It’s not the tail wagging the dog. It’s a hair on the tail wagging the dog, but all the virtue signallers are kvelling over what good people they are. First, it was college campuses, where every new fashion trend in hem length is born. Then, the New York City Council, fearful that some other city would beat them to the punch. Now, Washington, D.C. has jumped on the bandwagon.
Employers and employees in Washington D.C. are legally prohibited from referring to a transgender employee or coworker by the “wrong” pronouns or asking “personal questions” about their gender identity, according to the city’s Office of Human Rights (OHR).
OHR published a best practices guide for “valuing transgender applicants and employees” earlier this month with a list of “behaviors by supervisors or coworkers [that] may be considered unlawful harassment or a hostile work environment.”
It’s not that you necessarily get to reinvent the workplace to suit your personal sense of dignity, but that’s only if you’re not transgender (or any other protected classification of employee). Your boss can tell you how to perform your job, because that’s her job. But when it comes to favored classes, she must do as the law commands. And that means the law dictates the words she’s required to utter.
It also is pressuring employers and workers to use imaginary pronouns like “ze” and “zir” to refer to transgender employees who prefer it (even though few do), and to use ungrammatical plural forms like “they” and “themselves” to refer to individual transgender employees who so desire.
If you’re so inclined to bastardize the language to the point of incomprehensibility to signal your virtue toward transgender people, that’s great. Well, not really, because words have definitions and allow us to communicate, and when words cease to be tethered to definitions, but go all Humpty Dumpty on us, the ability to communicate fails. All these millennia spent trying to create a means of communication trashed at the mention of some vague notion of dignity. But hey, using words with meanings would make people sad, and, really, what’s more important than making marginalized people happy?
But as Eugene Volokh points out, the use of law to compel speech presents a constitutional problem.
So people can basically force us — on pain of massive legal liability — to say what they want us to say, whether or not we want to endorse the political message associated with that term, and whether or not we think it’s a lie.
Compelled speech would be an outrage under pretty much any other circumstance, yet not here because . . . reasons. At the moment, the remedies for failure to adhere to these rules, whether you’re an employer (public or private) or even a patron (since an employer’s failure to demand that patrons utter desired words similarly give rise to “harassment” in the workplace), are monetary. The creation of a crime to enforce these requirements hardly seems like much of a stretch.
But this is just the beginning, and the latest exercise is conducted by the Pentagon, as the Secretary of Defense, Ashton Carter, has just announced that the military will no longer discriminate against transgender people.
“We have to have access to 100 percent of America’s population for our all-volunteer force to be able to recruit from among them the most highly qualified — and to retain them,” Mr. Carter said in announcing the new policy.
That’s great, and a sign of budding maturity, since there have always been gays and transgender soldiers in the military, serving their country honorably, but hiding their less-than-normative identities in foxholes to avoid the childishness of people too foolish to recognize that they exist and that they’re just as capable of being good soldiers as anyone else. That someone is gay or transgender makes a cis-heteronormative soldier feel all weird? Too bad. Grow up. It has nothing to do with you what someone else feels about himself.
The Pentagon has tried to formulate some rules to limit the variability that might be attendant to transgender confusion. Stability and reliability are important in the military, where other people’s lives depend on your doing your job without collateral issues getting in the way.
But to be eligible to enlist, transgender individuals will have to show that they have “been stable in their preferred gender” for at least 18 months and have completed all the transition-related medical treatment they expect to have.
Already, the New York Times frets that this is “too high a bar.”
This requirement sets an extraordinarily high bar. Transgender people often make decisions about medical treatment — which can include hormone replacement therapy and surgery — over the course of years. They should not be forced to affirm that they have completed a medical transition before enlisting if they are healthy and fit for the strenuous requirements of military life.
You would think their worry would include understanding that they not only need to meet the “strenuous requirements of military life” going in, but maintain it throughout. There is a bit of a difference between soldiers getting surgery to remove a bullet or reattach a severed limb, and surgery to remove an undesired appendage.
But even the initial rules for the military raise command issues that reflect the same absurdity as New York and D.C.
Rules that are to go into effect this year will offer commanders and transgender troops clear guidance on matters ranging from medical treatment, access to restrooms, the use of pronouns and changes to a person’s name and gender marker in military records. Critically, the new rules add gender identity as a protected category in the Pentagon’s equal opportunity policy. (Emphasis added.)
But unlike the words you utter when ordering your Big Mac on K Street or Seventh Avenue, the military is the one place where you can be commanded to use certain language. And unlike ordering a Big Mac, the military is the one place where failure to communicate with clarity can result in death on the battlefield.
That could be the cis-heteronormative soldier, the gay soldier or the transgender soldier. Is it really worth bastardizing the language because hemlines went up? If not calling a transgender person by his preferred pronouns makes you cry now, will you cry when he’s dead because someone didn’t realize that the order to act was directed at him because the commander used the wrong pronoun?