Shouting Your Pronouns in a Crowded Theater

This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Dave Barfield
Real Clear Wire

The following is a condensed version of “Shouting Your Pronouns in a Crowded Theater” by Dave Barfield, published at Law & Liberty.

Let’s try out a thought experiment. Imagine you’re in a crowded theater and someone yells, “Fire!” What happens? People flee the room in a panic. Rightly so. Now let me change the question slightly. When someone yells, “Fire!” what happens linguistically?

According to philosopher J. L. Austin’s speech-act theory in his influential book How to Do Things with Words, three things occur:  locution, Illocution, and perlocution. In locution, there is information transfer: a fire is present. In illocution, the yelling affected the yeller: perhaps he or she became a hero in his or her own mind. In perlocution, something happened to the listeners: they fled in terror. The exclamation of “Fire!” changed the scene dramatically.

Now, let’s alter our thought experiment. Imagine you learned the person who yelled “Fire!” was mistaken. Would you flee in terror? Would it be right to help others flee? Of course not. There was no fire.

Why would someone yell “Fire!” when there was no fire? Perhaps the person was confused or nefariously wanted to cause a scene. In such a speech-act, multiple things occur, regardless of the accuracy of the information.

Now to the matter of pronouns. When you replace “Fire” with someone’s chosen pronouns, more than just information transfer takes place. The speaker is trying to change the hearer. Thus, the communication of one’s preferred pronouns does more than just transfer information. It is an attempt to change the listener’s beliefs, actions, feelings, etc.

The trans community has made a concerted effort at changing how non-trans people think about them by insisting that an unsung part of speech do much of the work for them. Pronouns are displayed on nametags, social media profiles, class rosters, and other platforms. Failures to comply with someone’s chosen pronouns has led to public confrontations and moral castigations. Thus, many in the non-trans community use chosen pronouns out of fear. That’s perlocution at work.

Pronoun Impotence

Others, however, refuse to comply. They believe they are being pressured into saying something untrue, because the trans community has offered no compelling logic for their claims regarding genders. They believe the trans community has only communicated their feelings. In our thought experiment, this would be someone yelling “Fire!” when someone feels like there’s a fire, even though that person might be unsure, unsettled, or even unethical. Generally speaking, this would not be a problem. A free society should not overly care about feelings. However, the trans community has pressed the issue into society-altering actions: bathroom usage, prison assignments, tax money for healthcare, etc.

Despite these efforts by the trans community, the pronoun endeavor will fail. Why? Two reasons. First, pronouns will never sufficiently perlocute one’s gender because they cannot illocute one’s gender. Even as part of a multi-pronged strategy of hormones, surgery, and the like, pronouns will fall short in affirming one’s personal choice. These only reveal personal choice—the heart of the issue. Personal choice, while a luxury, is impotent against the juggernaut of nature. Choosing to fly off a bridge does not mean gravity will comply, and choosing one’s pronouns does not mean society must comply.

Second, it won’t work for pragmatic reasons. The accepted pronoun formula (He/Him, She/Her) has already been coopted by comedians, satirists, and even the trans community itself. Billionaire Elon Musk recently joked that his pronouns were “Prosecute/Fauci,” and the trans community has placed signage in New York stating that if you don’t comply, your pronouns will be “Was/Were.” Thus, the sacred pronoun formula produces the modern profanity of laughter and fear.

New Solutions

Perlocution is built on tacit trust in a free society. I trust you to yell “Fire!” only when there is one. If you betray that trust, you maintain the freedom to yell, but I am under no obligation to believe you. This goes for pronouns, too. We trust each other to tell the objective truth, not what one’s personal imagination says.

All this means we need an absolute, which Nature and Nature’s God has given us: biological sex. This binary has functioned extraordinarily well for millennia, and human endeavors to undo it are simply causing greater harm. Ironically, many of the people who religiously follow nature in other areas (evolution, racial justice, climate change, etc.) suddenly find themselves at war with healthy human bodies.

Furthermore, this male/female binary allows for a broad spectrum of gender expression. Masculine does not necessarily mean machismo, nor does feminine necessarily mean effeminate. Any attempt to generate genders at imaginary whims is as arbitrary as the moral demands to use someone’s chosen pronouns.

And finding arbitrary solutions would require an upending of Nature that goes beyond gender. It would mean Nature is no longer reliable for anything at all. Such a course leads to nihilism, and its accompanying violence. And we/they are already there.

Dave Barfield is the Executive Director of a Protestant church in Carmel, Indiana.

This article was originally published by Law & Liberty Exclusive and made available via RealClearWire.


Thanks for sharing!