Dr. Dawg


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question.jpgWhen I was asked at my clinic a few days ago what my “preferred pronoun” was, the hornet’s nest that I have been avoiding became just a little too inviting. So big, so grey, so buzzing with hellish life. And so I put on my boots, while looking around for handy escape routes.

Once upon a time—well, three or four years ago, and for some time before that—“gender” came to be seen as an oppressive social construct, which of course it is. Gender discourse is inscribed upon bodies. It is a kind of brand, and I mean that literally, in both the cattle-owning and commercial senses of the word. It defines a primordial (for we are encouraged to think that way) difference, a binary, and in practical terms a set of unequal power relations: “We knew who we were then. Girls were girls and men were men.”

Obviously this had to go. But a funny thing happened on the way to liberation.

Suddenly—and I may have been asleep while it began—gender was getting reinforced, with rivets and steel, by the very people sent to smash it.

This all seems to have begun innocently enough. The gay and lesbian “communities,” which had fought their own bitter battles and changed society in the historical blink of an eye, had always embraced the tricky bisexual category as well, and then the trans community, in the acronym “LGBT” (once GLBT, but, you know, intersectionality). The trans phenomenon, however, is not like the others: it isn’t a sexual orientation—partner choice—but a claimed identity.

(I’m going to avoid the TERF wars here, but just suggest that those who claim transwomen were “socialized as men” should unpack the notion of socialization a little. Later for that.)

Meanwhile, in the natural course of events, LGBT expanded to LGBTQQIP2SAA. And from sexual preferences, all of these categories slid effortlessly into identities themselves. In other words, we went from “whom do I want to sleep with?” to “who am I?”.

That way madness lies. It’s a question without an answer. The identity swamp breeds reptiles of the mind: essentialism, fragmentation and exclusion, “call-out culture” and an endless proliferation of categories.

What was once a matter of loving who the hell you want has become an existential question, complete with its bottomless pit of Angst. As for that gender binary…

Well, perhaps one way of getting rid of gender is to make it explode. But that suggests more strategy and collusion than I think we are witnessing. Instead, two genders have been replaced with dozens, all points on a “gender spectrum.”

The battle now is only between two versus many. Binaries are before the firing squad. But gender itself, like rock and roll, is here to stay.

How do we accommodate this taxonomic eruption? Why, by coming up with pronouns to fit, of course. Once we bemoaned the absence of a personal third-person singular gender-neutral pronoun (other than “one,” which means “a person,” not a specific person). At least, some of us did. I wincingly learned to use “they” as a singular, and as a handy replacement for “he or she,” although my spirit recoils at “They is.” But I was, in any case, heading in the wrong direction.

Here’s a list of current pronouns, and they are anything but gender-neutral. I am advised that people venturing into the gender spectrum can try various sets on for size until they get a good fit. Failing memory? Not to worry—practice makes perfect.

Let me address the metaphorical elephant in the room at this point. That would be Professor Jordan Peterson, the fake polymath from Toronto who is the latest darling of the alt-right. Peterson, some will recall, vaulted into public prominence by stating his refusal to use preferred pronouns in class (although he himself used the singular “they” to cover off “he or she” in one article, as I recall).

If only he had stopped there! Keeping in mind the lists I referred to above, one could easily sympathize with a person, part of whose job is to teach large classes, throwing up their hands in despair. Just keeping track of names is hard enough. That Peterson turned out to have an agenda, and used the pronoun issue to force a political public entrance, is neither here nor there.

Were this extraordinary catalogue of genders to be seriously taken up by mainstream society (whatever that might be these days), social interaction would become just a tad awkward. Deliberate misgendering—calling a transwoman “he,” for example—is offensively rude and discriminatory. But using “cir” when the person you’re talking to wants “zan” could be just an honest mistake. Many of those would inevitably be made, spoiling a lot of parties and wrecking learned society conferences.

The “call-out” possibilities, on the other hand, would be endless. So perhaps all is not lost.

UPDATE: I leave this here without further comment:

Hi John,

I’m writing to let you know that we’ve reviewed your latest blog post and have decided to pass on publishing it: http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/dr-dawgs-blawg/…/03/pronouns

The discussion of gender identity and pronoun use in this post is dismissive of LGBTQ communities and the struggle to assert their rights — seen for example in references to “the trans phenomenon” and the suggestion that the way gender identity and sexual orientation are framed in 2018 veers towards “madness.” In our view, it has overtones of transphobia, which violates our journalistic policy, and reads more like a provocation rather than an effort to advance progressive debate on this topic. Because of this, we’ll be passing on it. You can see our full journalistic policy here: http://rabble.ca/about/journalistic-policy If you have any questions, please let me know.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on March 6, 2018 8:37 AM.

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