Tug of War: Sex, Pronouns, Forenames and Gender
Jane spotted Andrew walking towards her and realised they had not seen each other since the good news. Her bump gave it away. "Congratulations! Do you know which sex it is?" he said. "James and I are expecting a boy," replied Jane. "That’s wonderful! What are you going to call him?"
This fictional encounter illustrates the relationships between sex, personal pronouns and forenames (we are concerned with third-person pronouns only – He/ Him/His and She/Her/Hers): it may seem impersonal for Andrew to have initially referred to the child as "it", but he used that word only because he did not yet know the child’s sex. On learning the child was male, Andrew referred to the child as "him", because third-person pronouns are those words through which we refer to a person via that person’s sex. Given that personal pronouns flow out of sexual difference, and given that nobody can change sex, personal pronouns track a person for the whole of his or her life. Our sex is gifted to us by God at conception; our pronouns are given to us by virtue of the relationship between sexual difference and language; and our forename is chosen.
Unlike pronouns, which derive their content from sexual difference, forenames have no inherent sexed content. Rather, their content is derived through socio-cultural association: the name Andrew translates as manly, but we cannot say Andrew is a male name – we can say only that it is a male-associated name. It cannot be wrong for Andrew to change his name to, say, Andrea. Indeed if Andrea travels to Italy his name becomes male-associated again. In contrast it is always wrong to refer to Andrew/Andrea through female pronouns, because to do so would be to act against the proper nature of the relationship between sexual difference and language.
Gender or sex, not gender and sex
All of this is apparent to most people but things become obscured when we enter the realm of the ideology named Gender, because Gender claims we have something called a gender identity, which is subjective (yet fundamental?) and defined without reference to sexual identity. For our purposes it is not necessary to define what a gender identity is, beyond saying it is not a sexual identity. What we do know is this: Gender says that if Andrew claims to in some way feel female he can denote the feeling through a word, and the word is… "female". Of all the words to choose from or invent, "female" is the exact wrong one because one word then denotes both being female (sex/body) and feeling female (Gender/mind). Gender has surreptitiously helped itself to the language of the body, using words such as "boy" and "woman" to signify a mere state of mind. This usurpation of the body’s language exposes how Gender relates to sex: with the language of sexual identity now being used to describe states of mind, we have two distinct and contradicting concepts sharing one set of words, but we do not have, say, two sets of loos – a Ladies (sex) and a Ladies (gender) – or two legal definitions of the word "female".
Law and identity
Rather than running parallel to sexual identity, Gender has replaced sex in law and is attempting to replace it linguistically too. To embrace the ideology is to do far more than downgrade the significance of the body: the ideology amounts to an active legal denial of sexual identity. Sex and Gender, then, are mutually exclusive. There can be no peaceful co-existence. It is as though they are the two teams in a tug of war, with the weight of reality holding firm at one end and the weight of law straining itself at the other. At the left-hand end of the rope is sex; at the right-hand end is Gender; and in the centre are forenames. Personal pronouns are left-of-centre because they belong to the body. Gender wants to pull pronouns over to its side, leaving the body speechless.
Looking down the rope from a sex perspective we see sex, then personal pronouns anchored to the body, and then forenames – the body (objectivity) gives rise to forenames (subjectivity). But, from a Gender perspective, we see gender identity, then forenames, and then personal pronouns. One way to see the problem with the Gender perspective is to think of what it means for somebody to change his or her forename. If Andrew changes his name to Andre, he tells the world "I have a new forename despite being the same person." If Andrew instead changes his name to Andrea, he almost certainly chooses that name on the basis that he wishes to be thought of as female – new name because new person. But his sex has not changed so his pronouns have not either
Gender identities cannot have personal pronouns for the same reason that ages and skin colours cannot, namely that sexes do have pronouns. Yet proponents of the ideology insist that we refer to Andrew/Andrea through female pronouns – "Andrea is a female name; my name is Andrea; therefore I am female." Thus the claim is that there is an objective link between forenames and personal pronouns. By extension, the claim is that gender identity (subjectivity) can give rise to objectivity. Gender says Andrea is a female-gendered name.
Invisibility or revelation
Out of respect for sexual difference a member of the male sex should always be referred to through male pronouns. To do otherwise would be to sever the link between his body and language, thereby rendering his body linguistically invisible. We would be talking about somebody without referring to some body. We are being asked to turn our back on the body; to shroud it in silence. In the same way that a mannequin gives its clothes their shape, it is sexual difference which gives personal language its shape. If we click our fingers and make the mannequin’s clothes vanish, the mannequin retains its shape; whereas if, instead, we make the mannequin vanish, its clothes fall to the ground in a heap. The ideology named Gender clothes itself in the language of the body but underneath the clothes there is no body. The clothes are wearing no Emperor.
Words such as "son" and "wife" are in danger of falling to the ground. Concepts such as sexual orientation and gender identity catapult huge stones into the pool of language, kicking up its surface and causing waves to spread outwards. The people best situated to ride the waves will be those who are most able to attach themselves firmly to reality through language. We must proclaim the stillness of language.
A red-line issue
For this reason, proper pronoun usage has to be considered a red-line issue: if we allow pronouns to be pulled off of the body, we leave ourselves with no set of words through which to recognise, reveal and respect sexual difference. It is difference which allows us to know the nature of things: sexual difference allows Andrew/Andrea to know he is male by allowing him to know there is something he cannot be – female. If instead we can choose who we are, there is nothing we cannot be. How, then, can we know who we are?
We cannot declare male and female to be interchangeable and also retain the language of their differences. We either defend God-given fixed sexual identity (and in doing so allow ourselves to continue to use sexed language), or we accept mind-based fluid gender identity, leading to gender-neutral (de-sexed) language. When words which flow out of the body’s nature start to vanish it is a sign that something has gone terribly wrong.
When confronting Gender, the key, always, is to point to sexual difference. If Andrew changes his name to Andrea and insists on being referred to through female personal pronouns, it is not necessary to argue whether he is or is not female. We can instead point to what Andrew/Andrea cannot be some body: given that there are two sexes, we need two names to denote sexual difference; given that Andrew/Andrea cannot change sex he cannot not be the sex he is; given that his sex is named "male", he cannot not be male.
Human capacity for knowledge
We may have been disembodied in law but in reality the body is still here. Sexual identity has God-given authority whereas gender identity can appeal to no authority bar the human mind. Cats will never come to believe they are dogs, because cats cannot come to know themselves to be cats. Only the human person has the capacity to know he is what he is. It is in our nature to know the nature of things, and therefore to know the nature of the thing we are. This, of course, means that only the human person has the capacity to misunderstand his own nature and to believe he is not what he is.
As though by magic, the difference between Gender and sex serves a purpose: in confronting us with what we are not – homogenised states of mind – the ideology named Gender points us back towards the nature of sexual identity, sexual difference, language, and knowledge itself. The body is a mysterious fact, but a fact nonetheless.
Daniel Moody is an independent philosopher from Dorset, England, specialising in the ideology named Gender. He is the author of The Flesh Made Word and he blogs at gentlemind.blogspot.co.uk