During the 57-minute rant, the professor, Jordan Peterson, repeatedly starts his sentences with “I’m scared.” On this point alone, we agree. Even at Ryerson, we are scared, too.
As students, we’re scared that a professor could be so ill-informed about the extensive literature that explores gender identity and expression. We’re scared that the same professor teaches an undergraduate course in the psychology of personality that explores “the interaction of cultural and biological factors in the development and expression of individual differences.”
We’re scared that someone, whose own website emphasizes how beloved he is by his students, could be so quick to completely dismiss a student or colleague’s right to be referred to by the pronouns they identify with
We are students at a university that has also struggled to incorporate gender expression and identity into policy. Creating inclusive and gender neutral washrooms has been a lengthy process that is still not complete. The university still isolates trans and genderqueer students by putting the onus on them to reach out to their professors with their names and pronouns at the start of every semester. Ryerson’s website still uses the wording “preferred name and pronouns.” It’s language that diminishes the significance of these markers — and if the significance is lost on you, consider being misgendered in your own day-to-day life.
Journalism, too, has struggled with using gender neutral pronouns. The Canadian Press has yet to create a formal entry on the subject — so newsrooms across the country, like ours, must form their own individual policies or address the issue on a case-by-case basis. The Ryersonian is still determining what its official policy will be. However, when a policy is developed it will be informed not only by the choices of other publications, but also by the people the policy will affect.
What Peterson fails to realize is that he does not have the right to choose. It simply does not matter how educated or confident you are in your own assumptions about gender expression or identity. What matters is that the person specifying their name or pronouns knows how they want to be identified.
And as for accepting their requests? It doesn’t take a PhD to know that is just a matter of basic respect.