I recently wrote a column for The Humanist magazine, Trans People and Basic Human Respect, in which I made the case (a case that should have been obvious but regretfully isn’t) for treating trans people with basic human respect, including accepting their own evaluation of their own genders, and using the names and pronouns they prefer.
Tom Flynn — executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, vice president for media at the Center for Inquiry, and editor of Free Inquiry magazine (for which I am a columnist) — has written a reply. He generally applauds the piece, and says that he mostly agrees with it. But when it comes to pronouns, and using the singular “they” for trans people who prefer it, that’s just a bridge too far. Flynn objects to anyone — trans, cis, anyone — using the singular “they,” on the grounds that “it unnecessarily degrades the clarity of our language in regards to number.” (Read Flynn’s piece for a more thorough explanation of his concerns.)
As you might guess, I strongly disagree. That’s putting it mildly. I disagree on grammatical grounds — and far more seriously, I disagree on social justice grounds. Flynn’s understanding of the linguistics behind the singular “they” is just flatly wrong — and his take on the social justice issue is distressingly retrograde. [Read more…]