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How They/Them Hurts
Multiple people have been tripped up by my claims in a recent post that “demanding that people call you by incorrect pronouns counts as bullying and harassment.” This is in answer to that.
I went through a lot of titles for this one before settling on “How They/Them Hurts.” The all started with “How They/Them Hurts” but they had different endings.
“How They/Them Hurts Good People With Bad Brains”
“How They/Them Hurts The Neurodivergent”
“How They/Them Hurts The Marginalized”
“How They/Them Hurts The Hurting”
There is a trend here, besides the names getting shorted until the shortest won. This is the story of a non-typical brain architecture. Sometimes it’s called a pathology or a disorder, but I much prefer just “bad brain” because I don’t want my brain medicalized. Making it a medical thing may encourage people to drug it into becoming more typical, and I prefer to just have it be bad in this way. I have a bad laptop too, but it works well enough for me and I don’t want to change it.1
1. Moral Scrupulosity
I think of this Brain Thing as caring strongly about not lying. But apparently it’s one of the variants of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, according to some fancy lab-coat-wearing MFers. “Moral Scrupulosity OCD” (Ten thousand EA’s just sneezed). Symptoms include “pathological guilt, obsession associated with moral or religious issues, over-responsibility for others, fear of offending others, etc”
Let’s play You Might Be Scrupulous If
You Might Be Scrupulous If:
You sincerely believe that “When you say, “This is not my responsibility,” all you really mean is, “I am not willing to do anything to make this turn out right.”” is a literally true statement in all situations, and applies to things like people being murdered in the next city over, or people ruining their lives with drugs and alcohol, or being not having enough to eat at any time and in any place on earth. And you accept that this is true about yourself in 99.99% of situations, because you literally aren’t doing anything to correct those problems right now.
You believe that the optimal society is one of complete transparency, wherein anyone can see anything that anyone is doing at any time, both live-streaming and recordings of the past, and this would solve most of the world’s non-resource-dependent problems. To the point that one had to be convinced that the NSA gathering every bit of information about everyone was net bad (and that this is primarily because they don’t release it).
If you always feel guilty when you’re not working. And you feel equally guilty when what you’re working on is creating art, because what you’re doing is creating a drug. One of your favorite essays is the one that reminds you that reading is harmful and authors are drug pushers.
You constantly doubt your own goodness, and always believe people who think badly of you may have a point, so you should take their criticism seriously and engage them in good faith.
You have a mild crisis about returning shopping carts.
Lying hurts. Even white lies. You tried, and still long for, Radical Honesty
2. Compulsive Honesty
The big one for the purposes of this post is Compulsive Honesty.
Scrupulous people really hate the feeling of lying. Hate it! We do it, of course, sometimes. You can’t avoid it. But even white lies feel really bad.
In fact, white lies often feel extra bad, because you are stuck either telling a lie (bad!) or hurting someone you care about (also bad!). Which one is worse? It’s very hard to tell! Generally we err on the side of white lies, because those are socially approved of.
There are, however, some lies that are too big to swallow. Lies like “God exists and loves us.” Those lies must be expelled even at great personal cost.
There are lies that are smaller than the God lie, but that are still a source of significant pain. To quote myself:
When I was young and my brain was being molded, the language parts of my brain were hooked up to the sex-recognition parts of my brain via methods that have been refined through cultural evolution to hook those two parts together very strongly. And it took.
When one insists others use pronouns that contradict with the one’s sexual presentation, I am required to overrule my own lying eyes and instead use arbitrary terms picked by that person. It feels like I am being told there are five lights every single time. Last time it was my church and parents who were telling me there were five lights. Now it’s my friends. :( I am being forced to lie every time I speak of them, and I despise it.
I’m not unique in this. I’ve spoken with others that have the same problem. It’s a maddening jabbing in your heart. It’s having a brain sitting on your shoulder screaming ‘THAT’S A WOMAN’ or ‘THAT’S A MAN’ into your ear. It’s the feeling you get when you realize you have to make a car payment of $200 and you need to refill your drug prescriptions for $150, and you only have $220 in the bank, and it’s 13 days until payday. Every. Single. Time. that you have to refer to the person.2
3. Comparative Pain Studies
Here’s the thing. This pain is bearable. We bear it often. In addition to this, I understand that trans people also feel pain. They live with the pain of being in the wrong bodies every day. They deal with the pain of hormone injections, surgeries, and slowly reshaping their bodies in a long awkward process. And if there’s one thing scrupulous people are good at, it’s bearing pain for the greater good.
Therefore, most scrupulous people who feel pain at mis-matching pronouns will nevertheless use them in almost all cases. We want to not cause pain to others. It’s Moral Scrupulosity OCD’s whole thing. Especially when the people whose pain we’re preventing are our friends and family.
And indeed, not all scrupulous-honesty pain is the same! The less something feels like lying, the less painful it is. The absolute easiest case scenario is someone who is literally just a man-ish woman or effeminate man, who was mis-classified at first observation. They just say “I’m actually X.” There is a great deal of embarrassment and apologizing. But the mental model is updated very rapidly, and the switch to using correct pronouns can be painless nearly instantly.
A little harder can be people with hormonal or genetic disorders. My unconscious categorization software will often continue throwing errors for some time, and it can take a period of sustained effort to correct for it. Like when you meet someone with a facial deformity, and you have to try very hard not to look at it for the first dozen-ish hours that you spend around them. Eventually it fades to the background, and the brain accepts the correction, but it takes effort and a long period of discomfort. Again, absolutely worth it to make someone’s life easier. Especially because it’s not something they can control, they got fucked by life.
The non-passing trans person that is still going through transition is harder. The error flags never fully stop until the transition is succesful. But… part of a successful transition is encouraging your friends. When someone is of ambiguous sex, one of the cues that helps strangers with categorization is how other people refer to them. Eventually it won’t be a lie to use the currently the “wrong” pronoun, so it’s less bad to start using it early.
These are the things you tell your brain. They make it easier to push through the feeling of lying. It’s for the greater good.
And heck, some of those people are kind enough to allow (or prefer!) the use of Ambiguous They. This helps greatly with alleviating the pain of feeling like I am lying, because I’ve already internalized it as a truthful way to refer to ambiguity! (see previous post)
But then there’s the friggin trolls.
4. Friggin Trolls
I am getting better about my brain issues. Over the last decade, I’ve been able to shed some of the guilt and attendant pathologies. I’ll never be fully neurotypical, but I don’t want to be, that seems really lame. I just want to be more functional, and I’m getting there.
But I don’t want to shed my loathing of, and reflexive pain to, the act of lying. It’s served me well. I think it’s net-good, and I wish more people had it. It will cause me pain sometimes, but I’m willing to take that pain.
Most of the time.
There are people who don’t care the least bit about the pain they cause others. They either think that those of us feeling such pain deserve it, or that science says I don’t actually feel it.
There are people who very clearly are not transitioning who request “they/them” pronouns. If you aren’t ambiguous, then you are asking me to affirm every time I refer to you that there exists a neuter sex in the human species, and that you are one of these neuters. This is a lie, and I decline to lie.
Moreover, I specifically decline to lie — to subject myself to pain — for people who don’t give a damn about me or the pain they may be causing me. I will not be doing so for people who think that their revelation that they don’t fit every gender stereotype means they are a different class of human, which should be referred to with special pronouns to differentiate them from us unwashed stereotype-loving masses.
And here’s the thing - I am not asking anything of these Thems. I don’t want them to change their lives for me. I don’t want them to lie for me. I don’t want them to change their speech for me.
They, however, do demand something from me. They demand obedience. They demand I bend the knee and proclaim that there exists a neuter sex, and They are of it. They demand I endure pain for Them, because it pleases Them.
This is why I say “demanding that people call you by incorrect pronouns counts as bullying and harassment.” You are forcing me to lie. Lying hurts me. Demanding this over and over, hassling me and insulting me and threatening me, is bullying. It makes an environment as toxic as one where a gay employee’s coworkers all call him “she” and “her.” This is harassment.
It gets worse. But that’s a matter for a footnote, my primary argument is covered.3
5. Why Can’t We Be Friends
We totally can be friends, actually. I know a fair handful of people who say their gender is “non-binary,” but they don’t demand They/Them pronouns.4 I love these people, in various ways. We all get along fine. People who want to call them They/Them do that, and people like me who feel pain at doing so don’t do that, and everyone gets along great.5
The thing that unites these people? They aren’t Woke.
That really drives home to me what this is mostly about. The Woke ideology is one of aggression. It thrives on anger and moral outrage. The adoption of They/Them pronouns is primarily a signifier that one is a baptized and dedicated Wokeist. Anyone refusing to use They/Them is not treating them with the respect the movement demands, and has identified themselves as an enemy.
I really dislike Wokeism. It is a cruel and bigoted ideology. The more that They/Them becomes a Woke thing (and it has really become a Woke thing) the more I will refuse to join in. I know it would be easier if I just said that I accept Jesus as my lord and savior, the one true god, with no other gods before him. But fuck that. My dad spent almost two years in a Soviet prison because he wouldn’t support their corrupt, murderous system. The absolute least I can do is not fold to some people trying to destroy my life using soft power. I still have my comfy chair and my janky laptop, and friends who love me, so the generational slope is super positive. :)
I wish to strongly recommend “Difference of Opinion” by Meda Kahn. It’s a fantastic short story about a neurodivergent future person who refuses to be treated by future medicine to become neurotypical, despite negative life impacts. She has to fight for her right to continue existing as she does. It’s really, really good! One of my favs.
I need to add that so far I’ve just spoken of the literal psychological pain. There’s also the fact that you have to censor yourself constantly when around Thems or even speaking about Thems at a great distance. You have to review every thought you want to share to make sure it isn’t wrong-think, and correct it before you speak.
This sucks all the joy out of socialization. The point of enjoying other’s company is to connect with them. To be playful and joyful, exchanging ideas and emotions as they come. It’s a very intuitive, free-form process, and it’s hurt greatly by having to addle your conversation with a strict internal censor.
Much like “If you had to think about every step, you’d never be able to walk across a room,” if you have to think about every word, you’ll never have a real conversation. The loss of quality of life is far from insignificant.
Whenever it’s up to me, I am not around those types of people. But sometimes it’s not up to me. In those times, I generally try not to refer to them at all, and only use names when I have to. Still, one of these days I’m gonna slip, and I’m dreading that day. Because They are nasty people, and if you aren’t willing to accept the pain of lying for Their edification, They’ll do Their best to bring you far greater pain until you agree the lesser pain is submission.
Their first and primary tool is destruction of social connections. They will publicly denounce you. They will call you a bigot, a transphobe, and a homophobe. They will often call you a racist too, because why not? They will call you right wing, fascist, and possibly Nazi. They will alert whatever institutions the Woke have captured to have you blacklisted. And importantly, They will try to do this to anyone who stays by your side.
Lately, They’ve taken to physical bullying as well. They’ll even involve the legal system, filing sexual harrassment complaints or sexual discrimination complaints.
These are drastic actions
I’ve spoken with some of them about what they mean by “non-binary.” Of those I spoke with, all said don’t feel they fit all the gender stereotypes they know of, and have been convinced by evangelists that this makes them non-binary.
As far as I know, Emperor Norton’s supporters didn’t harass and attack those who didn’t join in the charade. The 13-year-old Eneasz-sama weebs certainly didn’t harass and attack those who didn’t refer to them with the -sama honorific. Pretend time is great, as long as the people who don’t want to play pretend aren’t compelled to.