My father-in-law is a smart and accomplished lady. Grandma M is a transgender woman who majored in physics at Columbia University and earned a black belt in karate. I choose to refer to Grandma M as a woman because, in my mind, she is a woman. Nobody forced me to think that. It’s a choice rooted in visual perception, familial respect, and love. But it seems that a certain political faction disagrees with this voluntary approach.
A few months ago, at Grandma M’s traditionalist dojo, a karate classmate—let’s call her “Xir-Says”—threw a tantrum over the politics of language. Xir-Says demanded to be referred to as “Xir-Says-San.”
Her sensei tried to explain that San is an honorific reserved for students who’d proved themselves worthy by demonstrating certain skills, that it was presumptuous for Xir-Says to make such a demand since she hadn’t earned it by demonstrating high-level expertise, and that students who hadn’t passed the San benchmark, like her, could be called either “Miss” or “Mister.” She didn’t care. Xir-Says insisted that being called “Miss,” or anybody being called “Miss” or “Mister,” was discriminatory and insulting to “intersex” and “gender non-binary people.”
This was absurd, political posturing. Xir-Says’s sex is female, and she doesn’t say otherwise. But the sensei relented, fearful of the potential backlash that might ensue—Facebook and Twitter shame-bombs, rebuke from a rash of Brooklynite neo-Marxian muckrakers—should he not obey Xir-Says’ demands. She is now called Xir-Says-San. Low-skill students needn’t any longer be referred to as “Miss” or “Mister.” A longstanding tradition was eroded by the gender identity demands of an impertinent brat.
Are We Fully Human If We’re Slaves?
There is no place for commanding specific language—thoughts, even—in a free and open society. As more people surrender to the illogical demands of a totalitarian minority, our world becomes less free and more closed. Fear reigns, cowardice replaces courage. We are now confronted with the same question Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn asked when facing down the Soviet police state decades ago: “If one is forever cautious, can one remain a human being?”
If you’ve never censored yourself from fear of offending the ultra-righteous and politically correct language monitors, you’ve likely been out of the country for a while. This is all a logical extension of the New Left’s obsession with power, a power they believe must be wielded against the counter-revolutionary dogmas of liberty and faith. Their power madness allows them to define others’ beliefs, since those pesky beliefs, hidden within the primitive mind, are also counter-revolutionary. This is the demon lurking in democracy.
In 2016, the Little Sisters of the Poor—a group of Catholic nuns who provide low-income housing to the elderly—pleaded to the Supreme Court that they could not provide birth control to employees as a matter of religious conscience. When President Obama’s Solicitor General Don Verrilli was asked during oral argument whether forcing the Little Sisters to provide birth control meant they would be, in their own understanding, complicit in a moral wrong, Verrilli said it was up to the court to define the Little Sisters’ beliefs: “We’re saying that the judgment about complicity is up to you.”
The reasoned theological argument of some 50 Catholic theologians and ethicists that “judgments by federal courts about profound and difficult questions of moral complicity … res[t] on misapprehensions about the theological principles of the religious traditions at issue” was not a rationale that the Obama administration, with its vision of a postliberal societal order, was willing to accept. Not then, not now, not ever.
Eventually, They’ll Come For You, Too
More and more of this Orwellian power—the power to hold up four fingers and demand you say “five!”—is bearing down upon people who’ve until now been content to leave well enough alone. But minding your own business no longer provides a guarantee of peace. The defense lines have been pushed back. Where the Little Sisters were guarding against being forced to act according to postliberal diktat, now dissenters are defending against being forced to think according to postliberal diktat.
In New York City, the government issued a list of 31 forbidden gender pronouns including “butch,” “two-spirit,” and “hijra,” along with an ominous warning to “respect the terminology a transgender person uses to describe their identity” unless you want the offended party to call the NYC Human Rights Commission. Our northerly neighbors have jumped even two steps ahead of that. The Parliament of Canada just passed a new law (Bill C-16) that penalizes—maybe even criminalizes—the refusal to use preferred gender pronouns.
The storm has gathered and one is left with only two choices: Obey or disobey. Those who have a solemn obligation to speak out—professors, the press, clergy, big money donors—have fallen silent, or worse, actively aided in transmuting logic into deconstructed mush.
The era of live and let live is behind us. Jordan Peterson, the Canadian psychology professor who brought the Bill C-16 controversy to light after publicly denouncing it, recognized this to be true: “If they fine me I won’t pay it. If they put me in jail I’ll go on a hunger strike.”
Today, one must choose between compliance and civil disobedience. I say my mind is my own.