So I’m going to get a little political this week due to some events over on Twitter. Apologies to those of you who avoid these sorts of posts, but for me, it does relate back to writing and freedom of expression. The cliff-notes version of the story is that an accidental misgendering of a transperson occurred in the midst of an unrelated and not-quite-heated debate. The transperson became upset because the debate opponent did not apologize in a “sincere” fashion. The entire thing was blown out of proportion from there and numerous side-debates, attacks, threats, and bullying transpired.
The crux of the entire FUBAR of an incident for me became the issue of one group trying to dictate language for all and calling anything less than adherence to their demands phobic behavior and a lack of human decency and respect. So let’s explore why no one should be able to dictate language usage in societies with a right to free speech.
First off I find the idea that equating misgendering a transperson with transphobia ridiculous. If the use of incorrect pronouns automatically equals transphobia, then I would ask if supports of trans-rights are willing to be labelled islamophobic for disagreeing with teachings against LGBT lifestyles? Obviously religious zealousness goes beyond the misuse of pronouns, but my point goes beyond the offense of individuals. In today’s world of political correctness, you cannot avoid insulting one group without insulting another. No matter which group you decide to support, there will always be another minority group out there which will feel disenfranchised by your position. The easiest way to avoid elevating one group over another is to treat everyone as individuals and support free speech for all (even if that speech is offensive to some).
Secondly, insisting that complete strangers MUST use a transperson’s chosen pronouns as a display of human decency and respect distorts both the importance of the stranger and the concept of respect. There should be no expectation for strangers to treat you in the same manner as you expect friends and family to treat you. And human decency does not need to extend beyond not interefering with your rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As long as a person is not inciting violence or causing undue panic, nothing else they say can impede your rights. Again, offensiveness of their speech does not matter.
The banning of offensive speech never turns out well for society. In the past, it has resulted in book burnings and censorship by conservatives, harming freedom of expression and suppressing minority groups. Today, those minority groups are trying to turn the tables in the name of equality and civil rights. But these battles are going well beyond the Civil Rights Movement or Women’s Suffrage. Instead of fighting for equal rights, the speech police of today’s activists are looking to silence their perceived enemies. This is asking for special rights, not equal rights.
While minority groups do deserve equal rights in comparison to everyone else in society, there needs to be an understanding of just what equal means. It does not mean freedom from offense or freedom to make demands of others. It means no one is allowed to infringe on their constitutional rights and they are not allowed to infringe on the constitutional rights of others.