How to deal with malicious exploitation of fair rules
March 18, 2023 2:06 AM   Subscribe

In this country, it is possible to legally change your sex. IMO, this is a good thing. I support it. I'm also appalled by those people who vilify trans people. But what if someone clearly and transparently has changed their legal status to mock trans people?

A self-declared provocateur who calls themself Ibi-Pippi and who has most recently vandalized a major work of art (presumably with the purpose of mocking young climate activists), has changed their legal identity.
I usually insist on using he as the pronoun when speaking about the person, because they are making a mockery of the law and insulting trans people (and many others). But a good friend and colleague insists that we must stick to the law in order to protect it. I am confused. What do you think? I may need to speak about this in not-private settings, so I need to make a principled decision.
posted by mumimor to Society & Culture (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

what if someone clearly and transparently has changed their legal status to mock trans people?

They're doing that to cause exactly the kind of anxiety you're experiencing right now. The way they're currently carrying on is clearly intended to start fights. You engage, they win.

So don't get their shit on you. If they ask to be referred to as they, refer to them as they. If they later claim that the whole thing was a ridiculous stunt and want to revert to he, you can start referring to them as he.

Whenever some me!me!me! fuckwit is doing their best to create bad feeling where none need exist, there's really no need to help them.

If I ever found myself in this particular fuckwit's sights and used as a target for their mockery, I'd much rather they were mocking me for doing the right thing than the wrong thing.

So, I think your friend and colleague has it. People feeling like it's only fair and reasonable to expect others to refer to us by our own preferred pronouns is a good thing, and there is no need at all to feed obvious hypocrites with reactions they could easily compile and use to suggest otherwise. Let their mockery remain all theirs, and let history be their judge.
posted by flabdablet at 2:32 AM on March 18 [59 favorites]

Ultimately, if someone asks us to use a particular pronoun or refer to them as a particular gender, then we should just do it. After all, there are some people with awful views, awful personalities, but we can still respect their gender.

Even if you think they are doing it in bad faith, why not just go with it? I guess they think it proves that we don't take gender seriously enough if we just go along apparent trolling, acknowledging their gender without enough evidence of conviction of being that gender? But that's their bar, their framing, not mine. The binaries, the absolutism, etc. are not required and not relevant. I don't demand conviction, or indeed anything absolute about it. It's just kind, generous, and consistent (and polite!) to acknowledge someone as the gender they say they are.
posted by iivix at 3:50 AM on March 18 [14 favorites]

I agree that using the chosen pronouns is the right thing to do. Someone using good practices and needful things as a weapon is on their head, not yours.

If that's unpleasant, I have no problem with name and #factual action they have done. Ibi-Pippi, defacer of artwork, did the blah blah, thus...
posted by Jacen at 5:17 AM on March 18 [5 favorites]

Here is the thing, the whole reason people who are trans advocate for respect of pronouns is that using pronouns that don't align with identity is very distressing.

It's distressing for most cis people if the wrong pronouns are used.

A person who is able to change their pronouns and or legal gender who tolerates people calling them by that pronoun may actually be more gender nonconforming than they are actually letting people know or you believe.

If someone is asking you to use pronouns use them but also don't think about it. So what if it's some sideways political statement. Be respectful and don't stress about what it all means.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:35 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]

Nthing the "do what they say" advice.

Because, think about it - the point you're trying to get through to them is, "we need to respect people's wishes about how they want to be addressed, even if we disagree with the reasons". Right?

Ibi-Pippi might think it's stupid someone wants to be referred to as "they", but the point isn't that Ibi-Pippi thinks it's stupid, the point is that EVEN THOUGH he thinks it's stupid, Ibi-Pippi should still be polite and refer to that person as "they". Well - you think it's stupid that Ibi-Pippi wants to be called "They" right now. And....just like it doesn't matter if Ibi-Pippi thinks it's stupid but should still be polite, then so should you. And when Ibi-Pippi goes back to saying "he", then you change back.

And when Ibi inevitably says "but why did you switch to 'they' and now you're switching back to 'he'?" Then you can simply say "you asked me to, and I was respecting what you wanted." And how the hell can they argue with that?
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:39 AM on March 18 [11 favorites]

Yep. I would say use the pronouns someone says they want used, to the best of your knowledge at the time you're talking about that person, regardless of the reasons behind the request. If you think the person is a malicious asshole for the reasoning behind their pronoun choice, you can state that while still using the pronoun they say they want used.

Huge caveat here though for this specific, that I don't know much about Danish trans activism and culture, and this could certainly be one of those areas where as an American my instincts are simply completely off base. If you haven't, it would be worth taking a little time to see how trans folks in your country are talking about this particular person, and take that into account when making your decision.
posted by Stacey at 5:51 AM on March 18

Thank you for asking this question. Someone I know claims that he identifies as "wolf" rather than they or he or she. I know that this person is just fucking around because he admitted as much to me, and I find his take appalling. The answers have been very helpful and are much appreciated!
posted by Bella Donna at 6:44 AM on March 18 [4 favorites]

In these kinds of situations I try to tell myself, “they can act like them… I’m going to act like ME.”

Me is someone who tries to be respectful of other people’s identities, period.

Even if I think they’re weaponizing the concept of identities in a harmful way (so common!) I would still try to use respectful forms of address. I would also feel free to point out inconsistencies and hypocrisies or factual inconsistencies around how they’re behaving - all while using their requested pronouns and respecting their identities.

Their identity isn’t the problem - their other behaviours are.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:04 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

I'm trans.

This person sounds like an asshole.

You should call people by the pronouns they ask for, full stop — even assholes.

Someone doesn't have to meet some minimum standard of trans-ness to deserve a pronoun. "It will make me happy if you use this" is reason enough. If being called "they" makes Ibi-Pippi happy, we should call them "they." Sure, they're an asshole, but there are better ways to rein in an asshole than being petty about their pronouns.

And if being called "they" makes Ibi-Pippi unhappy... well, I guess they've made their bed and they can lie in it. Their own unhappiness is punishment enough. They'll just have to deal with being unhappy until they come to their senses and ask for a different pronoun. It's not our job to protect them from their own bad judgment.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:06 AM on March 18 [14 favorites]

(That said, I'll second Stacey, you should defer to local trans friends. They might have context that we don't.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:12 AM on March 18

Sorry, one last point.

When some troll says "So what if I decide my pronouns are XYZ?", their real goal is to undermine the legitimacy of people's stated pronouns.

If you fight them, you're actually conceding the point: you're agreeing that people's stated pronouns aren't always legitimate. Their next move is easy: "Fine. If you think my pronouns are illegitimate, I think nebulawindphone's are illegitimate. If you refuse to use mine, I refuse to use hers. What's the difference?" If you say "The difference is that nebulawindphone is really trans," then they have an excuse to bring out evidence I'm not really trans, or at least not trans enough — which, frankly, is easy, because nobody is perfect.

That's why the party line is "just respect everyone's pronouns, no matter how silly they seem." The alternative is to concede ground to the other side and to invite character attacks on trans people.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:39 AM on March 18 [48 favorites]

All you can do is ignore these people until they get bored and go away. You should still stick to the law because the vast, vast majority of trans people are being their true selves and not making a mockery of anything. If this person chooses to behave like a child they’ll be treated like one—with minimal attention given to this spectacle until this phase is finally over.
posted by Amy93 at 8:07 AM on March 18 [2 favorites]

Nthing that you should call this person by their desired pronouns even if they are being disingenuous or doing it to be a jackass or whatever. Because if you don't, you lend legitimacy to bigots who refuse to call actual trans or GNC people by their names/pronouns.
posted by Tamanna at 8:21 AM on March 18

Response by poster: Thanks for all the good insights. The way you all explain it, it seems simple. I guess I am partially blinded by anger at the outrage machine out there. I haven't yet marked any best answers, because they are all good.
posted by mumimor at 9:17 AM on March 18 [6 favorites]

Don’t feed the trolls.

In this case what the troll wants is to be treated as a special case. It will be boring for them if everyone just says "Yep, okay". The mundanity of being treated like everyone else will leave them entirely unsatisfied.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:53 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]

You treat them exactly as a trans person would be treated.

The troll is trolling for a reaction out of you. The best thing you can do is to treat him completely seriously, not with outrage, disgust, whatever. "So, when's your transition scheduled?"
posted by kschang at 10:50 AM on March 19

I'm kind of confused why this person is taking up a lot of space in your brain? Is there a reason you need to talk about this person at all/frequently?

Use the pronouns the person states that they want to be used. It's not your problem to figure out if that is their authentic desire. Focus your critiques on their shitty behaviors that are factual and don't require any conjecture into their motives.
posted by latkes at 11:22 AM on March 19

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