“I Self-Identify as a Perfectly Tolerant Person”

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This is a brief snippet of a dialogue I want to get some response to. I’d like to know where its weaknesses are, if any. It takes place on some college campus that requires students and staff to respect others’ preferred pronouns.

“I’ve realized that I self-identify as a woman now. I’d like you to use female pronouns when you refer to me from now on.”

“No, I’m going to keep referring to you as ‘he’ and ‘him.'”

“But I’m saying that I’m a woman now. You need to use female pronouns with me.”

“I’m saying no.”

“That’s terribly rude, and I could report you to the administration here for it.”

“Really? How could it be rude? I self-identify as a perfectly courteous and tolerant person.”

“But you aren’t! You’re refusing to use the pronouns I want you to use.”

“My mental self-image says I am.”

“Your actions disprove it. You’re rude.”

“My mental self-image is the reality. I’m asking you from now on only to speak of me as a perfectly courteous and tolerant person.”

“Oh, come on. I can’t speak of you that way. Your mental self-image doesn’t change the truth of what you are!”

“Oh, really?”

If a person’s self-image can determine reality for others, what are the limits to that effect — and why?

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7 Responses to “ “I Self-Identify as a Perfectly Tolerant Person” ”

  1. You could strengthen the point by drawing the explicit comparison: One person says he’s a woman when he is not, and the other person says he’s tolerant when he is not.

    Being a woman is a physical thing we can verify as true or false. In the same way, being tolerant is something we can verify based on observed actions. Both people in the dialogue are denying reality.

    On the other hand, you might try this kind of dialogue:

    A: I’m confused about my gender. I’m physically a man, but I somehow feel like a woman. Maybe it would help me if you showed some flexibility in your attitudes about gender.

    B: Sorry to hear you are confused. I hope you can sort things out over time. Have you contacted any support groups on campus?

    A: Yes, but I was hoping you would agree to use female pronouns when referring to me.

    B: Oh, that would be troublesome. What if I forget and accidentally use the wrong pronoun? Would you get mad at me? Hey, what if I simply avoid using third-person pronouns altogether?

    A: ???

  2. The major problem with the argument is the implicit assumption that your interlocutor cares a whit for consistency. Identity politics has one rule for the oppressed and another for the oppressor. Guess which category you fall in, Mr White Supremacist?

  3. The key is the comparison that the reductio makes between identifying as a gender and identifying as a certain type of person in terms of character traits. We have to ask if there are distinctions between the two that are relevant so as to make the comparison weak or illicit.

    On the surface it’s the same: I appear one way but insist on being identified a different way. Obviously gender is not identical with virtuous traits. But as far as this brief exchange is concerned, the two things are the same in the relevant sense of the implied argument. Each one (gender & personality trait) has an observable and objective feature(s) – (you are male and you are rude, respectively). And in each case the person identifies directly against them (as female, and as courteous, respectively).

    An opponent might reply that gender identity dysphoria (though they may no longer call it that) is a ‘real’ condition that people actually have, while personality trait dysphoria is just something you made up for your argument. But this is question-begging. Why should I believe that the one is ‘real’ and the other is not, since they are both based on the same kinds of subjective claims? Isn’t that the very point of your fictional dialogue?

  4. I’m afraid TFBW has nailed down the problem. There just isn’t any pretense from the social justice crowd in even appearing fair minded. In fact, given their’s is an exercise in will to power, only the effect of their words is important not their content. Enforcing double standards to disarm and marginalize their opponents is a sine qua non of their ideology. TFBW only got one thing wrong. You most certainly are not “Mr White Supremacist.” You are a narrow-minded, cis-gendered, sexist, victim-blaming, misogynistic male, who needs to check his white privileged, heteronormative mansplaing.

    Have a Nice Day!

  5. Tolerance isn’t agreement, or else both parties in this conversation could be labeled intolerant. But tolerance is respectful – it doesn’t simply say “tough, I’m going to keep doing what I like/feel is right.” It empathizes, it explains, it strives wherever possible to find common ground.

    Another problem here is the unfortunate term “self-identify,” which communicates nothing more than the previously common term, “identify.”

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