The pronoun showdown, or being vs. doing in the world wide womb

Back in the day, a person’s identity used to hinge on what they did. Strangers at parties would ask, ‘What do you do?’ And you’d say, ‘I’m a writer’ or whatever. And before they could ask what you’d published, you’d ask what they did and they’d say, ‘I’m an architect’ or whatever, as if they identified with their work and its value. In contrast, folk identified by their persona – team mascot, bag lady, local character – comprised a scattered minority of the special, mad and/or disadvantaged.

Nowadays, as minorities loom large via social media groupthink backed by powerful lobbies, raising one’s profile, once just a means, has begun to look like an end. The black mirror casts its spell, reducing identity to who we are, our actions eclipsed by our facade. What many of us do has been disrupted, whether by specious pandemic measures, financial hardship or obsolescence. And since the field of employment – such as it is, with AI poised to displace us – is characterised by growing specialisation, much work assumes meaning only when seen in context: without all the cogs, no machine. (Habituation to this atomised, compartmentalised order no doubt at least in part accounts for why, during peak Covid, lockdowns – often enforced arbitrarily – met with general if pained acceptance.)

Yet even as individual roles and job descriptions have narrowed, thanks to the metastasising phenomenon of the middle man or the medial technological matrix, society has gotten more homogenised. And identity for its own sake is the backlash: the ego resisting being digested like a fly trapped in a spider’s web. Hence assertion of identity feels for many (oppressed or not) like a matter of life or death, distracting from the rise of AI and the fall of the West.

Yet identity mania profits corporations that make us more passive so technology can do it all: transfer funds, enable theft, turn speech into text, tell us what to buy next, anticipate questions, finish our sentences, manage (and lift data from) our emails, navigate our most minimal travels, read aloud to us (like mum or dad did when we were little?), monitor our fitness, update our image, mediate all human contact, curate non-stop entertainment, supervise our ‘research’ and then write it up faster and better than us with our outmoded brains…

In fact, infantilised barely begins to convey the regressive state humans are in. But whose gestation is underway? Are we the cushioned foetus or just cells in a huge placenta? And what on Earth will this world wide womb give birth to? Most of us would associate unconditional love with ‘God’ or, if we’re atheists, the honeymoon phase in relationships, depending on what we hold sacred. Yet self-esteem can’t develop unless a child is loved as they are, even if challenged, from birth or through circumstance, re what they can do. Folk deprived of that depth of acceptance are vulnerable to substitutes such as drugs, gurus and cults, and/or wind up in therapy. Not that paying a virtual stranger the price of a new if low-end couch to rent theirs for 50 minutes each week is the answer. But the fantasy of unconditional love never dies for the inner child.

And capitalism, well versed in Psychology 101, has been selling directly to that child for a while – ‘you deserve it’ – resulting in a culture of toxic entitlement. So we buy endless products then ditch the packaging in a perpetual Christmas, as if wastage were coded into our DNA. In an entitled society, accountability dies. Empty titles define us. My bank has made mine ‘Miss’, not ‘Ms’, an error that once would’ve grated yet now is but one more tiny sign of the cognitive decline ailing all humankind (as lapses multiply, and conquered cohorts on and offline divide). What others call us reflects on them; what counts for me is walking the talk – especially since I’ve watched the green left towards which I once leaned become complicit in corporate rape of Earth’s finite resources while virtuously circulating petitions. Hard-left apologists for sociopathic monopolies who go postal at a nanosecond’s notice over pronouns? Toxic can-do culture has morphed into a Romper Room don’t-be regime.

When women politicised ‘Miss’ (an unwed woman) vs. ‘Ms’ (a woman not defined by marital status), they didn’t yet have equality. And, despite four waves of feminism and modest progress, we still don’t. So if some women feel wary of official decrees that their formerly private spaces be shared with manifest possessors of unreconstructed penises and testes, are they transphobes? How dare they care that language inclusive of what only they can do may vanish? Do trans women produce their own eggs, bleed on a regular basis, get pregnant, give birth, bear contraceptive burdens, and/or (under misogynist laws) risk dodgy abortions? Will all talk of womanhood from a biological standpoint be banned? Just as, not so long ago, you couldn’t tell otherwise rational folk you were unvaxxed without being demonised, screamed at or pitied as ‘vulnerable’, to ask questions like the above can make you persona non grata.

The thing is, fields of knowledge like, say, health and sociology rely more than ever before on statistics; accurate data such as the sex of a census or survey subject. So if we redefine these terms to include anyone self-identified as M, F or other, how can we hope to gauge whether exclusively female problems (some due to inequality) are increasing, decreasing or even unchanged? Trust the science? Uniquely female issues lose visibility. And so the stats that justify so many top-down decisions become as delusive as the Covid death count fake news.

Language is a trickster, as the ancients stressed in myth. And we moderns are its victims. But to call myself what I please (a choice enshrined as a human right along with, say, freedom from torture) is one thing, and the madness of compelled speech quite another. Unlike some, the cisgender label doesn’t affront me. But why should I need my own language usage policed? If a person with a penis prefers to be called ‘she’ or ‘her’, I’m all for courtesy, as when friends have changed their names (three times in one case). But as soon as repressive authorities dictate permissible terminology, adult society reverts to primary school. Coerced lip service can only deepen the shadow hate casts, not eradicate it.

For decades, my mother refused to call me by the name most others had used since I was about ten. Terminally self-centred, she treated me like an object, scorning my wishes unless they mirrored hers. She only relented as we sat by my father’s deathbed – as if in her anguish she sensed he’d been the sole reason she’d seen me, and I might need a new one to want contact. Born of her own volition, this genuine recognition survived her eventual dementia.

During the pandemic I found myself in a despised minority, simply because I’d done too much research to see the new vaccines as fit for purpose, or the Covid stats as other than selectively reported. Or cooked up. I undertook a crash course in institutional corruption: a tedious project indeed, thanks to Google’s biased rankings. And so I would have defied a vax mandate if I’d had a job to lose. (As it was, my social life suffered and my small circle of friends got smaller.) But why do some folk court career suicide over a few little pronouns – words long used, if awkwardly, to address or preserve gender ambiguity – through their (!) refusal to play by new rules? Pedantry? Prejudice? Fear of change? A quest for 15 seconds of fame? Indifference to danger? Self-righteous insistence on token freedom of speech? Or is causing incidental, unintentional offence to understandably sensitised members of a wildly diverse community an unavoidable consequence of speaking truth to power that only cares about trans identity to the extent that administration of it furthers far bigger agendas?

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2 Responses to The pronoun showdown, or being vs. doing in the world wide womb

  1. But whose gestation is underway? Are we the cushioned foetus or just cells in a huge placenta? And what on Earth will this world wide womb give birth to?
    …mind boggling questions! I haven’t heard them asked in this way and it’s thrown a door wide open in my brain.
    I also hadn’t considered the data collection issue with the gender diversity policy, that’s going to be an interesting one to navigate. Chaos.
    So much to ponder on here. Thank you as always.

    • Thanks for reading & for engaging w/ these thoughts. Seems to me that, given humanity has for some time treated not just wild nature & all non-human sentient beings as resources to be used, exploited & discarded, but also its own kind, it’s only natural & inevitable that we become resources in turn, & since so many folk think AI is smarter than us, or will be soon, that puts it higher up the food chain. It’s been, & is being, trained on the output from our brains – most notably, perhaps, a vast archive of Enron emails dating from the lead-up to the scandal – so corporate fraud is a major strand in AI’s ‘DNA’. Because hey, quantity, not quality, got prioritised in the process of natural language processing, process taking precedence over content in most fields today… ________________________________

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