University of Toronto professor refuses to recognize gender neutral identities

What implications can this controversy have for the LGBTQ community?

By Ashley Aalto, Staff Writer

gender-neutral-pronouns-trans-march-toronto-eric-parker-flickr-creative-commonsA psychology professor at the University of Toronto, Jordan Peterson, has recently posted a lecture online in which he states that he refuses to use gender-neutral pronouns for those who do not identify as either male or female. The lecture contains content that dismisses the legitimacy of Bill C-16, which states that human rights protection expands to gender identity and expression. As stated in the Ontario Human Rights Commission, gender is “each person’s internal and individual experience of gender. It is their sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.”

In his lecture, Peterson blatantly disagrees with this statement by saying, “It’s not obvious to me how you can be both because those are by definition binary categories. There’s an idea that there’s a gender spectrum but I don’t think that that’s a valid idea, I don’t think there’s any evidence for it.” Peterson also stated that he perceived someone asking him to use gender neutral pronouns when referring to them as manipulative, and refuses to comply.

A transgender non-binary physics professor also at the University of Toronto, A.W. Peet, has taken a stand to recognize people who identify as non-binary, and to let them know that their identities are valid. Since they have acquired tenure, Peet decided to reply to Peterson’s statements publicly through the use of Twitter: “I refuse to stand by and just let bigots like Peterson hurt vulnerable genderqueer members of the university community on my watch.”

Having someone, especially in a respectable position such as Peterson, rejecting the validity of non-binary people can have quite an impact on the LGBTQ community and the way it is perceived. Nivie Singh, the Pride Central coordinator at Lakehead University and a non-binary identifying person, states, “When somebody continuously genders me incorrectly, whether it is on purpose or not, I am affected. A part of me cringes inside. It affects my self-confidence and how I enter a space.”

Nivie touches on the subject of privilege and the use of it when faced with these issues: “[At] institutions as prestigious as U of T, a lot of people look at professors as people who set the stage for social climate. When somebody from such a prestigious institution comes and says something so horrendous, I think that folks do connect with that and it creates a space for people to be really problematic and violent towards trans people. People who are transphobic will now hold on to this and say, ‘Now my hate is validated by somebody who is accredited.’ I think this is very dangerous to the trans community. There shouldn’t have to be a Pride Central, but there is because folks in the LGBTQ community feel unsafe outside, so we create safe spaces for ourselves.”

Nivie expresses how important it is for people who identify as non-binary to speak out against issues such as these: “Imagine living your whole life and never feeling like you are represented in anything. When you never see yourself being represented, you feel invisible. There needs to be representation for the community and on a professional level. Rarely do we see trans people represented in professional, respectable fields.”

Nivie shares that people who don’t identify as  LGBTQ can be an ally by asking questions, talking to transgender people to hear their experience, being mindful of the use of language, and calling out transphobic behaviour they see in their own lives.

If you have questions about gender, the use of pronouns, or any other questions about the trans community, Nivie invites you to come to Pride Central and is open to have conversations or answer questions regarding the subject. If you are looking to learn further, Pride Central will be having a Trans Workshop on Tuesday October 25th in The Study from 7pm to 9pm. This workshop is free and open to all ages. Topics of discussion will include challenging the gender binary, ways we learn gender, and tips on how to be an ally.