Opinion: Denying Gender Identity Is No Different Than Denying Religion

Walter Rhein

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There have been a lot of discussions lately about the concept of gender identity. People like to make dismissive statements and say that they don’t understand pronouns.

It’s not that hard to understand when you think about it in terms of any other form of identity. Identity is not a simple topic. You are more than your name. You are more than your job. You are more than the number of children you have. You are more than your religion. You are more than your sexual orientation. You are more than your gender.

Think of how impolite it is when people try to impose a label on you. If you underestimate people, it puts you at a disadvantage. Using an oversimplification to define a person is a denial of their true complexity.

For example, maybe you got married when you were very young and the marriage ended in divorce. About half of all marriages end in divorce. Does that mean that once you find out a person has been divorced it tells you everything that you need to know about them?

Of course not.

You know nothing about a person based on only the knowledge that they are divorced. You don’t have enough information to arrive at any conclusions.

Perhaps you might consider your name as part of your identity. It might be very important for you to have people pronounce your name correctly. Unfortunately, in the culture of the United States, many groups think it’s acceptable to mispronounce names they don’t feel are “American” enough.

Mispronouncing somebody’s name is an example of forcing an identity on them. What if your name was “Michael” and somebody insisted on calling you “Mr. Stinky?”

“My name is Michael, please pronounce it correctly.”

“That’s what I said, Mr. Stinky, why are you making such a big deal about this? Mr. Stinky is how I pronounce your name, deal with it.”

That example is exaggerated for emphasis, but there are some cases where a mispronunciation might sound like an insult in another language. This is why we have to make a sincere effort to get pronunciations right. Respect used to be considered a traditional value. Correctly pronouncing somebody's name is certainly an example of showing respect.

It’s ridiculous that so many people in the United States think they aren’t doing anything wrong by mispronouncing a name. If you can’t get a name right, you’re the one being aggressive. You’re the one forcing an identity on somebody.

Your religion might be part of your identity. Perhaps you identify as Christian. What if somebody said, “I refuse to recognize you as a Christian because you’re divorced.” Or maybe they’d say, “I refuse to recognize you as Christian because you aren’t charitable to poor people.”

In that case, the person who identifies as Christian would probably feel offended. Why is it that people who identify as Christian understand this example, but they can’t see how it’s offensive to impose gender identity onto somebody else?

Life is a lot easier when we show a basic level of respect to the people around us. That means that we should learn to pronounce people’s names. That means we should not give them insulting nicknames.

We can also respect each other’s right to religious beliefs. If somebody wants to hold themselves to a religious standard, that’s perfectly fine. However, there’s often a problem in American culture where religious groups want exceptions to rules that all other citizens must follow. That represents an example of disrespectful behavior.

Just because you identify as Christian doesn't mean you have any right to make me identify as Christian. Your religion determines your behavior. It has nothing to do with the behavior of the people around you.

If your religion preaches discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community, then it’s bigotry. It’s not a justification to say, “Those are just my religious beliefs.” Religious beliefs are not a justification for all unlawful behavior. Remember, it’s still murder if you sacrifice a human being to appease your deity.

However, you do have a right to expect the people around you to accept that you identify as a Christian.

The same is true for gender identity. It’s simply a matter of respect. You don’t have any right to ask people to prove their gender. That’s none of your business.

When somebody says, “Refer to me as ‘she/her’” then use those pronouns. It’s simple. Show respect. This doesn’t have to be complicated.

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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