There’s a certain defining hallmark of a liberal society which is being over ridden in this story about the use of the wrong pronoun being a hate crime. Even the very notion of a hate crime breaches the definition of liberality – not that you would know this from the self-proclaimed liberals in our society. The sadness is that the great revolution of the Enlightenment is being overthrown by the very people claiming its mantle.
The point being that the revolution itself, the one that has led to the great flowering of us humans both in terms of economic wealth and also societal such, was about the recognition that we’re all individuals and as such should be able to get on with life as we wish. Sure, and certainly, there are restrictions, those coming from the harm our actions do to another person. Free speech is not absolute, harming the reputation or body of another as in libel or incitement to violence restrictions, it is curbed but solely by actual harm to others. Not affronts to desires, but harms.
So too economic freedom, we can employ or be employed as we wish (yes, the curbs on this are already too tight), but not have or be slaves.
A liberal society is one which is so ordered. This is not therefore a sign of a liberal society:
A teacher who was accused of “misgendering” a child was told by police that she had committed a hate crime.
The teacher, who claimed they were a “grammatical purist”, refused to acknowledge that the pupil self-identified as a boy and failed to use the pupil’s preferred pronouns of “he” or “him”.
It comes after warnings that schools are “sowing confusion” in children’s minds by over-promoting transgender issues, and that children are being encouraged to “unlearn” the difference between boys and girls.
Susie Green, CEO of Mermaids, a charity which supports transgender children and their families, told how the teacher had laughed in the child’s face and said “if you don’t want to be called a girl then don’t look like one”.
She said that the teacher and school’s management ignored three months of pleas from the transgender child and their parents and dismissed their requests, until she was informed by police that her actions constituted a hate crime.
Leave aside the specific issue of transgenderism. We have no doubt at all that there are indeed cases of people in the wrong body, gender dysmorphia. We’re equally certain that there’s a certain excessive identification going on at present – not every teenager pondering the pubertal eruption of hormones is in fact in said wrong body. As most of us who have been through that puberty will and should recall, it ain’t a great time overall. But this isn’t actually about transgender issues at all, it’s about the very definition of a liberal society.
A liberal society is one which tolerates, and enforces toleration, of whatever the hell it is that other people want to do. Subject to Mill’s fist swinging rights ending where the proboscis of another begins. And that’s really it. Yes, there are shadings of this, but this essential point must be insisted upon.
Liberality does not mean respecting those choices, approving of them, celebrating them nor even according with them. Liberality means only tolerating them and also insisting upon that toleration.
Once that is clear then the correct – or incorrect – pronoun becomes not a matter for the law at all, it is a matter of politesse. Something which is socially policed, not legally. As with absolutely any other variation of human behaviour. Imagine, men and women going at it like rabbits, that heterosexuality. There have been human societies which deplored such – admittedly not ones that lasted much beyond a generation but still – and the difference between a liberal polity and an illiberal one is that the first allows but mutters about if it so wishes, the second that it attempts to limit those activities of consenting adults which do no harm to third parties. The important point here being that actual liberalism insists upon allowing both the actions and behaviours and also whatever the hell people want to think or say about them.
To use he, she, xe, whatever other variations out there, is to be polite in acceding to the wishes of the one being addressed. We can all, and should, show our appreciation or condemnation of those who are polite or not. But if we are even to pretend to be liberal we shouldn’t, cannot, be using the criminal law to insist upon it. Because to do so is to breach that basic principle of liberality, allowing people to act as they wish subject only to direct harm to others. Yes, even to be impolite by not using the desired pronoun.