Canada: Note To Jordan Peterson: This Is Why I Specify My Pronouns

Last Updated: March 23 2018
Article by Joel Michaud

My work as a lawyer involves advocating in support of whatever position is favourable to my clients' interests, making it convincing, and doing so ethically. It is uncomfortable for me to write about my personal views, but I figured I'd share the following, with the hope that it might be of interest to other 50-year-olds and older folks who are, like me, adapting to changing societal realities.

I have been following, from afar, with both intrigue and amazement the incidents involving psychologist and U of T professor Jordan Peterson. Whether one agrees or disagrees with his views and opinions, what strikes me most is the level of anger, rage even, and lack of informed and orderly debate taking place about the issues. I suspect that many homophobic, transphobic and other kinds of phobic individuals holding views much more extreme than those of Peterson are reveling in the fact that someone with credibility, knowledge and eloquence is doing the dirty work of sticking it to the liberals.

Perhaps, one should not be surprised by the vitriolic language and attitudes. Peterson is resisting, is actually fighting back against, political correctness, a sacrosanct edict if there ever was one. There are plenty of sources available on the internet for those interested in exploring the details and opposing views.

The origin of the Peterson affair was his refusal to use different pronouns for those who do not subscribe to the norm of binary gender.

Peterson argues that the sheer number of "invented" pronouns makes the whole concept ridiculous. This position can sound attractive to people who like to think of themselves as logical – and don't we all believe we're logical. The problem is that our country and our society are changing, and a refusal to adapt will not halt the change. As a 50-year-old white man, there is something about change that sometimes makes me uneasy or even uncomfortable. But being somewhat progressive and open-minded (at least, I think I am), I've never had strong feelings about the pronouns issue. I figured that how someone else wishes to be addressed doesn't affect me in the least. I might make mistakes, but I would not intentionally disrespect someone. In short, I felt that as this issue didn't affect me personally, I wouldn't pick sides (unless of course a file required me to pick my client's side, in which case I certainly would, at least for the duration of the litigation).

Then, in September 2017, I met Gabriel – a trans man who was presenting to our firm about transgender and non-binary gender identities and related issues. Gabriel was an engaging speaker who welcomed questions about anything. He told us that he had been asked very personal questions at similar presentations, and that nothing would shock him. I had a question. It was not shocking. I explained to Gabriel that I had seen e-mail signature lines from people which included the following: "pronouns: he, him" or "she, her" and asked what he thought of that.

Gabriel did not state, as one familiar with the views of Professor Peterson could expect, namely that he would necessarily consider a person adding this statement to their signature line an ally in the social justice war. He simply said: if I saw this, I would feel safe. He went on to provide statistics on the rates of suicide attempts by trans and other non-binary persons, which were quite shocking.

We often hear parents state that the most important thing for them is for their children to be happy. While happiness is obviously preferable to misery, life is not made up exclusively of happy moments. I personally prefer my children to always be safe, and to know they are safe, despite the unhappy episodes life invariably brings. That is why Gabriel's answer stuck with me.

And that is why, without engaging in debates or picking sides in so-called social justice battles, I have chosen to specify my pronouns in my signature on emails. If I can make just one person feel safe, that is more than good enough for me. If this signals an alliance with the LGBTQ community or suggests that my small gesture constitutes picking sides, I'm perfectly comfortable with that.

So, I say to Gabriel, as I would say to my children, I want you to always feel safe. And to those who are uncomfortable with some of these changes society is throwing at us, I say: be nice. Finally, for those who refuse to be nice, be aware that the law is catching up to societal change: sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression are prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Joël Michaud (pronouns he/him, pronoms il/lui)

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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