On the first day of my political philosophy class at Shawnee State University in the spring of 2019, a biologically male student raised his hand and I called on him, unwittingly using the now-incendiary words, “Yes, sir.”
As a professor of philosophy, I view the classroom as a place of dynamic discussion and exchange. And I work hard to foster an atmosphere of civility and rational discourse, a place where students can seek truth. This student approached me after class and said that he identified as a woman and demanded, from that point on, that I refer to him as a woman, using feminine terms.
In the ensuing weeks and months, I offered to accommodate him by referring to him only by his name. But the university administration informed me that, on pain of disciplinary action, including termination, I must call him and all students by their preferred non-biological pronouns (including recently concocted ones like “ze”, “xe” or “ter”), or I would have to eliminate any terms that refer to a person’s gender from my vocabulary at all times, on campus or off, with any students.
This would mean purging all pronouns, terms like “Mr.” and “Ms.,” and even words like “brother” and “sister,” “father” and “mother.” This would require me to speak the English language as it has never been spoken in the history of Western civilization.
So why not simply call students what they wish to be called? I was willing to do so with this student and with any student who asks me to. His chosen name, though not his birth name, is feminine, and I was willing to call him this, since using a person’s proper name doesn’t imply anything about what one believes or what is true.
What I cannot do, however, is to speak