2015 December

Are you a He, She, or a “They”?

“I just received the following note from one of our Inner Circle members.  Below the note is my response.”

I would welcome a discussion about the content in the attached article.  The question used to be…, “who are you?”  Now is it “how do you identify…TODAY?”  An identity anchored in something has been replaced with how do you feel today is who you are.  I have LOTS of problems with this…but I am an old fart!

I have a Lesbian 30 year old daughter, who has a 2.5 year old toddler, which she carried.  The sperm donor was the brother of her partner.  She did a undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Women’s Studies and a graduate degree in Women’s Studies.  She has friends who are not “hes” or “shes” but prefer to be referred to as “theys”.  One day we were walking with her baby in her hood, and we came across a couple who she hadn’t seen in a year or so.  All four of us had a friendly intelligent conversation laced with pretty good humour.  As we parted, I said…”what gender are they?”.  She smiled and said, “well Dad, it is complicated.”  That is when I realized it is/was a brave new world we are in.  She had been heavily inundated by the politics in the article which made our relationship VERY difficult for a time.

Those of you who are curious about defining identity in this age might want to take the time to read this.

What is today referred to as the rise of identity politics is in truth the hollowing out of the institutions, beliefs and freedoms around which life and identity were shaped and cohered for centuries. It is a crisis not merely of politics, or class, or the left; it is a crisis of character, a questioning of what it means to be human, an uncertainty as to how we become fully human. Addressing the emergence of new, weak identities, and the corresponding creation of a therapeutic industry and new forms of moral censure to prop up these identities, will require more than ridiculing the new left or the so-called ‘identitarian movement’. It demands nothing less than the reconstruction of public life, and the rediscovery of our faith in the strong individual who both makes and is made by the world, rather than simply needing to be consoled by it. It requires that we refuse to acquiesce to alienated, subjective identity-making, and instead recreate the conditions in which people can develop their identity through the exercise of moral autonomy, and through creating and engaging in new institutions, new ideas and new societies.

Brendan O’Neill is the editor of spiked.

Mike’s response:





21 replies on “Are you a He, She, or a “They”?”

It took me a long time to become comfortable with the singular “they” as it is not descriptive. But it’s a lot less awkward than the “he or she must look after his or her own needs” alternative and no less descriptive than the intended genderless use of “he”.

Gary, would you like to be the chairwoman of @FLOW Committee on Never Changing Language? I’d feel awkward referring to you as such. And it’s become awkward for me to refer to Alicia as the chairman of @FLOW Committee on Evolving Language.

“The term ‘chairman’ has been the norm for centuries and it may be hard for us old farts to change gears. The term has been used since forever to refer to a generic person and not necessarily male, female, whatever.”

Why would you want to change it to “chairperson”?


I may be older than dirt, yet I am still flexible.

Frankly, in all honesty, I just am not that up on anything “politically” correct or not. What ever terms a person chooses to use works for me. So I am not advocating changing anything to anything else to pacify anyone or any group.

So if Johnny wants to be referred to as chairman and Mable wants to be called chairwoman and “it” wants to be called chairit, I can go with that. Even chairthingy or chairperson works for me. That’s what being flexible means to me.

Gary Gile

As an aside, German and Russian have neutral in addition to
masculine and feminine. Das Kind, if I remember correctly.
Mark may comment on the current PC practice.
Making up new words avoids some problems.
Of course nowadays we can fight about anything, thanks to
the Internet. Mike’s “fractionalization” comes to mind.


Interestingly, the term I hear most frequently these days is “Chair”. Personage and gender implied. And only 30-50% of the syllables imposed by other options.

“The New York Times calls 2015 ‘the year we obsessed over identity.”

It must be true then;)

“The subjectivity of human identity in the 21st century is striking, and alarming. Today, to feel something is to be something.”

I just don’t get it!

I guess if I feel like an Ass****, I am one then?

“What the NYT and many others describe as new era of identity politics is in fact an era in which the historical, traditional underpinnings of identity have been ruptured, or even destroyed, unleashing an often desperate search for new identities, a rush for self-identification, for shallow identity construction. The subjectivity of human identity in the 21st century is striking, and alarming.”

These people have too much time on their hands!

“The subjectivity of identity construction, the rise of the contingent diktat ‘I identify as’, is throwing public life into disarray.”

I’m sure that with public life being in disarray now that we can move on to the real crisis, knowing the public life is already in disarray?

“Everything must be bent to the whims of the person who has said: ‘I identify as…’”

This is a good example of too much freedom?

“Too many critics of identity politics depict it as the handiwork of a coven of ‘identitarians’, a new left that usurped the old, universalising ideas of class and progress and replaced them with a narrow definition of people according to traits, gender, race, etc. In truth, the rise of self-identity, the replacement of ‘I am’ with ‘I identify as’, speaks to the hollowing out of the sphere and the ideas through which people once developed living, breathing identities, a real sense of themselves that was tangible, deep, convincing. It’s not that identitarians are foisting identity politics on us. It’s that Western societies, which have fallen into serious moral and existential disarray, have become increasingly incapable of providing people with a strong sense of identity, or of maintaining the mechanisms through which people once gained and built identities, and this has nurtured new hunts for meaning, for a sense of self, for some kind of personality at a time when the human personality is weak.”

You have got to be S****** me….

I had to stop here because I have a weak personality because for I can’t even remember the last time an identity thought came into my mind or when in the course of living my life of disarray that it ever dawned on me necessary to explain myself.

The only problem I have these days is when a form says SEX M F, I keep wanting to write YES;)


Ps: most people would identify these memes (identitarian) as more vertical complex and I would suggest that they are horizontal extensions of QA-BLUE, guided by the need to “get it right…”

Brian, this really got my little brain/mind smoking. The terms he and she have been the norm for centuries and it may be hard for us old farts to change gears. Also the term “he” has been used since forever to refer to a generic person and not necessarily male, female, whatever.

Maybe future generations could just look at someone else and think “ah, another human” instead of “he/she/it/black/white/brown/red/purple/green/Catholic/Protestant/Muslim/Jewish/Buddhist/other”. But, of course, that will never come to pass…

On a side note – as I was typing the various religions [all in lower case] my spell checker said I should capitalize muslim, jewish, and buddhist but not catholic or protestant. So even spell checkers are bias.

Gary Gile

Gary –

I have a different take on the issue of sex and language. The term “Ms” came into our language in the ‘50s and started proliferating in the ‘70s with little fanfare. I would welcome a genderless substitute for “he” and “she”.

Yes, “the term “he” has been used since forever to refer to a generic person and not necessarily male, female, whatever.” And lots of other practices have changed. I am particularly moved by file:///C:/Users/Herb/Documents/WRITING/SOURCES/Douglas%20Hofstadter%20-%20Person%20Paper%20on%20Purity%20in%20Language.htm which demonstrates the absurdity of the genderless “he”. I cannot find a quote in the article to summarize it. Satire doesn’t lend itself to that sort of tidbit. But you’ll know within a page or two if you want to read more.


Herb, I would be interested in reading your document, however, you need to give me a better link as the one you gave references your computer only.

Gary Gile

My question would be – “Why do we need a genderless substitute?” If one does need a substitute, maybe human? But perhaps that may also exclude some people…

Gary Gile

Well, if you don’t like what’s there, you just make up something you like;)

This brings me to a current view of progressives in society.

I’ve mentioned this before, but continued nuancing improves density and frequency of use, perhaps.

Kids being raised in a modern society all assume things, as we did when we were kids…things like we can expect life and our incomes (necessary for the interest/credit economy, bye the way) would always improve.

We don’t/didn’t think about things that made up the foundations of our assumptions. I keep hearing “Nicolson” from a FEW GOOD MEN echoing in my head about the idea that society as it develops provides “blankets of freedom” that are “presumed” rather than earned as luxury.

Now this is fine as long as things stay at least the same or develop to the next stage.

So all of us have the “luxury” of developing” in a world we didn’t earn per se.

What happens under regression?

All those systems that are assumed to be in good working order start to come apart as what was, no longer is and the idea that I’m an identitarian fades miserably in my search for help off the bottom rungs of maslow’s pyramid.

As I watch “us” in modern society we are progressing–which we are allowed to do–building/rather standing on the shoulders of those before us and thus we have the “luxury” of debating how our society is being thrown into chaos because we are engaged in the luxury of anyone being whoever they can make a case for…(identarians as one example.)

Living in the third world, I find this “luxurious” behavior to reflect back into the bowl of “enoughness.”

Much ado about nothing from people who haven’t a clue about the world around them…who through their “smithian” behavior continue with extending that which aids their own selfish needs.

Most would attribute high-mindedness to all this “jazz” but in the perspective I’ve suggested, it is luxurious behavior at best, a substitute for opening up ones eyes to the selfish notions that continue to keep billions living in poverty and squalor while I’m debating which kind of “it” I want to be known as.

I have to laugh at my own selfish precocious ness in the process, but I continue to remain wary of what this whole bundle of progression will do when faced with difficult problems.

Somehow we can gather on a worlds stage and allocate trillions to thwarting “man made” climate change when 6 billion is all that’s needed for everyone on the planet to have clean drinking water so their kids don’t die like flies from unsanitary conditions.

Progression is an amazing “antidote” for having to face basic problems, or so it seems.


This discussion is indeed a luxury academic topic. I mean this gender neutral language discussion. I don’t mean the way you treat a person face to face in reality. It’s a thing that has developed a life of its own. With us the discussion has been going on for years. In German we have three articles (gender forms): masculin, feminin and neuter. As opposed to English with only one: THE. E.g. a driver can be a man or a woman. Not so in German. There it is „die Chauffeuse“ (f) or „der Chauffeur“ m. Neuter doesn’t help. So to be correct you have to write „die/der Chauffeuse/eur“. This makes editing a readable text extremely tedious. It makes clumsy literature. So you often find disclaimers in publication like „in this publication we have for clarity reason used only the masculin form, but of course the terms also include the female part of the population“. Neuter rarely helps. Sometimes you can circumvent the issue by using the plural form. In English you only have the problem in words like policeman or chairman. It’s a never ending story 🙁

But to be fair: Switzerland didn’t grant the women the right to vote until 1972 (I was 19 then – full age was 20 then). And at that time you indeed had oversubtle lawyers that denied women rights because the legal text only used the male form. So something had to happen there.

But the more we try to define and identify things and put them into categories the more irrelevant it gets. It has become an absurd quest for security. We need norms (goal states) in order to know what’s normal. It reminds me of the unfortunate fox in wood-pecker that finds himself out in the air over some deep canyon…


It reminds me of the unfortunate fox in wood-pecker that finds himself out in the air over some deep canyon…

No, do tell?


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