This article is a response to James Anderson’s article “You Will Be Made to Lie.” I will assume the reader is familiar with Anderson’s article. And if you’re short on time, don’t worry: it should only take a couple minutes to read Anderson’s pithy article (literally, two minutes, tops).
Now for my response. And it would be good to start on a point of agreement: so I agree with Anderson that people who object to the use of pronouns that diverge from a person’s sex should not be compelled to do so.
However, I also have the following points of disagreement.
1 Dealing with or interacting with?
First, I’d like to offer a caution about Anderson’s description of the challenge as being “how to deal with people who claim to be transgender and ask us to use different names and pronouns to refer to them.” (emphasis added) While the phrase is technically appropriate — to deal with is to give attention to a problematic or challenging situation — I worry about the negative implicature that is typically associated with the phrase which is liable to frame personal interactions as a problem to be solved.
Consider the contrast between these two descriptions:
- How do I deal with transgender people?
- How should I interact with transgender people?
It seems to me that 2 removes the adversarial framing and thereby provides a more neutral, inviting, and hospitable basis for interaction, and for that reason, it is to be preferred.
This leads me to the second point: as I said, framing our social interaction with members of an outgroup in a neutral fashion allows for the question to be framed as a matter of hospitality. And in my view, that is precisely where it should be. Just as Paul actively sought to remove stumbling blocks whenever possible in his interactions with others (1 Cor. 9:19-23), so should we as well.
Could it be consistent with the desire to extend hospitality to people to accede to the requests of a gender dysphoric person? I believe so. For further discussion, see my article “What would Jesus say to Caitlyn Jenner?”
3 The Propriety of Coercion
Next, while (as I stated above), I take issue with those who seek to compel people to use pronouns that do not identify with one’s sex, I don’t share Anderson’s concern as captured in the Orwellian phrase “You will be made to care.” The reason is that we already widely recognize the general propriety of this kind of compulsion to hospitality.
Consider, for example, a policy that requires people to use the preferred title for female members of the community. Now imagine a male employee who insisted on only using titles for his female colleagues which reference their marital status (i.e. Mrs., Miss) even when they explicitly request that he instead use the neutral Ms. That man likely wouldn’t last long in that community and for understandable reasons: the good ole boys need to conform or move on.
Since people widely recognize the licitness of this kind of compulsion in principle, I simply do not share Anderson’s principled concern about being “made to care.”
Finally, I don’t agree with Anderson’s claim that being compelled to use a gendered term that does not match the individual’s birth sex is equivalent to compelling another person to lie. Clearly, there is no deception here, only an accommodation (whether of hospitality or compulsion) to a request.
Perhaps Anderson means “lie” in a broader metaphorical sense so that such use constitutes a betrayal of the person’s birth sex. However, given that I already think acceding to this request is a reasonable expression of Christian hospitality, I simply don’t share Anderson’s concerns here.
In conclusion, I do want to make clear that I also think hospitality goes both ways, and that’s a point I make in the article “Hospitality Is a Two-Way Street: Gender Pronouns and Welcome of the Other.”