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Are you a violent person? You might be, depending on your language. Such is the situation according to the University of Colorado.
The school’s Boulder campus hosts a Pride Office, which has laid out limits related to speech. Per the official page on pronouns, to respect someone is to do as they demand with your words — when they aren’t around:
Pronouns are one of the ways we portray our identities. When a person asks you to use their pronouns, they are asking for you to respect their identity.
Though pronouns are generally used in someone’s absence, that person will somehow sense your syllables:
When someone refers to another person using the wrong pronouns, especially on purpose, that can lead to that person feeling disrespected and can lead to dysphoria, exclusion and alienation.
Violence is violence; and so are words:
Choosing to ignore or disrespect someone’s pronouns is not only an act of oppression but can also be considered an act of violence.
School administrators are attempting to oppress oppression, so they’re violently attacking violence. That seems the situation, since words of opposition are violence…and the college is opposing unapproved pronouns with its words.
Perhaps the most notable reality revealed by CU Boulder is that one can commit violence against another without any semblance of close physical proximity. According to principles promoted by the Pride Office, an oppressor in Bejing may violently attack a member of the Miami marginalized — simply by uttering third-person words.
In order to avoid violence, how might students keep track peers’ pronoun preferences? Perhaps a notebook will help. I previously suggested a scenario in which our New Rules are put into play; consider, if you will, the following:
While attending college, you meet and briefly converse with cool-shoes Horacio. The body with male sex organs informs you vis pronouns are of the “ve” variety — except ve substitutes “nem” for “ver,” “eir” for “vis,” “nirs” for the other “vis,” and “bunself” for “verself.”
You log the above into your notebook, in case you ever refer to nem. You and Horacio never speak again.
While home on Christmas break, you visit your cousin. You want to indicate you’d enjoy getting shoes similar to those worn by an entity you once met. You consult your book and then explain:
“There was some human at school who had shoes like the ones I want. Ve told me ve got them at the mall. I was going to ask nem which store, but I got distracted because I had to log nirs particulars into the 500-page journal I carry to record everybody I might ever reference’s pronouns. Ve would’ve probably taken me to the store bunself, but I’ll never know.”
Seventy years later, you’re recalling how you ended up obtaining those very shoes. You want to share this story with your nursing home attendant, and fortunately, you have a laptop with all your pronoun notes from seven decades past. Ze’ll be changing your bedpan next Thursday, and by then, you and your ninety-year-old mind will have figured out how to tell zir.
Back to CU Colorado, what should a student do if a person’s preferred pronouns are unknown? The Pride Office has an idea.
Usually it’s safe to use they/them/theirs unless that person tells you otherwise.
Try to introduce yourself with your own pronouns so that everyone you meet knows that you’re a safe space and that you won’t assume a person’s pronouns. It also prompts them to provide pronouns without it being awkward. (Ex. “Hello, my name is Alex and I use they/them/theirs pronouns.”)
Hello, my name is Alex; and I can’t hear you where you are. Therefore, I’ll never be aware of your vocalized violence. Or perhaps CU Boulder is right, and I actually will. Either way, let’s all absolutely avoid violence.
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