Recently, a high school teacher in Virginia was fired for refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns (https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/teacher-fired-refusing-use-transgender-student-s-pronouns-n946006). Of course, the Right is up in arms. “How can you do that? What about freedom of speech? Being transgender isn’t real anyway.”
Aren’t we all called by our preferred pronouns? If I were to walk into a bar and bump into a man and say, “Excuse me, ma’am,” do you not think he would be upset? What if that person got angry and started a fight and when someone asked, I said, “Well, she started it.” Would it not escalate? Would it not inflame?
I saw commentary recently where someone was making an argument that “Dude,” is a gender neutral word. Anyone can be a dude. One response was, “Well, then walk into a bar and ask some guy how many dudes he has slept with…see how that goes.”
My meaning is that pronouns mean something. They signify self-identity. They are personal.
Imagine if you and I just met and you introduced yourself as Kelly. I immediately proceeded to call you Charlie. For the rest of the conversation I only called you Charlie. You corrected me over and over and over and I refused to call you anything but Charlie. Not only would I be rude, but you might take offense.
Point being…we are who we are. We have an identity. It is not up to the other person to determine what a person will be called. We have an identity.
When you choose to call someone by a pronoun that they don’t identify with, you are denying their identity. You are denying who s/he/they/xe is. You are denying their existence as a person.
With this in mind, it is important to understand that gender is not a binary. Gender is a social construction. Around 37 different cultures around the world recognize, or have recognized, more than two genders. Ranging from adopting different roles in society to being intersex, genders are greater than a binary.
As are we.
Who you are is personal. And real. The parts you were born with are there. But, it doesn’t mean that they are the same.
So, going back to the original idea of the teacher being fired. Honestly, I would need to know more. Was this recurring? Was it belligerent? Based on the article, it was at first a mistake and then was purposeful when he refused. Should he have been fired? I think he should have been educated. He should have been taught. If he still refused, then yes. He should have been fired. It was willful bias against the student.
So, please be thoughtful. And respectful. Identity is important.
With the exception of a year, I have been a teacher or a student for my entire life. I have taught on many different levels. I have been a middle school teacher (okay, for one semester for student teaching...because of this, I have a profound respect for middle school teachers), high school, undergraduates and graduate students. I have coached soccer in youth leagues and high school. Education is in my blood.