Ze went to ze store to buy zis zizter zum bread. Zhe thanked zhim when ze returned. 

What can you deduce about this speaker? He is trying to speak English with a heavy German accent? Partially correct. He is trying to speak English with a heavy German accent and trying to use the allegedly non-gender specific pronouns mandated by the speech police.

There is a storm brewing right now because University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson has come out strongly opposed to using supposedly gender neutral pronouns if students so request them. He calls them cant (sanctimonious piety). He’s published three Youtube videos arguing his case.

Not surprisingly, some wiseacre snitched on the good professor and the gutless poobahs of the administration sent him a letter asking him to change his evil ways.

But the question arises, is this a storm or is it a tempest in a teapot? Peterson avers that 98 percent of men and women want to be referred to as men or women, including pronouns. I think he is underestimating the numbers. A report from the UK, which is probably typical of Western society in general, estimates the number of people identifying as neither male nor female at 0.4 percent, which is 1 in 250 people.

Most people, even gays and lesbians, identify as man or woman.  What is significant for them is who they want to sleep with, not whether they are considered a man or a woman. The real issue is with those who feel they were born the wrong gender. Some have sex reassignment surgery, such as Caitlyn Jenner, the former Bruce Jenner. And she wants to be identified as a woman, not as a man and certainly not as gender neutral.

The number of people who identify as neither male nor female is very small. In my entire life I have met a good number of gay and lesbian people. Some are friends. But I have yet to meet someone who identifies as neither.

Chances are that Peterson will not run into any at all, let alone several. So in one sense, he is complaining about something unlikely to affect him. And as far as a non-binary person is concerned, they could just privately ask a professor or anyone else they might deal with to refer to them in a certain way. As civilized people, they can work this out amicably between them. It’s really just a question of good manners and common sense.

Where the trouble arises is when the state or some authority steps in and mandates you speak a certain way. The issue is one of free speech and one (apparently “one” is a good gender neutral word) would do well to remember the quote usually misattributed to Voltaire: I disapprove of what you say but will defend to the death your right to say it.

There is an unfortunate tendency among some, notably the so-called social justice warriors on campuses across North America, to impose their views on others. They don’t merely argue their views in a civilized way, they use disruptive and sometimes violent tactics to impose their views. Recently a bunch of SJWs at the University of California-Berkeley, blocked a bridge, refusing to let white people cross a creek that transects the campus. These self-styled protectors of morals then stormed the campus bookstore, wanting to “evict” the store to create a “safe space” for queer and trans students. They followed that up with a march through the student union building disrupting students who were trying to study.

As Reason Magazine points out, there is more than a little irony that a  movement once dedicated to eradicating barriers in society based on race or sex or gender preference, now “are demanding formal, university-sanctioned safe spaces for students who belong to particular identity groups. They want what can only be described as a kind of official segregation: separate spaces for students of color, trans students, queer students, etc.”

Many years ago during the early days of the feminist movement, there was a move to opt for a separate designation for women than Miss or Mrs. and so the term Ms. came into being. As far as I can recall, it was never legislated into being. It just emerged through usage. This is how language changes.

And it was simple – women who wanted to identify as neither single nor married called themselves Ms. and wrote it in on forms that did not offer the choice. Over time it came into common usage.

But today’s radical left isn’t content with evolutionary change. They want to overthrow the system and institute their own rules immediately. And in so doing, they have gone from the sublime to the ridiculous with an unwieldy number of alternate pronouns and gender specifications. Here is a table from Wikipedia on the many different alternate non-binary pronouns bandied about.

Non-traditional pronouns
E: (Spivak, 1983) E is laughing I called Em Eir eyes gleam That is Eirs E likes Emself
Ey: (Elverson, 1975) Ey is laughing I called em Eir eyes gleam That is eirs Ey likes eirself
Hu: (Humanist, 1982) Hu is laughing I called hum Hus eyes gleam That is hus Hu likes humself
Jee: (Jayce, 2011) Jee is laughing I called jem Jeir eyes gleam That is jeirs Jee likes jemself
Ney: (Dicebox, 2010?) Ney is laughing I called nem Neir eyes gleam That is neirs Ney likes nemself
Peh: (Dicebok, 2012?) Peh is laughing I called pehm Peh’s eyes gleam That is peh’s Peh likes pehself
Per: (Piercy, 1979) Per is laughing I called per Per eyes gleam That is pers Per likes perself
Thon: (Converse, 1884) Thon is laughing I called thon Thons eyes gleam That is thons Thon likes thonself
Ve: (Hulme, c. 1980) Ve is laughing I called ver Vis eyes gleam That is vis Ve likes verself
Xe: (Rickter, c. 1973) Xe is laughing I called xem Xyr eyes gleam That is xyrs Xe likes xemself
Yo: (regional, c. 2004) Yo is laughing I called yo  ?
Ze, hir: (Bornstein, n.d.) Ze (Zie, Sie) is laughing I called hir Hir eyes gleam That is hirs Ze (Zie, SIe) likes hirself
Ze, mer: (Creel, 1997) Ze is laughing I called mer Zer eyes gleam That is zers Ze likes zemself
Ze, zir: (unknown, c. 2013) Ze (Zie, Sie) is laughing I called zir/zem Zir/Zes eyes gleam That is zirs/zes Ze (Zie, Sie) likes zirself/zemself
Zhe: (Foldvary, 2000) Zhe is laughing I called zhim Zher eyes gleam That is zhers Zhe likes zhimself

As you can see, some have been proposed as early as 1884. None has come into common parlance. The reason, of course, is not one of discrimination but one of usefulness. Language evolves. It is not mandated, except in the totalitarian world of George Orwell’s 1984 where language is used to manipulate and control people.

But that is just English. Canada’s other official language is French which is a very gender conscious language. Most nouns are designated as masculine or feminine. e.g. la table, la chaise, le fromage, le singe. How would such a law apply to French?  Could a non-binary person raise umbrage over his cheese being masculine? Could they demand that shops label their cheese as ze fromage? No, you say. That’s ridiculous. But why should the law apply only to English? If someone is offended by a masculine cheese or a feminine chair, shouldn’t they have the right to have people use gender neutral French articles when speaking to them? Couldn’t they demand a “safe space” in Quebec grocery stores where food is labeled gender neutrally?

Peterson’s objection, and it is a valid one, is that laws mandating the use of such pronouns makes even simple discussion of these issues a crime. You could be hauled before the courts for referring to a non-binary person as he or she.

Indeed, the government of Ontario has voted to get rid of the terms mother and father from all government forms, replacing them with gender neutral terms. But isn’t this discriminating against those who prefer to be referred to as mother or father? Tory Bob Bailey’s counter-proposal that the terms be ratained and other options added would be more inclusive. Especially since the vast majority of parents identify as mother or father.

Personally, I don’t really care what people want to be called. If someone wants to combine “she” and “it”, to make up some gender neutral hybrid, I am happy to accommodate. But this move to remove gender identification from the vast majority to accommodate a tiny minority, to compel people to speak a certain way by law rather than speak freely puts a chill on free speech.

Ironically, most gender neutral people aren’t readily identifiable as gender neutral from outside appearance. Our society accommodates all manner of dress and get-up, long hair, short hair, dreadlocks, eye liner on men as well as women, skirts, dresses, pants, pantsuits, piercings, goth look, etc. I certainly could not identify a gender neutral person in a crowd of strangers. So it is unlikely a gender neutral person would be discriminated against unless ze or zhe made an issue of it.

If the law mandates that such people be referred to by such labels, they would move from being anonymous to being on display. They would be readily identified. They would likely face more discrimination than they face now. It would be a verbal form of Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter.

It is unfortunate that many young people on campuses today think they know it all. That they are there to push some radical agenda on an unwilling population. To impose their views using violence and intimidation like the Berkeley protestors did. Universities used to be a place of reflection and learning. Sadly, as longshoreman philosopher Eric Hoffer puts it, “It is the malady of our age that the young are so busy teaching us that they have no time left to learn.” (Reflections on the Human Condition – page 26)

Simultaneously published at The Jolly Libertarian