We live in a rapidly changing world. What the average person finds to be moral and immoral is very different than it was in 1997 or even in 2007. The standards by which many people determine what is polite and what is rude have changed. The definitions of what is considered “bigotry” and what is considered “acceptance” are far different than just a few years ago.
Just imagine if I were running for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives (don't worry - I'm not even tempted to do that) and imagine I said these words on the campaign trail:
“I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. For me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union - God is in the mix.”
I'm pretty sure I'd be called a right-wing religious extremist who wants to take away the human rights of LGBTQ+ people! However, that is a quote from Barack Obama in 2008. He said it to Rick Warren on national television and got elected president shortly thereafter.
So, as I said, we live in a rapidly changing world.
It is because of this that I am guessing there are some of you who are having to deal with what to do about the new push for referring to people based on their requested pronouns. I'd assume some of you probably work for employers who have some kind of policy on this. I was recently involved with an organization that does.
Well, I am not trying to claim to have all the answers or even to have the absolute perfect way to handle this issue. But I did recently have to communicate my position on this issue, and I figured (in case it might be helpful to some of you) I'd share it with you:
WHAT I AM GOOD WITH:
1. TREATING EVERYONE WITH KINDNESS.
I am to love my neighbor as myself. I love my Christian neighbor, my Buddhist neighbor, my atheist neighbor, my lesbian neighbor, my transgender neighbor, my Democrat neighbor, and my Republican neighbor.
2. USING A PERSON'S PREFERRED NAME.
I don't think names are objective categories like male and female. If a person with a beard told me that his name was “Lacey,” I would call him by that name.
3. USING THE WORD "THEY" and “THEIR.”
They/their are generic words. They don't assign a sex to their objects. If someone had forgotten a jacket in the church building one day, most people would say, "someone left their jacket behind." In that case, they would be referring to only one person, and they would not be specifying a sex. Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with that.
4. PEOPLE DISAGREEING WITH ME ON THIS ISSUE.
I don't expect everyone to see things my way, and as a general rule, I don't ever try to force people to do things they don't believe in.
WHAT I AM NOT GOOD WITH:
1. USING A GENDER-SPECIFIC PRONOUN THAT DOESN'T MATCH SOMEONE'S OBVIOUS SEX.
I would not look at a person with obvious female characteristics and refer to that person as a "him." To me, that would be lying. (Similarly, I would not call an anorexic person "fat." It wouldn't matter that they see themselves as fat. If I did not believe that they were fat, I wouldn't say that they were.)
2. KEEPING SECRETS ABOUT CHILDREN FROM THEIR PARENTS.
If I were working with children, I wouldn't use one set of pronouns around a child when their parents were around, and a different set when their parents were gone. This is not how I (as a parent) would want to be treated.
3. ASKING SOMEONE WHAT THEIR PREFERRED PRONOUNS ARE.
I think asking that question implies that a person can choose which sex they are. I don't believe that is possible. So, again, it would feel like a “lie” to ask this.
Maybe these will be helpful to you. And perhaps you'll be in a situation where you'll need to do something a little different than what I've outlined above. For instance, I can imagine a situation where someone is teaching a class of students where one of them identifies as transgender. And perhaps in that case, using they/their pronouns for every single child in the classroom might be the best way to handle it. However, I can also imagine someone else who has a daughter who just started identifying as “nonbinary,” and perhaps in that case, the use of “they/their” might be a concession that could undermine the worldview that you are trying to communicate to her.
Nonetheless, I submit these to you as ways that you can use to treat people with both kindness and truthfulness. I hope this helps someone.