Why Jordan Peterson won’t refer to transgender people by their preferred pronouns

The name Jordan Peterson has probably snuck up on you over the last few years.

Peterson is now a globally-renowned speaker whose dissatisfaction with the rise of identity politics and other liberal ideologies found a place amongst millions who feel the same way

Although Peterson spent decades building his reputation and expertise as an academic psychologist, his work had little to do with his initial fame. It wasn’t until late 2016 that he became a public figure, due to his opposing stance to the Canadian parliament’s proposed Bill C-16.

The Bill C-16 was a bill being introduced by the Canadian government which would seemingly put an end to gender discrimination.

Not only would it be illegal to attack individuals based on gender expression or gender identity (everything from the way they dress, wear their hair, wear makeup, speak, and more), but there would now be a form of “compelled speech” or “government mandated speech”, by forcing people to use the preferred pronouns of transgenders.

But Peterson had other views, and in September of 2016, he posted several YouTube videos that explained why Bill C-16 was in direct opposition of Canada’s free speech rights.

In these videos and Peterson’s subsequent public talks, Peterson argued that C-16 would lead to the arrest of average, law-abiding individuals such as himself, due to its “radically politically correct” foundations.

Is Peterson’s opposition to the C-16 due to a transphobic characteristic?

According to Peterson, it has nothing to do with transphobia. Rather, by forcing individuals to refer to transgenders by pronouns of their own choosing, it would be the start of a slippery slope and would lead to more radical policing in everyday speech.

In this article, we outline exactly why Jordan Peterson vehemently opposes government-mandated gender pronouns.

Jordan Peterson on gender pronouns: The 1-minute rundown

  • Transgender activism has grown over the last few years, and this has led to the rise of transgender pronouns
  • University campuses across North America have been the breeding grounds for these new pronouns, including words such as “ze”, “ey”, “hir”, “xe”, “hen”, “ve”, “ne”, “per”, “thon”, “Mx.”, and more
  • Jordan Peterson was one of the first to speak out against it when Canadian parliament proposed Bill C-16, which would make it illegal for individuals to use any pronoun besides the preferred pronoun when referring to transgender individuals
  • Peterson believes this is an issue of free speech, comparing state-regulated language to the practices of the Nazis, the Soviet Union, and Orwell’s classic 1984
  • Peterson states that the more the left pushes for radical laws and ideas, the more likely that the right will become radical itself and fight back

The bigger picture

Jordan Peterson’s stance against the proposed Canadian Bill C-16 compelling people to use the preferred pronouns when addressing transgender individuals skyrocketed him to fame in 2016.

However, it can be difficult to understand why this bill happened in the first place without understanding the cultural shift occurring contemporaneously around university campuses in North America.

2016 was a big year for transgender pronouns — in January of that year, the American Dialect Society officially anointed “they” as the gender-neutral pronoun to be used when addressing an individual whose preferred pronoun is yet unknown. This decision was made up by 334 professionals in language fields, including etymologists, linguists, and grammarians.

Anne Curzan, English professor of the University of Michigan, stated in the New York Times: “We’ve seen a lot of attention this year [2016] to people who are identifying out of the gender binary.” And the trans movement only truly picked up steam in the early ‘10s, with vocal advocates such as Laverne Cox and Caitlin Jenner. Young people were now asserting their preferred pronouns on university campuses.

According to psychotherapist Julie Mencher, “I think we, and particularly young people, increasingly view gender not as a given, but as a choice, not as a distinction between male and female, but as a spectrum, regardless of what’s ‘down there’. Many claim that gender doesn’t even exist.”

With this shift in ideology, other pronouns such as “Ze”, “ey”, “hir”, “xe”, “hen”, “ve”, “ne”, “per”, “thon”, “Mx.”, and many more entered the university campus dialogue.

Whether or not professors and student bodies were willing to adapt to these newly introduced pronouns did not matter—all that mattered was acceptance, as seen with the proposed Bill C-16 later that year.

Why Peterson refuses to use these pronouns: Nothing to do with transphobia

The response to the introduction of these pronouns on campus life was generally positive. Professors and student bodies either supported the use of the pronouns, or did not care enough about the issue to publicly speak up about it.

To Jordan Peterson, for a long time he lived in fear of the latter.

In one of Peterson’s earliest videos, he stated that “The personal consequences of objecting are huge. The effect of my objection on society is miniscule. The risk isn’t worth it.” He argued that he and his like-minded colleagues were paralyzed by the introduction of these pronouns, and instead of using them, he simply ignored them.

When Peterson first came out against transgender pronouns, he was warned by the University of Toronto that he would lose his job if he continued to ignore students and faculty and their preferred gender pronouns.

To this, Peterson stated it was an issue of free speech: “I’m not going to cede linguistic territory to post-modernist neo-Marxists.” The difference is whether the question is asked by an individual or forced by the state.

After the introduction of Bill C-16, Peterson reaffirmed his stance:

“I certainly won’t use them now that I am compelled to by law. It’s a reprehensible law… a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I don’t believe, either, that any such prosecution would stand a court challenge, unless the courts have become corrupted too, which is unfortunately possible.

There are some who would argue: Why does Peterson make it so difficult? Is it too much to call someone the way they want to be called?

During one talk, Peterson is asked exactly that: “If I came up to you in class and asked you to refer to me as a certain pronoun, would you ignore my request?”

Peterson’s response was short and simple: “It would depend on how you asked.”

The slippery moral slope

Peterson spent much of his life studying Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union; he has cited books such as George Orwell’s dystopian 1984 as one of the most terrifying novels ever written. He believes that state-imposed speech — in whatever capacity or form — is a red flag designating an oppressive and denigrating society.

By forcing people to say one thing or another, it is an absolute abuse of state power.

But there is more to this than just an oppressive government. Regardless of whether the incumbent power is the right or the left, the abuse of state power for the intentions of left ideologies or right ideologies forces the opposing side to itself grow to the extremes.

What does this mean? That laws such as the original Bill C-16 (which is now a law) create extremists because it is extremist in itself.

According to Peterson:

“I’ve studied Nazism for four decades. And I understand it very well. And I can tell you there are some awful people lurking in the corners. They are ready to come out. And if the radical left keeps pushing the way it’s pushing, they’re going to come.

To a man such as Peterson, free speech is one of his ultimate core values. He believes that we are increasingly falling into a world in which free speech and freedom in general has been tethered to a post, and without this free speech we will be lost to whatever the states wishes upon us.

Peterson muses that somehow free speech has become a “right wing” element, and the left believes in the abdication of this free speech.

To Peterson, transgenderism has no foundation in biology, but transgender individuals can have rights if they so wish. However, he has been labelled alt-right incorrectly due to his opposing stance to issues that fall far beyond transgender rights, but to general freedom and free speech.

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Justin Brown

I'm Justin Brown, the founder of Ideapod. I've overseen the evolution of Ideapod from a social network for ideas into a publishing and education platform with millions of monthly readers and multiple products helping people to think critically, see issues clearly and engage with the world responsibly.

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