As you may or may not remember, right-wing guru Jordan Peterson rose to fame by pretending, loudly and angrily, that Canada’s bill C-16 amounted to government-compelled speech. He told anyone in earshot about how bravely he would stand up to this oppression, and would hold his breath until it stopped. The bill, to be clear, just added trans people to the list of protected groups, meaning you can’t just harass them. None of the arrests Peterson predicted came, and it was always pretty obvious that they wouldn’t. Unfortunately, it may be that conservative projection is the most reliable weathervane in politics, and so as part of this national trans panic, Republican state legislatures have been trying to mandate speech, in addition to their efforts to ban trans healthcare. The most ridiculous and invasive version of this to date comes from North Dakota, where Republicans have decided they want businesses to be forced, by law, to use pronouns based on a person’s DNA. I have to say, I’m not sure I’d be willing to work for a place that required me to submit a DNA sample, or equivalent information. I’m assuming that this is based on the XX/XY binary that they pretend exists, but this feels like another one of those situations where they’re so eager to hurt people that they hate, that they’re just sort of flailing around and making life worse for everyone. Intentionally or not, there’s no way this will be functional legislation.
The fact that the drafters of this bill include “determination established by deoxyribonucleic acid” shows that they have a fundamental misunderstanding of both biological sex and pronouns. We do not have “he” and “she” encoded into our DNA, and human biological sex is not binary. One would wonder how a bill like this would treat intersex people with nonstandard DNA profiles. Would people be forced to submit to mandatory DNA tests in order to determine what pronouns we should use for them? The implications of this bill are absurd.
The idea of “biological pronouns” is something that comes up sometimes in anti-trans spaces, and every time it does, transgender people point out that there is no such thing as a “biological pronoun.” Pronouns are human inventions and cultures have a variety of pronouns that are not necessarily attached to gender. This does not stop many states from trying to establish that such a thing exists. A Utah rep this year sent a letter to all Utah schools saying they should follow a school resource guide from Transgender Trend that mandates the use of “biological pronouns.” A federal judge in a free speech case cited “biological pronouns” in their decision-making. A Fox News story recently reported on a Tennessee bill that they state would allow teachers to use “biological pronouns.”
I’m reminded by a quote from the fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker:
You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don’t alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit the views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering.
That’s literally what we’re seeing unfold here. It’s an effort to erase trans people, all because the bigots apparently can’t cope with their existence. Some of it is through the campaign of stochastic terrorism, as I’ve discussed before, some is through laws making it illegal to get trans healthcare, and some of it comes through literally legislating speech to fit their simplistic and inaccurate understanding of the world.
Bills like this would write discrimination into the law of North Dakota and would compel North Dakotans to harm their trans peers or risk facing fines of $1,500. There is no compelling state interest to force employers and government agents to misgender trans people. It is clear that freedom of speech is not what the far right desires in its treatment of transgender people – elimination of all legal recognition is the end goal and they are willing to go as far as to force it on transgender allies. This bill must be stopped – despite its blatant unconstitionality, the damage it can do should it pass would severe. The bill has three sponsors in the senate and three in the house: Senators Clemens, Vedaa, and Weston and Representatives K. Anderson, Schauer, and Tveit.
As Dan from Three Arrows pointed out, this hate campaign isn’t actually popular in the United States. It’s not a “winning issue”, but they’re pushing ahead with it anyway, because they actively want trans people to stop existing, and as part of that, they want every aspect of society to be as hostile towards them as possible, including massacres like the Club Q shooting. Cis people standing in solidarity with trans people is an important part of fighting back, because the ones who are pushing this hate are depending on most people just not caring enough to stop them. That means keeping informed on the issue, not just to know what’s going on, but also to be able to confidently call out transphobia when we encounter it. Be on the lookout for ways to help, and groups local to you that are organizing for community defense.