Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Conversations With Ben #18: Pronouns

Rol: I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but The Evil Workplace is now telling everyone to include their pronouns on their email signature. Tell me why this isn't utter bollocks and I promise not to argue... too much.

Ben: You have mentioned it before, and by forcing people to so it, they are grossly missing the point of it. As someone who is straight and identifying with the gender we were born with, I am in a position of luxury to really not give a shit what people label me as. However there are those for whom this is a big deal and the misgendering of them is a painful reminder of the structures that deny them their identity. By forcing everyone to do it, it brings it to the fore and highlights it as never before.

OK, but if the only people who do it are people who need to do it (i.e. transgender folk), then surely that just highlights their difference?

Well, that's the interesting thing: no.

There's landmark research on the history of sexuality and particularly anything that's not vanilla, lay back and think of England sex.

And the Victorians, despite being so prudish, were the ones that spread sexual deviance (deviance as in deviation from the vanilla) because of their strict approach to it.

It's no mistake that teen pregnancy rises during periods of proposed abstinence and lack of sex ed.

By forcing it, there is often a reaction that is negative which can have a drastically bad impact.

So you get the alt-right joke of "I associate as an attack helicopter".

And the false belief that "they are trying to take over and convert everyone" when the policies are introduced by what we'd term white knights.

Bloody do-gooders. Meddling!

But really, at the core of it is the fact that for the first time in history, this group of marginalised people are within reach of being recognised in a way that doesn't make them feel like an unnatural aberration. I don't give a shit what pronouns you use for me, I'm not precious, but I will defend to the end the right of my colleagues and fellow human beings to offer a simple way to say 'hey, in my heart of hearts, I'm not really a girl, so please don't call me those pronouns as it makes me feel uncomfortable' or 'hey, I'm kinda confused because I don't really feel like I'm male or female and we have to think about the world in such binary terms, can you just refer to me with ungendered pronouns?'

Fair enough. I don't disagree with any of that if it's coming from the individual in question. It becomes a matter of personal choice. But I still think there should be a better non-binary pronoun than they or them, because to me, that's akin to saying "that lot". I know they've tried to come up with alternatives, but none of them seem to catch on... possibly because they all sound a bit sci fi. (Xe, Ze)

And as an English teacher you should appreciate how unfathomable it is to be in a position with language where we're trying to force something new to accommodate this group. Language doesn't work like that, it naturally evolves. So a third person pronoun is the best we have without it sounding incredulous like you say.

Yes, but I also know the power of inference. And "them" is the most inference-packed pronoun.

Maybe so, but it's also the rare ones in our language that isn't gendered. So it's functional rather than preferential.

Maybe all pronouns are inference-packed. "Who's she? The cat's mother?"

That's it. But they/them is more natural than forcing xe etc.

But returning to your original question: forcing everyone to put their preferred pronouns in their signature is akin to saying All Lives Matter, even if there's a more positive intention.

If people wish to ally and do want to put theirs in if they are cisgender, then cool. But making it the necessary base is wrong.

I think it's this sort of forced pc-ness that has led to the rise of Incels, the strengthening of the extreme right, and Tom Hanks's son.

The Incel thing is a massively complex thing. I think you're right in the sense that its a final break point for them, but a great deal of it is the loss of the traditional (I say traditional but really it's a 20th century invention) role of masculinity. 

"I go get a stable 9-5 job. I quit Friday. I walk into a new one Monday morning. Sorted. I get a girl at 18 because it's what's done. House bought and paid for and settle down." 

Now that world of work hasn't existed for a while. That, compounded with the ideology of the alpha male on the right, leads them to become very bitter and kick out.

But now they've got a label. I was involuntarily celibate for most of my 20s. I didn't self-identify as an incel. I was just a loser.

But the key thing with an Incel is that "it's everyone's fault but mine".

Oh. I wasn't an incel then. I knew it was my fault I was a loser. Still do.

I've had Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool in my head for about a week now.

Not Daddy Cool by Boney M?

Nah. I'm all disco'd out. I went on a massive Parliament and Funkadelic binge a few weeks ago. All I listened to from waking up til end of work. For about 8 days.

I wouldn't really class that as disco.

That funky jive stuff.

This week's quiz includes... John Grant, Saint Etienne, Hoodoo Gurus, Madness, Waterboys, Drive-By Truckers, Lady Gaga and the Eagles.


They're all fans of the song Eagle Rock by Daddy Cool.

Apart from that.

What's the Eagles song? I make a point of never listening to them. Just give me Jackson Browne instead.

James Dean

Ahh... Even their song titles are unimaginative.

I'll only allow you to diss the Eagles because the Dude hates them too.

The Eagles are very close to muzak.

Once again, you are displaying your ignorance.

Even when given great songs by Mr Waits and Browne, they somehow manage to make it less interesting than Dulux Vanilla Burst.

It's cool to dump on the Eagles in the same way it was cool to dump on Dire Straits. People hate them because they were successful.

Dire Straights are great. Knopfler is a brilliant guitarist.

Some joiners use an Eagles record as a spirit level due to how MoR it is.

That doesn't even make sense. Why would a spirit level be in the middle of the road?

The joke is in there somewhere.

Needs more work.

I'll give it to a comedian one day.

I won't have a word said against Don Henley.

And Joe Walsh ran for president, against Reagan. That alone makes the Eagles cool.

Still a shit band.


It's spelt Palestine.

I've told you. There are only two truly shit bands. Everyone else deserves a listen.


And Oasis.

OK, three.

Although to be fair, I saw Coldplay live, very early in their career, when they were supporting Muse (free tickets) and they were far more entertaining than the main act.

I broke up with a girl at uni because she said Coldplay were her favourite band. I'm not that fussed about music choices, but when you say that, it's either that you despise music or you have no interest in it. Either way, incompatible with me.

You still haven't identified my Number 1 irredeemable shit band.

Mr Blobby?

The Tweenies?

I'd rather listen to either of them than this lot.

Is it a band from the landfill indie era?

No. It's the biggest band in the world ever. (Not the Beatles.)

Are you sure it's not The Eagles?

I can't believe this is so difficult for you.

Well, I know Shakira is one of the best selling artists of all time...

Their lead singer is an *expletive deleted*.

The Smiths?


As in, he thinks he is.

The Jesus & Mary Chain?

You are doing this on purpose now to wind me up.

Am I?

You know perfectly well who I'm talking about.

...I sometimes have nightmares about that video where The Edge has feet in his face. And Bono leans in to whisper sweet nothings in his ear...

I try to never watch their videos. Or listen to their songs.

It was during the Zooropa period, which was a low, even for them.


  1. Night of the Thumpasorus Peoples:

    "Gaga googa ga ga googa
    Ga ga goo ga ga

    Sheer musical brilliance.


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