.” and “What are they transitioning to? It’s in the word “trans-” what?” and “How do you experience gender dysmorphia and then reject both genders?”

    This is 100% anecdotal, I suppose, but perhaps I should have known better. Her experience mirrors mine exactly: We’re not insane people (Or at least if we are, we’re still functioning insane people), but we’re so steeped in a culture where the insane portions of our “communities” (And I use that word exceptionally loosely) have been given these massive platforms and I think that we, outsiders to those “communities” just don’t get a real view on what the people in those “communities” actually look like.

    I related a story a while back, the community group that I sit on the board of was dinged on a DIE-audit for not having any “LGBTQ+” representation in the org, and my friends on the board looked at me while we’re reading that rag of a report and I said, defensively, “What? They didn’t ask. What am I supposed to do? Dye my hair green and lisp?”

    Perhaps a tangent to the topic at large, but my expectation based on my experiences would be that at least a not-insignificant portion of trans people hate the non-binary tags with all the passion of 1000 burning stars, but we’ll never hear from them.

      • Well, I’m pretty sure that ALL evidence is anecdotal . . . until you collect enough of it.

        And besides, in logic, the single counter-example is still (and will always be) a valid way of disproving a false assertion.


    • You’ll get a similar level of invective when pre-op MTF transgender individuals insert themselves into lesbian spaces. Many lesbians receive incredible pressure to date MTF individuals. Stating “I don’t like penis” can get you canceled as transphobic.

  2. I am thoroughly sick, sick of this issue, and if it makes me some kind of unfeeling uncaring slob, so be it.

    We heterosexuals, and asexual corporations/employers especially, are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. If we DON’T recognize a member of the LGBTQ community as someone special, treating everyone the same, we are cast as insensitive and biased. If we DO, then we are criticized for the way in which we recognize them, as mere recognition is never enough and much more is expected. How do we ascribe needs and motives to an entire population group? That would be bias, wouldn’t it?

    So someone from the LGBTQ community has to have the courage to step up and tell us what is required, and what is expected. Or is it just so much fun to come in after the fact to criticize and accuse? I believe today that it is the latter. And I’m sick of LGBTQs being such crybabies: better to be one now than even 20 years ago, and face it, you have done little to promote understanding of your place in the population. (Everyone will come and get me for that…)

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