I applaud all parents who have done so much to bring the concerns and needs of our children – our quirky, unusual, brilliant, awkward children – to light. These are strange times we are living in, and I think it's much harder to grow up in the weird online garden of social media and virtual communication than it was back in the days of playing in the streets and woods with one's friends. Teachers and schools are reacting to this difficulty, and though I know it always comes from a good place, sometimes the solutions create problems of their own.
One thing that's made me uncomfortable lately is the introduction of "personal pronoun choice" to elementary school kids. I learned recently that this has been done at my child's school by a new teacher, and that it was presented in the part of the curriculum that's about respecting and loving other people.
Very nice, to respect and love other people. All types of people are worthy of love and respect, including people not like us, and people we disagree with. But are we sure that this measure is respecting and loving people? And all people, not just some people? And is introducing this in elementary school at all reasonable?
Kids of elementary school age make things up. If you were to ask a classroom of elementary age students to raise their hands if they play the piano, more arms would go up than kids who actually play the piano. If you ask how many are acrobats, half the kids who've ever botched a cartwheel would raise their hands. Some of the kids in every elementary school would claim they are another species, like a cat, a dog, or a tiger. Is it really so plausible to ask kids that age what their pronouns are?
Let's set aside the fact that we're talking about elementary school kids who barely know what a pronoun is, and some of whom are surely still unclear on the actual biological difference between boys and girls. The potential for grammatical confusion is there, and it may be funny. What I'd like to talk about is not so funny, though: the use of the pronoun question as bullying. I'd like to be able to say to my daughter's well-meaning teacher that, in many cases, asking a school child what her pronouns are isn't nice in the least: it is, to the contrary, opening a new door for cruelty.
There is more than one way the pronoun question may appear as bullying. The first, which will fly under the radar of well-meaning administrators and teachers, is that it calls out the odd kids. When you ask boys and girls who are seen as odd, or who do not conform to gender norms (e.g. kids like mine) the question "What are your pronouns," it may make them feel singled out. Other kids may take to asking this question on purpose to single them out and get away with it ("I was just trying to be inclusive!") They aren't going to ask this of the little girl who performs girlishness perfectly, or the little boy whose boyishness is impeccably demonstrated. They are going to ask the weird kids, the tomboys, the twee. My kids.
I am relieved that my daughter is not a tomboy. Not because I don't like tomboys, but because I think these are absolutely horrible times for a tomboy. Feminists (like my mother) fought for generations to secure for their daughters the right to things previously restricted to men: property, bodily autonomy, adequate math instruction, etc., and with one clever question our girls can be thrust right back into that little gender box. The question "What are your pronouns?" says to a tomboy "You are acting too much like a boy." It says "Are you a lesbian?" It says "You're a freak," "Stop acting like a boy." And it suggests, to that tomboy, that she ought to consider altering herself medically so that she may fit in better. The forced pronoun question can cause the child to feel a sense of disconnection from her body, which can be interpreted as gender dysphoria; in this, it is grooming for the transgender delusion.
As a geek from a long line of geeks, I am glad I didn't have to put up with this when I was a kid. It was probably better for me, in the long run, that other boys just called me "weirdo" instead of pushing me to question whether I was really a boy at all. I'm also glad that my mother didn't have to put up with modern gender ideology when she was crossing gender lines in her work. She was lucky: she was from a generation where women felt they were doing important work by expanding into a man's role, not from a generation where a woman expanding into a man's role has her very sex questioned. Will my daughter be so lucky if she turns out to be a math nerd like her grandmother?
A second type of pronoun bullying is the sort my son has encountered repeatedly in camp, high school, and college (I'm hoping they haven't moved this form of bullying down to elementary school yet). On the first day of class, or camp, all the students are called out front and center: they have to say, in front of all the other students, what their pronouns are.
Teachers and professors may imagine this is a neutral, disinterested question, but that's not what it looks like from the other side. For some students, it's a moment of intimidation: it's a statement by the professor or teacher that the class is going to be run according to gender ideology, and that skepticism or criticism will not be welcome. For many gender-dysphoric kids, like my son, it can make the problem worse. It's hurting the people it purports to protect.
Every student, in turn, has to run the pronoun gauntlet. It's bad enough for the male students who have to say "My pronouns are he, him, his," and be scowled at by the social justice warriors in the class. It's worse for the kids who don't want to answer that question, for whatever reason – they don't believe in the premise of the question, they think it's nobody's business, they don't feel their essence is encapsulated in pronouns – because they fear if they pass on the question they will be treated worse.
For the socially awkward, this can be an excruciating moment: they are called out on the carpet to explain personal things about themselves, and to take a political position on one of the biggest controversies in the spaces they inhabit. Everybody is looking and listening; what will they answer? My son has found that if he responds "he/him," some students - especially those in the alphabet mafia - won't address him anymore in class because he's been marked as a "cis het" (i.e. straight man). If he responds "they/them," then his classmates will consider his opinion more, stop accusing him of mansplaining, and express more interest in conversing with him. The pronoun gauntlet seeks to shove kids back into gender boxes: a girl who conforms to gender roles can be criticized for "performing for the patriarchy," and a boy can be criticized for "abusing male privilege." A kid who conforms, instead, with the gender ideology of the alphabet mafia is rewarded. Again, this is grooming children into the transgender delusion.
My son never dressed or acted in a typical fashion for a boy (he conforms neither with straight men nor with gay men), not even when he was tiny, and classmates have always found him confusing. Some seem more satisfied with a "they/them" or a "she/her" answer to the pronoun gauntlet. Giving his classmates a handicap by saying he's non-binary or uses they/them pronouns defuses some of the animosity that would normally be directed at him for failing to conform to gender norms. The pronoun gauntlet is yet another moment when my son has to figure out how to avoid bullying, this time not by the sexist, homophobic dolts of yesteryear, but by a cooler, more empowered group of sexist homophobes.
For a time, my son suffered under the transgender delusion, and the pronoun gauntlet helped to normalize that delusion in him. If a boy answers "she/her," then he grabs the brass ring, wins the immunity token of oppressed status. In terms of self-rejection, this is a case where the treatment can cause the disease. The self-rejection of transgenderism in children leads to an increase in self-loathing and, sometimes, a lifetime of medical complications.
We are lucky that our son desisted. Desistance has come with a new set of problems, however: he is now, secretly, an apostate from woke ideology. He can't talk about this with most age peers, or in classes, and it frustrates him. He feels that the LGBT community, which should be there to support a bisexual man like him in his love and in his difference, is not there for him. It's there even less for lesbian girls. If you don't toe the line of the transgender ideology, you are no longer welcome under the rainbow... but that could be fixed, if you play the pronoun game right.
We should all be kind to those adults who identify as transsexual or transgender. To want to accommodate those few children who identify as transgender is an admirable impulse. But kindness is not what the question "What are your pronouns?" achieves when applied to children. The proportion of children who are gay, odd, idiosyncratic, or who do not otherwise conform with gender expectations is, has been, and will always be, higher than the proportion of children who identify as transgender. Pushing them back into a different box isn't kindness, it isn't acceptance, it's just a new kind of conformity. Even those children who feel they may be transsexual or transgender don't want to be called out with that question all the time. So please, teachers, administrators, stop calling children out on the carpet about pronouns. Woke bullying is still bullying.