Since the issue of “transgender pronouns” comes up here so often, it was refreshing to see a rather civil discussion of what’s turned into a contentious and frequently abusive debate picked up by David French at National Review. In it, he covers some of the typical problems encountered by people who prefer a more scientific approach to the question when they are confronted (or more often verbally assaulted) by enraged Social Justice Warriors. After detailing the response to a recent article he penned regarding Chelsea Manning’s crimes while in the Army (where he referred to Manning as “he” the same way I do), David points out that there is no level of uncivil discourse over the question of pronouns which can hold a candle to the real danger, which is when the government gets involved.

[T]he furious sentiments of transgender activists are making their way into law. For example, in New York City the government will punish employers, landlords, businesses, and professionals who use the “wrong” pronoun. Here’s how the New York City Human Rights Commission describes a “violation” of its human-rights law:

Refusal to use an individual’s preferred name, pronoun, or title because they do not conform to gender stereotypes. For example, calling a woman “Mr.” because her appearance is aligned with traditional gender-based stereotypes of masculinity.

Even worse, the Obama administration put the issue of pronouns front and center in every federally funded educational institution in the United States. It issued guidance (since repealed, though the issue is far from resolved) containing clear language mandates

Any language mandate by the government not involving yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater is not only immediately problematic, but has already been covered by the Supreme Court. French reminds us of the case of West Virginia v. Barnette, where the court held as follows:

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

The fact is that the entire idea of transgender identity is not “settled” as liberals are fond of saying in other debates. The medical community is not of one mind on it at all, and the public most certainly is not. As such, attempting to force someone to use pronouns which would imply agreement with the speaker is offensive both personally and legally. But again, it’s worth remembering that this is all a matter of choice on the part of both parties.

As I’ve discussed here in the past, I currently refer to Chelsea Manning using male pronouns because absent any previously withheld evidence of chromosomal abnormalities (such as intersex status) Manning is and always has been a male. But even I make exceptions, particularly because I have both family members and acquaintances who fall into the same category. I made the decision some time ago that simply dressing differently or even taking unnatural hormone treatments which alter your appearance does not change your gender and I feel under no obligation to refer to you as the opposite gender. But when people go so far as to have transitional surgery and get their important bits lopped off or modified, I’m willing to switch pronouns. Manning has not as yet done this. And it’s not as if I believe that actually turns a man into a woman, but if you’re willing to go to that level of extreme action, I’m willing to relent and toss you a pronoun. David French may feel differently and still stick with the original and scientifically accurate pronoun and I wouldn’t criticize him for it. As I said… it’s a choice on the part of the speaker.

But the point where I’m confident both French and I agree is that the choice in question should be made by the individual, not the government. When it turns into a mandate from on high with civil or criminal penalties attached, the game has changed radically for the worse. I’ll close with one last quote from David which ties the two concepts together nicely.

In the secular faith of the illiberal Left, pronoun mandates have become the equivalent of blasphemy codes. On this most contentious of issues, one must use approved language and protect the most delicate of sensibilities. It’s bad enough to see this mindset work itself through Twitter or in shouted arguments on the quad. When it makes its way into law, then intolerance moves from irritation into censorship. It’s identity politics as oppression, and it’s infecting American debate. May it not corrupt American law.