THE LEFT AIN’T SO REGRESSIVE

 

You may remember my rant on the “Regressive Left”, a phrase used by those wishing to disparage the views of those on the left who approach cultural mismatches with tact and pragmatism.  Well, those on the right have had a pop at Peter Tatchell this week on Twitter.  I’m so pleased that a well-known figure such as him is standing up for sensitive and intelligent handling of difficult issues.  Here’s some of the highlights:

@PeterTatchell I bet that guy is an absolute delight to be around.

Oh, wait, smearing LGBT folk looking out for ordinary Muslims as “the regressive left”, or “turkeys voting for Christmas” is actually doing the far-right’s work for them.  Whoopsy!

Human Rights are universal, you don't get to pick and choose. Wise words, indeed.

When you stand up for human rights, you need to consider a set of universal values.  You don’t get to downplay the rights of one group just because some of them hold objectionable views – that would be moral relativism, and I thought that was a bad thing, no?  They are still human beings.  We even have to extend that truth to the racists.  They are but human, sadly.

 

MEDIA REPORTING AND PERCEPTIONS

 

Yesterday, there were a couple of items in the local news from back where my parents live. A man had been stabbed outside Tesco’s, and a body was found in a park just 300m down the seafront from there. Sadly, this isn’t unusual for the area. One of my numerous (and tenuous) claims to fame is that my parents’ house made it on to the national news – because our next-door neighbours got busted in a drugs raid.

I had no reason to believe the two events were linked. There’s enough violence to go round for discrete butcherings. But when they said that a body had been found, it did have some ideas in my head about who it might be. I’d assumed that it was probably an adult, maybe a homeless person dying from a preventable cause, or some alky or junkie succumbing to their vice.

However, today they announced that the body was that of an infant, a girl. This to me seemed more shocking, not because I believe younger lives are worth more than older lives, or that babies are more ‘precious’, but because this is really unusual. Oh, and it challenged my assumptions.

I wonder what that person’s story is.

How did they get there?
How did they die?
Were they loved?

Maybe we’ll find out in time. Maybe we won’t. I’m sure that I’ll be wrong about a lot more.

 

UNDERSTANDING EMOTIONAL AND PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE

 

When we speak of Intimate Partner Violence, we inevitably think of battered wives and outward signs of abuse.  Yet much of the control and domination is more difficult to see from the outside, and as a result it can be difficult to put a name to that type of violence.  Indeed, there are some who don’t believe it’s that serious at all.

Ironically enough, gaslighting falls into this abuse category, and it is perpetuated by doubters by making the victim question if they’re really sure it was abuse.  I’ve had a difficult past, and there are many things that have been left unresolved that affect me to this day.  A friend who works with survivors of abuse sent me some factsheets that are used in recovery programs, to help me make sense of what I experienced.  Links are available by clicking on the subheadings below.

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion

Biderman’s Chart of Coercion is a tool developed to explain the methods used to break the will or brainwash a prisoner of war.  Domestic violence experts believe that domestic abusers use these same techniques.

This second link contains the original language used by Biderman specifically regarding PoWs; I have included it here for context and comparison. Click Here

The Duluth Model

The Duluth Power and Control Wheel is a visual representation of the concept that Domestic Abuse involves a wide range of behaviours which are reinforced by actual or threatened physical/sexual violence with the purpose of having control over a victim [Source: Newcastle Women’s Aid].

Often, emotional abuse and control is a precursor to actual violence.  Even if it never reaches that point, it can break a person’s spirit and have profound & long-lasting consequences for their mental health & wellbeing.  It’s important that we take this form of abuse seriously, not just in its own right, but as an indicator of the likelihood of worse to come.

When I left, things had started to become violent.  I’m sure that I would have left sooner if I had the confidence to trust my instincts, and if I knew that there was a recognised pattern of abuse that I was experiencing.  When I was going through this, I just wasn’t sure how to describe what was going on, and because I’d only been hit once or twice, I thought “it wasn’t really proper violence, was it?”  Friends and relatives downplayed my worries, and put it down to arguments, or me being “difficult”.  We need to educate people on the reality of domestic abuse – that it takes many forms and it isn’t all physical.  Please share this post widely – the more knowledge available to ordinary citizens, the more we can take control of our own lives.

 

NOTES FROM A SMALLER ISLAND

 

A while back, I posted about UK immigration policy (this was pre-Brexit, before Brexit was a twinkle in Boris Johnson’s eye, even) and I mooted the idea that our government might be steering the UK towards a lower, and hopefully sustainable, population with a correspondingly smaller economy.  Well, recent events suggest that this could be a possibility.

I attended an event held by GMSS, on “Misrepresenting Reality” – a critique of the information provided by the Leave campaign (most of which turned out to be lies and/or appeals to nostalgia).  Well, I say attended, what I mean is that I missed the whole talk but snuck in during the extended Q&A (hey, I have a demanding job).

One of the questions asked of the speaker (who is a Professor in European Law, so they know their stuff) was whether they had heard any good arguments in support of Brexit.  They said no, but there was one possibility that no-one has mentioned – that Brexit would result in the UK’s population and economy reducing in size and resulting in a smaller, sustainable nation with comfortable living standards but no aspirations to be anything greater.

Personally, I don’t think that would be a good thing, but it would be an argument that actually held some water, in comparison to jingoistic ranting and slogans painted on buses.  It seems that there are decisions happening as to where our country is headed.  I see it as being in one of two broad directions:

  1. Economic growth, high population, high output – We aim to keep producing, innovating, and competing as a first-world player.  We take an active role on the world stage, with diplomatic and military influence and an international outlook.  In order for this to happen, our infrastructure and population need to consistently grow, and we have to be able to maintain this growth against competitor nations who may have an advantage in terms of efficiency in terms of production and labour costs (I’m looking at you, China and India).  High immigration is necessary to bolster the population, due to the below-replacement birth rate of indigenous Brits.
  2. Declining economy, low population, low output – we accept that other countries will overtake us, and we make the decision to go quietly.  We reduce our population by curbing immigration, and continuing with policies designed to discourage people from having large families.  We maintain a decent quality of life by relying more on our own industries, with some overseas trade in specialised products and services.  We maintain a foothold in international politics, but our role is far less significant.  The capacity of our armed services is whittled down even further and take a more ceremonial and/or peacekeeping role.

You may decide that you prefer one or other of those options, or neither, or you might not have any strong feelings on it.  But one thing we do know is that this was not the Brexit Britain we were promised.  We’re not going to bring The Empire back – and I’m sure there will be many disappointed Leavers who feel they got sold a pup.

 

THE REGRESSIVE LEFT FALLACY

 

Here we are with another example of skeptics making thinking errors that they’d pick up on if someone else did it. However this is a bit more than just a failure of logic – it’s also a distortion of the original term. While words can and do change meaning, it doesn’t mean that we can appropriate a phrase and twist it to mean whatever we feel like. We get all pissy when “deniers” are referred to as “skeptics”, so let’s not be hypocrites as well, eh?

The “regressive left” was coined by Maajid Nawaz in his 2012 memoir “Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening“, describing ‘”well-meaning liberals and ideologically driven leftists” in the United Kingdom who naïvely and ‘ignorantly pandered to” Islamists and helped Islamist ideology to gain acceptance.’  It is related to another of his phrases “the racism of low expectations“, which refers to the application of lower moral standards to people within minorities, based on the notion that they are unable to take criticism or adopt universal standards of morality, due to their being backward or uncivilised.

However, this phrase is really doing the rounds on the internet at the moment, applied to anyone who is prepared to step outside of their comfort zone and find common ground with those who are different.  A significant part of the problem is hostility to religious folk, something written about here, by Hayley Is A Ghost.  And the atheist community’s favourite example of such “loony left” behaviour is the Goldsmith’s LGBT Society’s support of the University’s Islamic Society.

Here’s a summary of what happened:

The SU’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society invited Maryam Namazie to give a presentation.  Some members of the Islamic Society were unhappy about this and attended the talk with the intention of interrupting her and preventing her from speaking.  With SUs being what they are, and student bodies being willing to support the oppressed, reports of what happened were misrepresented as the event being discriminatory to Muslims, and many people were outraged about it (which would have been a fair response if that was what actually happened).  Other student societies who campaign for social justice stood in solidarity with the Islamic Society, because they saw an alignment of principles.  And this is where it started to go really, really wrong.

Now, the LGBT & Feminist Societies aren’t populated by idiots.  These are educated, if idealistic, young adults standing up for human rights in spite of the knowledge that Islam isn’t totally OK with women and The Gays.  It was the problem of perceived oppression that was the issue.  It’s something that many of us would do if we believed that people were being unjustly treated, even if we don’t personally share all the values of the group we seek to assist.

In keeping with their behaviour at Namazie’s talk, the Islamic Society then behaved in a not-entirely-honourable fashion:

Tweet by Goldsmiths Islamic Society's then-president
Oh dear.

Tweets by Goldsmiths Islamic Society's then-president
#cringe

It was rather amusing to see this clash of cultures played out in the Twittersphere, but I never thought of it as anything more than an awkward misjudgement of the character of others.  The LGBT and Feminist Societies acted in good faith, and perhaps naively, expected others to do so as well.  Anyone with half a brain knows that #notallmuslims are like this, and it should have just ended as an unfortunate incident that hopefully teaches us to be more aware of others’ motivations.  But no!  Never ones to miss an anti-theist bandwagon, it really captured the imagination of the skeptical movement, and not to be discriminatory in their nature, they then aimed their mockery at SUs as well as Islam – in particular any of the left-leaning societies (this is a weird thing, most skeptics I know are left-of-centre, yet right-wing ideas are very popular if they push the right buttons.  Maybe we’re not sceptical enough).

One thing I heard was that they were like “turkeys voting for Christmas”, and that Skeptical Trump Card, The Regressive Left (booooooooooooooooooooo!).  Well, at the time, I felt quite off about it, but it wasn’t clear enough in my mind to articulate my opposition to it.  But the popularity of this idea grew, and it got more tiresome with every minute.  And so, here’s some commentary from the recent #womensmarch:

I wonder how much this person cares about women’s rights on days they can’t point out a contradiction?

 

It featured heavily on my timeline, and, well, I’m not one to let these things slide:

The Regressive Left strikes again!
Of course I had to weigh in. Friends don’t let friends make dumbass mistakes like this.
This person, commenting elsewhere, summed up how I feel about the whole debacle:

I decided to educate myself on the identity of woman in the picture, with the US flag headscarf. Her name is Munira Ahmed, and she intended the image to demonstrate that she, as a Muslim, is as American as anyone else.  And it’s an important point: Muslims are as diverse as just about any population you can think of.  The caricature of Muslims perpetuated by the New Atheist Movement is horribly simplistic and creates division.  We can’t say with any integrity that we will not support those women who look different from us, or those who are oppressed by our country’s actions.  And what about Muslim women who do feel oppressed by the headscarf?  Do we support them, but only as long as they take it off when in our presence?  Of course it is possible to hold both beliefs: that Muslims are human beings who we should care about, and that the headscarf can be a tool of female oppression.  That doesn’t seem so regressive to me.

 

F*CK YOU, DELIVEROO.

 

I’ve voiced my dissatisfaction with Deliveroo before, but this is a rather more serious point than my light-hearted jibe at their crap adverts.

I was out on Christmas Eve, heading over to The Boy’s flat for takeaway, wine, and nerdery, and I was Absolutely Bloody Fuming to have witnessed a transgression of the Highway Code that I felt I Should Do Something.  If you’ve ever been in the car with me, you’ll know that my expectations of other drivers are exacting, and that my driving style is akin to that of Kenneth Noye.

I was using a pedestrian crossing, and waiting for the green man to appear as I had been instructed to do in my early years, and as We Should All Do (Rules 7 to 25 of the Highway Code).  The much-awaited green man revealed himself, traffic approaching the crossing stopped, and about 30 of us (I live in the city centre; there’s rarely a time when it is not busy) stepped out, to continue our business on the other side.

Out of nowhere, a Deliveroo driver on a scooter shot through the red light, which had been that way for a good five seconds.  He performed an emergency stop, but still hit someone, with whom he remonstrated for a minute or so before getting back on his round (so, fortunately, it wasn’t a serious collision).  I was incensed that a fellow road user could be so inconsiderate and downright dangerous, so I put my Good Citizen Hat on and recorded the vehicle’s registration number.  I was all ready to report it to the local fuzz and the Council’s licensing authority, but then I Calmed The F*ck Down, gained some perspective, and decided to conveniently erase what I had seen from my memory.

See, I know that a) it’s not easy working in the Gig Economy, and b) that gentlemen will be lucky to be earning the minimum wage, let alone a living one.  Did I really want to get him into trouble and plunge him into an even worse state of poverty?  Even worse, he probably needs to risk his life and license in order to complete all the drops he needs to, to put food on the table.

And a bigger question, to which I do not know the answer – is it ethical for me to use services like Deliveroo and Uber, where it has been well-documented that their workers are getting a substandard deal?  I mean, people do want to work for these companies, and without this questionable means of running a business, those people would be without jobs.  But in using their services, I’m helping to keep things the way they are.  We could have even had the same driver for our takeaway that night.  At least we left them a tip – seriously, everyone, look after your delivery and taxi drivers.  They do a difficult and poorly-paid job, and they are the grease that keeps society’s wheels turning.

It’s complicated, and I don’t know what the answer is.  While I can stay informed on consumer & human rights issues, there is only so much I can actually do to reduce harm.  Hell, living in the West, you’re still shitting on someone else even if you go off-grid and live in a sodding yurt.  How about we start a conversation in the comments?

LOSING MY RELIGION

 

Maybe the title of this post is a little inaccurate.  I never really had religion inside my heart or my mind, but it was very much a part of my life as a youngster.  I grew up in an isolated community in which the church played a big role, and even though I attended non-faith schools, religion was still ubiquitous.  In my first two schools, the legal requirement for an act of daily worship was strictly adhered to; we regularly had visits from church groups to teach us dubious moral lessons, and religious dogma permeated the syllabus.  And this was in an ordinary, non-faith school system.  I’ve heard of the experiences of those who did attend religious schools, and their stories range from the casually harmful to the downright monstrous.  In addition to the formal aspects of education, the ethos of the schools was very much focused on discipline and shame.  We were not educated about drugs, alternative lifestyles or sexuality, or even about our bodies and sex in anything but the most clinical and limited terms.  I think the idea was that if we were shielded from it, we wouldn’t do it (this presents a kind of magical thinking about the teenage brain).

My family were incredibly religious, attending church at least twice a week.  My childhood was overseen by good old-fashioned Christian discipline, with certain topics off-limits for discussion (anything about the human body, sex, or social injustices), and certain viewpoints the unquestionable truth (homosexuality = bad, nuclear family = good).  The way this was instilled within us was by fear.  Disobedience or blasphemy (yes, as a child I was instructed to limit my speech, and by extension, my thinking) were punished by a beating, or at the very least by being yelled at.  No opportunity for reflection was given, so that I could figure out what I’d done wrong – I just learnt to know what I could get away with around whom.

Throughout my school career, there was a noticeable divide between those who had religion, and those who didn’t.  Although our community was cut off, plenty of families were more outward-looking and didn’t get caught in the trap.  At the time, I thought that the children from those families were mean and spiteful and bad.  So it was a difficult dance to perform at school – I wanted to have friends, but I also knew that the kids I wanted to hang around with were prone to taking the piss out of the religious, and it made me feel really small.  Even though I didn’t believe in it, there was a feeling of “wrongness”, like these words were a personal attack on me.  In these situations I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they would stop, and (please, please, please!) not turn their attention on me.  Not having anywhere to turn while trying to leave religion behind was so awkward for me.  I wish that I’d discovered atheist groups before my thirties, my formative years could have been so much more enjoyable.

In my late teens, a family friend encouraged me to get confirmed.  By this point in my life I was unsure how I felt about religion, but it was something that we just “did”, so I went along with it.  Unfortunately this then imposed all kinds of expectations on me, that I would attend church more regularly, that I would take communion (I felt so uncomfortable about this – like I had been coerced into a ceremony I felt no connection to), that I would live my life in a certain way, and most insidiously that I would “find some new friends”.  I toed the line up until the first opportunity arose that gave me a chance to leave, which was going to university shortly after I had turned 18.  My parents were dead against it (it’s a dangerous world, there are all sorts of bad influences out there, etc, etc), but I already had a reputation for being headstrong (I wasn’t really, I was just normal, but my parents didn’t want to have to deal with “normal”).

So by the time I arrived at uni almost 20 years ago (I know!), I was simultaneously glad to be free, and quite fearful of the myriad opportunities for transgression that were available pretty much as soon as I was left alone in a strange city for 5 minutes.  I wasn’t good at making safe choices, or controlling my impulses, because I’d never been allowed to make mistakes as a child.  Religion may well keep its adherents on the straight and narrow, but only because it prevents them from figuring things out for themselves.  Take someone out of that environment, and they have a LOT of catching up to do.  I was all sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, and very little study.  I learnt so much about myself that first year away, but I did it the hard way.  I made all my social mistakes at once, and got myself into some rather sticky situations that I found it difficult to extricate myself from.  I discovered that left alone to develop my own morals and beliefs, I was becoming quite a different person to what my parents had told me I was.  My year 1 flatmates didn’t really like me, and one of the reasons we didn’t get on was that I just wasn’t at the same stage of development as them.  I went it alone a lot of the time, and didn’t always reach the healthiest conclusions.  I would never have wanted to admit at the time that I was vulnerable, but I was.  I wasn’t self-aware or resilient enough – if I had been, I’d have dropped religion a lot sooner.

By this time religion was just something that one did, I certainly didn’t feel an attachment, or find meaning in any of it.  There had been times in my teens when I had enjoyed the collective euphoria of a religious service, or the community aspect, but I never really believed it.  I assumed that other people at church must have felt the same way, but I’ve since met many people of whom it is clear that they really do believe (I try to understand their views, but it’s almost like the “religion” part of my mind doesn’t really work.  The “philosophy” part, however….).  I wonder if the first red flag occurred with Santa Claus.  See, I hear of many stories when someone first realised that Santa wasn’t real.  Well, I don’t have that memory.  Santa was spoken of in our house, I was told the stories about him delivering all the presents on 24th December and sneaking in down the chimney to drop them off, and many of my Christmas presents were “From Santa”.  But even my 4- or 5-year-old self knew it was a crock of shit.  I clearly remember knowing while that age that Santa was just a story.  As was the tooth fairy.  But the thing to do was to play along because it was kind of fun, and involved getting presents.  This could well have laid the foundations for my shallow acceptance of religion growing up.  I knew that with non-religious peers and adults, I could do and say one thing, and with my family or at church I must do another.  It was complicated by the overtly religious nature of my schooling, because the lines between religious instruction and the real world were blurred.  I had to discern which role to play in which circumstance, so while I lacked some social skills, I became very good at reading people’s intentions.  I also knew how to give people what they wanted, which became dangerous as I also learnt that I should always please others.  That’s a hard one to shake, and I’ve still not really got there.

One thing that I really struggled with was that adults who knew the family, even if they weren’t religious themselves, had expectations of me being religious.  I had to act out scenes which I really didn’t believe in.  It felt hypocritical.  I felt uncomfortable going through the motions, because I knew it wasn’t me, but I also couldn’t tell my parents how I felt – they totally lost it if I repeated a religious joke, so telling them I thought it was bullshit was probably not going to go down well.

So I was away from home, feeling gratitude that I could live my life the way I wanted, but also still holding on to some “god-fearing” beliefs.  To this day, I have anxiety about taking the Lord’s name in vain, even though I know it’s entirely inconsequential.  It’s like I retained all the bad bits and lost any good bits from religion (fortunately there aren’t that many).  Over the years my confidence grew, and I’m a lot more outspoken about my beliefs.  I also don’t put up with other people’s false assumptions about me.  I only wish I’d managed this quicker than I did.

I used to hold some really objectionable opinions that were completely baseless when I actually thought about them logically (for example, I inherited – and subsequently disinherited – homophobia from my parents, while also knowing that it was a stupid and harmful belief.  That’s cognitive dissonance for you!).  And that was one thing that changed in my mindset – I had no problem logically seeing that the religion itself was a fantasy, but the baggage that came with it went unquestioned until I was out of the bubble.  Deconstructing these beliefs and opinions also took time, but it was a necessary process.  My politics and views on oppressed minorities are so changed that my personality is unrecognisable now, and I cringe at some of the views I held up to be true.

Actually leaving religion – that was the hard bit.  I had no resources to safely get away, or to prevent well-meaning family from trying to rein me back in.  Leaving home was the only way that I could do it, and it had to be far away.  Living just down the road would not have been enough distance.  It’s one thing that makes me wary when people mock the religious: like at school, when kids from the more enlightened families would poke fun at religion.  I shared their views, but I could also tell that they saw me as one of the religious types.  The joke kept me in my place.  Having met many people who’ve desperately searched for a way out, I exercise caution in this respect.  Sure, it’s one thing to ridicule from afar, but how many closet atheists are we preventing from finding freedom?  We have to be welcoming to those who retain their faith, to those who question it, and to those who we have no idea of their intentions.  Leaving religion is a journey, and there’s no set course.  Assumptions harm, and as skeptics we should be especially wary.

HOW ARE YOU TODAY – THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE PART 5

 

Another post about language, but not in the manner of previous posts. I won’t be spouting poetry, or analysing turns-of-phrase. This is about communication, connection, and companionship. I’ve written before about Manchester’s homelessness problem (let me stress here that it is not the homeless that are the problem, it’s homelessness), which is something that us everyday folk decide to not engage with every day.

I cross the city centre every day.  I live here, I work here, I go to the shops here, I study here, go to the gym here, go for a midnight walk here (more to follow on this seemingly controversial matter), live out my whole existence here.

At first, like so many other new Mancunians, I just accepted homelessness as an unfortunate consequence of living in a large city.  But as the years passed, the economy dwindled, and the political climate became harsher; and it became more noticeable.  Today, you cannot avoid it.  No amount of averting one’s eyes can hide the fact that we have a monumental level of homelessness in our city.

An integral part of the problem is the social deprivation that breeds the disillusion, unemployment, addiction, poor health, and non-participation that makes one more likely to become homeless. We cannot solve the rampant social malaise by putting a roof over people’s heads, but the preferred course of action is currently “do nothing”, which doesn’t seem to be fixing those problems either.

Anyway, back to language. I went off on that particular tangent to illustrate that homelessness is everywhere and most people don’t seem to give a toss about it (yep, sounds harsh, but if you can find any evidence to the contrary, I’d love to hear it – I’m not holding my breath). From my point of view, I do care, but I feel powerless to do anything. The structure of our society isn’t conducive to benevolence (I’m expecting John Galt to stroll in any day now), and as I said in my last post on homelessness, I would bankrupt myself if I gave just a tiny amount to each of the needy. So what then? Who gets my spare change? On what criteria should I pick and choose who deserves a meal or a bed tonight? No matter what choice I make, someone is screwed.

And because I can’t give to everyone, I apologise a great number of times per day to those doing the asking.  And things started to happen.  Often, I’d walk past someone, apologise, and be on my way.  But I’d receive acknowledgement, and a word of thanks, or wishing me a good night (I have NEVER had a bad experience with a homeless person in my decade-and-a-half here; the thousands of society’s leftovers that I’ve encountered are just trying to get on, like the rest of us).  And then one time in Piccadilly Gardens, a particularly persistent gentleman accosted me for more than the usual two seconds, and he told me a little of his story.  I listened and chatted for a few minutes, and as we parted, he thanked me for speaking with him.  “Most people wouldn’t” he said; and I don’t doubt that.

Nowadays, I give not just my spare change, but my spare time.  I’ll take a couple of minutes to sit and talk with homeless people.  I’ve learnt so much about other humans – many stories are tragic, but many are fascinating, and delightful.  The elderly man who carries all his possessions in two shopping trolleys and some carrier bags?  He was a historian.  The dreadlocked Big Issue seller I met in Cambridge?  He was a graduate of the University.  Everyone has a story to tell, and no-ones is worth more or less than anyone else’s. When we walk on past beggars without even looking them in the eye, we reinforce the idea that they are “other”.  I don’t always have money to give, but just a little human contact and a few words can make the difference between feeling human, and feeling cast aside.

 

THIRD-PERSON SINGULAR “THEY” – THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE PART 4

 

I’m not going to touch on the “correctness” of the use of “they” as a preferred pronoun – I enjoy arguments over prescriptive vs. descriptive use of language, but that’s been done elsewhere.

I want to talk about why the use of “they” to describe an individual (in a gender-neutral sense) has practical uses for everyone; it’s not just useful for trans* and non-binary individuals. That’s not an apology – when we recognise rights for a minority, the change often improves things for everyone.

Scenarios in which third-person singular “they” has its uses:

Number One

So, there’s the obvious reason of “they” being fairly inoffensive if you’re ‘not sure’ of someone’s gender identity (it’s a balancing act between asking and waiting to be told, sometimes – none of us are perfect, and we sometimes find ourselves in social situations that we have no clue how to navigate). It’s better to be vague than wrong in my book.

Number Two

In my work, I deal with colleagues and collaborators from all over the world. Plenty of these people have names that I’ve never encountered before. And the rules that divide names into “masculine” and “feminine” in English don’t necessarily apply elsewhere. Sometimes you just don’t know – especially if you’ve not met yet, or have only ever communicated by email. In this situation, I again go for ambiguity over misgendering – it saves a lot of embarrassment.

Number Three

Now it’s time to get political. Third-person singular “they” is useful for eliminating the default designation of a professional as male. In my line of work, we will talk about “the architect”, “the builder”, “the electrician”, etc, without knowing the individual we’re describing (maybe they’ve not yet been appointed, perhaps we’ve not dealt with them until now for contractual reasons, perhaps we’re talking about a profession in general terms). Trouble is, there’s often a default to male, which

  1. Feeds into the perception that there are “male jobs” and “female jobs”, which belongs in the 1950s;
  2. Is wrong more often than our use of language implies, e.g.

“when you saw the nurse today, what did she say about your [insert embarrassing bodily ailment here]?”

“Er, HE said to put this cream on it and come back in two weeks.”

Number Four

Just, why not? Seeing as we’ve already established that it’s not grammatically heinous (to most of us), we could use it in far more interactions than we presently do. No reason why you couldn’t interchange “he” and “she” with “they” – unless the person you’re describing has expressly said that they (um,) do not want this. We might find its use becoming more commonplace as we step away from the use of pronouns at all (in our work email signatures, and those of many firms, honorifics are omitted completely, and sometimes post-nominals too). Tom Scott has produced a video on this, in the link below. He does a load of other stuff on language and esoteric knowledge – you should check out some of his other stuff if you have the time.

None of us know what the future holds, and we don’t know if there will be a rise in gender non-conformity or an abolition of gender. But what we do know is that we can find ways to address people without putting our foot in our mouth.

 

I DIDN’T NEED TO KNOW – THE BEAUTY OF LANGUAGE PART 3

 

Another poem written by my friend Jenna.  It’s about dating as a trans woman, and in her words, dedicated to “all the guys who decided to blurt out their sexual preference on discovering I used to have a penis”:

I Didn’t Need To Know

You walked up to me, eyes so bright,
Said your name was Bradlee and asked if I was alright.
I smiled right back and perked up at the convo,

Knew where this would end, but’d been drinking on my own, so,
I answered all your questions, even those that seemed quite personal,
I figured “what the heck, this life is ultimately terminal!”

You asked if I had kids, I said “No, but one day maybe,
I’d like a son and daughter, but I can’t carry a baby!”.
The look you gave me, it was pity and you reassured,
“Don’t worry, there are stem cell trials – many illnesses’ll get cured!”

I thought right then “It hasn’t clicked, he doesn’t know my story,
This is where I scare him off, by getting super gory.”
Instead of describing the state of my axewound, I decided to lay it on gently,
I told you I used to be a boy, in an instant you spoke to me differently.

“I’m not into men, not gay, don’t like cock,
It’s a shame you’re not a woman, I’d be hard as a rock.”
You laughed and grinned nervously, exited silently,
leaving me feeling non-human, unsurprisingly.

I didn’t need to know, that you didn’t want a blow, from this ex ho, on your down-below.
I didn’t need to know, that your penis lost it’s flow, when you thought about my past sperm-filled pants-arrow.
I didn’t need to know, that you thought of me as a sideshow, or a game show joke prize that nobody wants, though.

I didn’t need to know, but remember for next time, I may be a freak to you, but I’m not after your white slime.
I was flattered by the attention, enjoying the conversation, now I’m sat here all alone, waiting for the bus at the station.

Whenever this happens, it reinforces the lie, that all men who speak to me, just want to stroke my inner thigh.
It makes me reclusive, afraid to converse, makes me feel like existence is more of a curse.
Please be kind and remember, whatever your dick bites, I don’t need to know, I’m a person, not a fleshlight.

The end