Update: Apparently, the word “transgenderism” has fallen out of favour with trans people and is considered to be insulting. My apologies with anyone who was offended the use of the word here.
As some American politicians struggle with what Vladimir Putin has (correctly) called “political schizophrenia,” some Canadian politicians have been wrestling with gender neutral pronoun schizophrenia.
Yup. That’s the difference between Canada and the United States. We sweat the small stuff, while Americans prefer international intrigue a la spy vs. spy.
The subject of gender neutral pronouns has been an issue for some Conservative senators as they debated Bill C-16, which will give transgender people human rights protection at the federal level, “complementing similar provincial efforts that have taken place across the country,” as Vice points out in a report.
Some Conservative senators and others, notably University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson, have expressed fear that the “gender expression” protections covered by the bill could see people facing hate crimes charges if they don’t use gender neutral pronouns in reference to individuals who self-reference with them.
In fact, the senators and Peterson may be correct about this: As Justin Ling points out in his Vice piece, “Senator Marc Gold, a constitutional law scholar, noted that the legislation does not apply to those who mistakenly use an incorrect gender, but noted that the human rights law would only kick in when someone intentionally and consistently uses an incorrect gender, regardless of the harm it may cause.”
Peterson has already said he will not use gender neutral pronouns, drawing the scorn of many in the trans community, so it is conceivable that he could find himself facing charges because I have no doubt that he will be put to the test by trans activists soon after Bill C-16 is passed.
But Peterson aside, the issue may be much ado about very few individuals in Canada who identify as gender neutral people to the point that they insist upon being called “they” or “their.”
I just don’t think we are going to see large numbers of people choosing this option — and I should point out that although media are referring to this as a transgender thing, it seems more to me like a non-gender issue because anybody who presents au masculine or en femme now could choose to be seen as “gender neutral” without any trans labels as excuses or currency.
Of course, it is a matter of respect, and of the changing language. I note that some media outlets have already changed their stylebooks to reflect the choices of gender neutral people. See an L.A. Times article as an example of the changes that paper had made.
We in the media will respect the choices of gender neutral people, even if we find it grammatically weird for a while. But such articles will be few and far between because there just aren’t that many gender neutral people in the news.
I suspect that the percentage of the population who identify as gender neutral is pretty small — even less than the percentage of the population that identifies as transgender — and it is certainly not a big enough issue to derail Bill C-16. And it won’t because Bill C-16 is sure to pass a vote in the Senate shortly, and everybody will get on with their lives and we will barely, if ever, hear about these things as “issues” again in Canada.
Meanwhile, the province of Ontario seems poised to offer gender neutral birth certificates to those who ask for them. Again, I have no problem with that.
But I would have a problem with another suggestion put forth by a trans advocate in B.C.: making it obligatory for all children to receive gender neutral birth certificates until such time they can make a choice as to which gender they identify. I just can’t imagine proud new parents being told they couldn’t call their newborn daughter “a girl” or their newborn son “a boy.”
I’m positive that no such legislation will ever be passed in Canada, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see parents given the option of having a gender neutral birth certificate for their newborn. Again, though, I don’t think many would elect to go the gender neutral route.
Of course, I could be wrong about this. Honestly, when I started covering transgender issues back in the early 2000s, I never envisioned the evolution we’ve witnessed of transgenderism. It never occurred to me that a man who identifies as male five days a week and uses male-segregated facilities Monday through Friday would be able to put on a skirt and blouse on Saturday and Sunday and be able to access female-segregated spaces. But it is an enshrined right, despite the cries of some feminists that the patriarchy is invading their private spaces.
Even I have difficulty wrapping my head around some of the changes that have come with the evolution of transgenderism. But greater minds than mine have guided the process, even if I had some input on it all through my former newspaper blog.
Transgender people deserve protection. They deserve equal rights. And they have all but won them in Canada.
Prediction: one day the term “transgender” will be redundant. Men, women, gender neutral and “gender queer” people will be able to present themselves as they wish — i.e. in dresses one day, in pants the next — and they won’t need a trans label as currency anymore.
Because that’s what the trans term really is: currency that allows a person to present themselves outside of the binary.