I went to college in the early 1970s and although it might surprise today’s students, my generation had plenty of problems to deal with.
Many of the students came to the University of Illinois (where we still had a mascot named Chief Illiniwek) to get an education. Some came to avoid the draft and Vietnam. Some came for sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.
We had anti-war demonstrations, marched about the quad for various causes and, occasionally, found the library and did our homework. The marching band did a great halftime show at football games, partially offsetting the awful performance of the team.
One of today’s controversies wasn’t part of our daily lives. We spent absolutely no time or energy worrying about gender pronouns. If a student had to fill out a form and is asked for gender there were just two choices: male or female.
I raise this issue because some universities (University of Minnesota, for example) are thinking about requiring faculty and staff to refer to a student by the gender pronoun the student prefers – or to use a neutral pronoun: Ze.
We didn’t have anyone who wanted to be a Ze when I was in school. We really have just two categories: he and she. Some of the more mature professors called us Mister or Miss. And if a woman was married, they would use Mrs.
Of course, you could make a mistake. From the back, an attractive blond woman with long hair and a blond-harried male hippy could be hard to distinguish. But when such a mistake happened, you just apologized and laughed.
The penalty for pronoun misuse today is more serious. An errant Minnesota Golder Gofer can be disciplined or fired. This seems ridiculous to me.
But I should pause here for a brief disclaimer. I actually have served time as a college instructor. It was as an “adjunct” professor and the two institutions where I led classes were a Catholic seminary and a Catholic college for women. There was no confusion about anyone’s gender. In fact, the only disagreement was that the students wanted to call me either “mister” or “professor” and I insisted they just use my first name.
That doesn’t mean I’m totally naïve about the existence of people who might not seem to easily fit into a “normal” person’s image of he or she. I dated and later married an art major at the University of Illinois. And although she is (and was then) a political conservative practicing Catholic, visiting her at the art building allowed me to encounter humans of many varied forms who were intent in expressing themselves in the most outrageous manner possible.
My wife is probably the second most conservative art major to graduate from the University of Illinois. The most conservative and just as practicing a Catholic is our daughter.
Our daughter graduated just three years ago, and in our many campus visits with her, I once again got to visit the art building. Frankly, there were students for which I could find no adequate pronoun. So when I met someone, I would say something creative like, “How are you? It is nice to meet you.” I found it perfectly acceptable to say my name and ask theirs. I didn’t use he, she or Ze and didn’t receive a single citation from the campus sensitivity police.
In today’s culture of political correctness, some folks seem to believe gender is something each person (as opposed to God or genetics) determines. If you accept that premise – which I don’t – the gender range would go from King Kong at one extreme to Tinkerbell on the other.
But even a casual reading of the Bible shows that God had just two genders in mind. God took a rib from Adam to make Eve. He didn’t take all 24 of Adam’s ribs to make various sorts of self-determined genders. Poor ribless Adam would be flopping around like a jellyfish. Of course, some folks might think that just makes him another gender.