[O]n college campuses, the quest to end heteronormativity is having some real consequences. Responding to complaints that dorms that house those of the same sex together are heteropresumptive, a handful of liberal arts colleges have taken down those bothersome gender barriers entirely.Kavulla bundles an awful lot of things together, including my longtime concern about gender-neutral bathrooms. (Note: I'm not referring to single-user bathrooms.)
And for some years now, BGLTSA has been tilting at windmills to transform Harvard’s “gendered” bathrooms into “gender-neutral spaces.” The argument for the change is that those—and here’s another term to add to our overpopulated lexicon—“identifying” as transgendered feel alienated from gender-specific bathrooms, that they cannot be classified by those silhouetted stick figures, and so require a totalizing change to make them feel comfortable....
Caving willingly to pressure, Wesleyan College’s imprimatur has been accorded to a group that wants to educate professors and incoming freshmen on the use of the transgendered pronoun “ze” and its possessive “hir.”
Perhaps what’s most disconcerting about all of this, however, is not the impact these new terms are having on everyday life or mainstream academia—for most people, overtly or quietly, recognize the gay rights movement’s latter-day silliness.
Rather, it’s the prospect that a community whose goal has so long been “acceptance” is isolating itself and alienating others by creating a separate body of knowledge that only they appear to care about or know. Of those transgender terms, BGLTSA’s Noa Grayevsky ’07 is quoted in last week’s Fifteen Minutes, “People that are either queer or educated on this topic use [‘ze’ and ‘hir’] pretty widely.” And, of course, no one else does.
And the creation of new genders has become a hobby for those on the fringe. Consider Kit Yan, a “gender queer” Hawaiian poet who will be performing tonight at BGLTSA’s invitation. In one poem, after rolling through several dozen “genders”—including appellations like “polyamorous,” “heteroflexible,” and “boydyke”—Yan solemnly declares, “and that’s just the beginning...There may be as many as a million genders / Just floating around, searching for the right person / To snatch them up.”
The ivory tower is the only place where such nonsense can find a home and even as we on campus witness the germination of a new, ever stranger vocabulary, few can imagine taking any of it seriously.
In the world at large, social acceptance and gay marriage seem to be accomplishable (and sometimes, accomplished) goals of the gay rights movement. What fruits can those who are using these new, awkward, polluting words possibly hope to reap?
The switch to gender-neutral bathroom changes the conditions of real life for everyone and is unacceptably burdensome to women and, especially, girls. People need to keep their wits about them on this subject, which stands apart from the realm of speech and ideas. By the same token, colleges shouldn't be bullied into abolishing every single-sex dorm.
Speech and ideas are different. It is fine to criticize people who assume everyone is heterosexual. If a man says he has a date and someone refers to the date as female, the assumer can be zinged as "heteronormative." But those who are relentless, grim, and heavy-handed about this deserve some back talk. Everyone doesn't need to think about your issues all the time.
Trying to get people to say "ze" and "hir" is probably only silly. It's not going to happen. Feminists tried something like that long ago and ultimately settled for "Ms." and a lot of "he or she"-ing. But if the "ze" and "hir" crowd start making any actual progress, the rest of us will need to rouse ourselves from complacency and say no.
As for Kit Yan -- poets can say whatever they want. They can play with language, make up words, invite us to think all sorts of things -- true, false, and fantastical. Unless they are stirring up hatred, I'd lay off the poets. Most poets are quite bad and are utterly ignored. If Kit Yan has found an audience, give the poor ... poet a break.
UPDATE: Here are links to old posts of mine about gender-neutral bathrooms: