Op-Ed: An open letter to His Majesty

Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 6:50pm

Trigger warning: The following op-ed contains references to transphobia, suicide and sexual assault.

An Open Letter to Grant Strobl and all other Univeristy of Michigan students who changed their pronouns to “His Majesty,” “Her Lordship,” “Apache Attack Helicopter” or a similarly ridiculous title:

One of the most commonly heard slogans associated with the Black Lives Matter movement is that “white silence equals white violence.” That is, that a member of a majority group, in refusing to speak out against violence toward a minority, is themself committing violence. This principle can be extended beyond just issues of race. Cis silence equals cis violence, and it is for that reason that I, a cisgendered individual, feel compelled to speak out.

So: Shame on you. Shame on you for implying that people’s identities are less legitimate because the pronouns that come with them aren’t “real English words” (for the record, language is defined by usage, and the first recorded use of gender-neutral third-person pronouns was in 1884, so this has nothing to do with “Tumblristas,” “feminazis” or whatever other ridiculous straw-man is in vogue these days). Shame on you for perpetuating that trans and gender nonconforming individuals are merely “special snowflakes” whose gender identities are made up as coping mechanisms or means of seeking attention. This is simply not the case, and perpetuating the stereotype of trans and gender-nonconforming people as attention-seeking only deepens the societal stigma against these people, which can have disastrous consequences.

According to a study by the UCLA Law School, 40 percent of transgender and gender nonconforming individuals have attempted suicide. That is a tragically high number. The study also showed that such individuals who have been discriminated against, or who are exposed to transphobic messaging in society (such as, for example, comparing trans identities to people declaring themselves kings), are even more likely to have attempted suicide. Trans people are more likely to be homeless than the general population, more likely to have mental health issues and more likely to drop out of school. More than half of them have been, or will be, sexually assaulted.

So, again: Shame on you. Shame on you for attacking an initiative that the University took to make one of the most marginalized and underprivileged groups here feel a little more welcome on campus. I assume all of you are cis, so you weren’t really affected by this at all, but you still felt it necessary to go through the effort to change your official pronoun to something ridiculous — and then, at least in Mr. Strobl’s case, to tell everyone about your brave act of protest.

A few words specifically for Mr. Strobl: It feels like you see the pronoun tool as absurd, as an example of PC madness and liberal academia run amok. It seems you feel so strongly about how other people — whom you don’t know or care about — choose to identify themselves that you think you have a right to define their identities, to tell them that you will be referring to them in this way. You tweeted this frankly disgusting ideology while challenging others to play along in the #UMPronounChallenge. You made yourself the center of attention. Don’t you see it? You are the special snowflake. You want everybody to accommodate your beliefs, to adjust their language to match your idea of how English ought to be spoken and to identify people the way you want them to, not the way they want to be identified.

All right, back to everyone: I hope that your actions were motivated by ignorance, not by intolerance. If this op-ed has changed your mind, please change your pronouns on Wolverine Access to match your identities, and try to be more respectful toward trans and gender nonconforming people in the future. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it. By all means, though, if you’ve read this far and still believe that I’m wrong, that trans and nonconforming individuals are attention-seekers, that there is no value in non-binary pronouns, that you should have the right to refer to people by whatever you want to, not the pronoun they choose, then don’t change your pronouns back in Wolverine Access. Keep them as His Majesty, as Her Lordship, as Apache Attack Helicopter. This way, your professors and GSIs will have a great idea of your character before you so much as open your mouth in class.

Conor Thompson is an LSA freshman.