Sometimes to act against one’s better judgment when it comes to questions of custom, to give way in practice while keeping one’s reservations to oneself, to do as everyone else does and thus to show them consideration as it were in compensation for our deviant opinions: many tolerably free-minded people regard this not merely as unobjectionable, but as ‘honest’, ‘humane’, ‘tolerant’, ‘not being pedantic’, and whatever else those pretty words might be with which the intellectual conscience is lulled to sleep: and thus this person takes his child in for Christian baptism though he is an atheist, and that person serves in the army as all the world does, however much he may execrate hatred between nations, and a third marries his wife in church because her relatives are pious and is not ashamed to repeat vows before a priest. ‘It doesn’t really matter if people like us also do what everyone does and always has done’ – this is the thoughtless prejudice! The thoughtless error! For nothing matters more than that an already mighty, anciently established and irrationally recognized custom should be once more confirmed by a person recognized as rational: it thereby acquires in the eyes of all who come to hear of it the sanction of rationality itself! All respect to your opinions! But little deviant acts are worth more!
— Nietzsche, Daybreak
The Lady of the House has a business event coming up. The pre-registration form has a required space for your “preferred pronouns.” One day soon, we’ll all face this choice. I can skip this particular event, but eventually, some intake form at the doctor’s office, the DMV, or any other piece of what Wesley Yang has called the Vertically Integrated Messaging Apparatus will force us to type something in that field. This is how they getcha — the new trend just becomes part of the no-man’s-land of digital bureaucracy, where old-fashioned notions like responsibility and accountability dissipate on the breeze. What are you going to do, ask to speak to a manager? “That’s just the way the template was designed, sir; I’m afraid there’s nothing we can do to change it, and besides, our tech person is on vacation…”
Most of us are polite and averse to causing a scene. Faced with a choice between embarrassing the Lady in public in front of her friends, or accepting the “he/him” addition to my nametag, well, I’m afraid I’d probably suffer the insult to my dignity. And it would be an insult. I would feel like I’d ratified the absurd notion that I, 215 pounds of chiseled muscle and a glorious beard, could honestly be mistaken for a woman, that I should have to explicitly state my manhood. I can’t whore out my imprimatur to some insane fiction, as loath as I am to start a fight over something so stupid. I can’t dignify this fraudulence with a response. And yet, as I said, we’re all going to face it eventually. Is there a way to thread that needle? Could we enter “n/a” into the form, or maybe “c/o” for conscientious objector? Or maybe the Bartleby option — “I would prefer not to.” Repeat as many times as necessary.