Fighting the Pronoun Police

The new transgender revolutionaries would like to go beyond bra burning and accusations of patriarchy. They would like to change language itself—particularly pronouns—and abolish “he” and “she” and to replace it with “they”—or other inventive pronouns, to indicate anyone of any gender.

While this has not been seriously institutionalized in western countries, transgender revolutionaries would like it to be. In Australia recently, workers in the public sector in the state of Victoria are being schooled in adopting gender-neutral pronouns “zie” and “hir.” Ro Allen, the state’s first gender and sexuality commissioner, encourages businesses also to use the guide, saying that equipping people with correct language will “promote safer spaces” for LGBTI Australians. Also, in 2015, the word “hen” was accepted by the Swedish Academy—(the final arbiter of the Swedish language) as a gender neutral pronoun. This word offers an alternative to “hon” (meaning “she”) or “han” (meaning “he”). While it was coined in the 1960s it never took hold—until now. Sweden’s transgender community began to use it at the turn of the twenty-first century, and “hen” is now found in some government papers and court rulings.

And now we learn that in 2012, Sweden’s first ever gender neutral children’s book, Kivi och Monsterhund (Kivi and the Monster Dog) used the neutral “hen” to refer to its characters. The pronoun has also cropped up in the Swedish/Danish drama, The Bridge, when detective Saga Norén is mocked by a colleague for referring to the gender of a criminal. Swedes don’t laugh much, but the use of a gendered pronoun aroused more taciturnity than usual. And faculty and staff at the University of Iowa have been instructed to use “preferred names and gender pronouns” when addressing students—including “ze,” “zem,” “zir or hir,” “zirs or hirs.”  You would certainly signal your pc virtue if you used them.

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A teacher friend of mine in Sydney related that all teachers were instructed recently not to use “he” or “she” in a state school where he teaches Math as this may cause offence to a boy transitioning to be a girl in that school. But in Canada things are moving faster than this. There is a new proposed Bill C-16 that seeks to protect all genders from discrimination under the Canadian Human Rights Act. This bill defines gender identity, for example, as “each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.” Thus, gender identity can be anything an individual wants it to be at any given point in time. And you are supposed to know and act accordingly.

But will the transgender revolutionaries get away with it? On a website recently set up to help us understand gender fluidity, some of the genders read like delusional thinking on steroids. There are genders such as: Affectugender—a gender that is affected by mood swings; Glimragender—a faintly shining, wavering gender; Mascfluid—a gender that is fluid in nature, and restricted only to masculine genders; Quoigender—feeling as if the concept of gender is inapplicable or nonsensical to one’s self; Subgender—mostly no gender (“agender”) with a bit of another gender; and Trigender—the feeling of having three simultaneous or fluctuating genders.

Why be restricted by any gender definition? There is always the option of being “Agender” which entails “the feeling of no gender/absence of gender or neutral gender.” An Australian called Norrie won the right to have no gender in the High Court. I must confess, after gazing at these pronouns given on the Gender Fluidity Support website for quite awhile—“thon/thon/thons/thonself ve/vir/virs/virself”—my inner farcical, comic bent called out for an Orwell to put this lunacy into its proper perspective. I mean what happens if a Glimragender wants to “marry” a Trigender and they change genders the next week, or indeed the next day. Any budding Orwells out there?

Such attempts to change language have the hallmarks of totalitarian thinking, as University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson found out recently. He took aim at the push to use gender-neutral pronouns and found his office door glued shut, was drowned out by noise in his attempt to speak publicly on the subject and now may face losing his job. Peterson told the BBC, “I’ve studied authoritarianism for a very long time—for 40 years—and they’re started by people’s attempts to control the ideological and linguistic territory.”

While the transgender brigades may want to transform language, the trouble is, changing any language has mighty hurdles ahead of it—involving more than “they,” and “hen.” Many of us can recall learning a foreign language and having to decide on the gender of the noun in use. For example, if you wanted to state one of the best-known French sentences of all time in grammar books, namely—“The pen of my aunt is on the table,” you would have to know the gender of the words “pen” and “table.” For centuries, classes have repeated La plume de ma tante est sur la table, of course also knowing that an aunt was female. But now, it is not so certain, according to the transgender nomenklatura, that an aunt is a woman—she might be any one of dozens of genders or may be a transgendered uncle. Don’t refer to LGBT anymore, but say correctly LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-gender, Transgender, Queer and Intersex).

Most European languages, unfortunately, have the concept of gender threaded throughout their entire languages and to use the wrong gender gets you less points in an exam, though perhaps this will change. Or, in their war on gender, have the anti-gender enthusiasts bitten off more than they can chew? For this is greater than a war on the pronouns: it is a war on linguistics, on psychic identity, on biology, and cultural heritage.

In most European languages, you cannot say things like “She asked him to go to the market and buy some bread” without every single word being affected by gender. So what are the gender changers going to do? Drive millions into silence? Hardly. It is not so easy to make “market” or “bread” genderless in European languages without sounding ignorant. Even if academies said a table was gender neutral in France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Portugal and Russia, one suspects they won’t get away with it, people would simply ignore them. And what about the Germans? There are supposedly 1,200 kinds of sausage in Germany—and each has a gender. Will every sausage now be de-gendered? For while websites such as Fluidgender Support may give lists of alternate pronouns for English speakers such as “xe/xim/xis/ximself” and “xie/xem/xyr/xemself,” the problem is that few look them up and fewer understand them.

Remember how Esperanto was to be the new international language? And where is it now? The Jewish physician L.L. Zamenhof, who devised Esperanto in Warsaw during the 1880s, was not just inventing a language, but a new way of seeing the world, much like the transgenderists are trying to force on us now. A basic understanding of psychology and linguistics could have told the language inventor that it would never take off because coercive attempts to reform language rarely if ever take off. Esperantists really believed that a new world order of harmony and cooperation would be ushered in through the adoption of their made-up, one-world language.

George Soros’ father, Tivadar Soros, was a great promoter of Eperanto and the notion that this new language would facilitate the Esperantist re-creation of the world. While the younger George Soros’s passion for Esperanto is not known, he is known for similar attempts to change the world in ways that accords with the Esperantists’ aims. And although Esperanto did not take off, nor did the promised new world arrive—and one suspects never will—the Esperanto Society did provide good cover for the escape of some Jews from Hungary under Nazi persecution during World War II, including George Soros himself.

The most cursory glance at history tells us that language use is very resistant to forced change—you can try all you want, but people will speak the way they want to speak—and language will keep going its own way. The Académie française attempted to ban words such as “le football” and “le weekend” only to find that no one was listening to them apart from the Académie. And in any case now they have “le blog,” “le web,” “le modem” and “le wifi.”

If the current revolutionaries wish to force their gender agenda on every language, we can use the weapons of laughter, derision and satire—something Catholics could always apply more to the utopian ideas they encounter in daily life. Do the gender revolutionaries really think they will get away with it and will build the brave new world they envisage? Perhaps the Trump effect will arrest these grandiose ideas. We, who can see this new kind of Babel arising from those lost in a folly without borders, know their efforts are doomed to failure. While we continue to use our gendered pronouns and nouns, we need only bide our time, satirize the pronoun revisionists without ceasing, and wait till this new attempt to change language falls into yet another abyss of history.


  • Wanda Skowronska

    Wanda Skowronska is a Catholic psychologist and author living and working mainly in Sydney. She is a regular contributor to the Australian Catholic journal Annals Australasia. Her most recent book is Catholic Converts from Down Under … And All Over (2016). She earned her PhD at the John Paul II Institute in Melbourne in 2011 where she does some sessional lecturing.

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