Some Christians say you’re not required to use a person’s preferred pronouns, but it’s courteous to do so if you’re asked. It’s simply a matter of being a kind Christian. Whether it’s courteous or kind to comply, however, depends on the nature of what is being asked of you. Complying with a transgender person’s request might seem like a minor change in your behavior, but it’s not.
All we’re being asked to do is change one word. It’s a simple request. Just use a different pronoun. It might seem like a no-brainer for a believer to comply. Why cause unnecessary tension by refusing a request to be courteous?
Even some Christians encourage the church to practice “pronoun hospitality” and use the preferred pronouns of a person who identifies as transgender. They believe it’s a simple act of kindness that engenders relationship and avoids unnecessary distress in a transgender person’s mental health.
But it’s not that simple. It’s not that we don’t want to be kind or are indifferent about their well-being. Rather, it’s because we care about truth, fidelity to God, and their well-being that many believers abstain from this social ritual. Here are some things to consider.
First, it’s important to distinguish between using preferred pronouns and using preferred names. Here’s why. Names are a matter of convention, something that is a subjective preference. Pronouns, however, are not a matter of convention but are a reference to objective reality (biological sex). That’s why they can’t be chosen.
To say that names are a matter of convention means that names can be chosen because they are not inherent to who a person is. For example, traffic light colors are also a matter of convention. Green means go and red means stop. It’s possible our society could have determined different meanings for traffic light colors—red meaning go and green meaning stop. There’s nothing inherent about green that means go. It was simply a matter of preference (a convention) that green was chosen for go, but it could have been otherwise.
In the same way, names are a matter of convention. My wife and I considered naming our daughter Anya, but we ended up choosing Sarah. Either one would have worked. There’s nothing inherent about the name Sarah that refers to our daughter. Furthermore, our daughter could one day change her name to Shelly if she desired. That’s because names are a matter determined by preference and can be chosen.
For this reason, I can abide by a person’s preferred name. In many cases, I don’t have any other option since they decide what name to share with me. I understand some parents insist on using their child’s given name because of the uniqueness of the relationship. I’m not arguing that preferred names should be used, but that they can be used.
I don’t use a person’s preferred pronouns, however, since pronouns refer to an objective reality—one’s biological sex. Whether you are male or female isn’t a matter determined by preference and, therefore, can’t be chosen.
For example, age is also a biological reality and not chosen. Dutch positivity guru and television personality Emile Ratelband decided to identify as a 49-year-old when he was in his late sixties. No one should be obligated to refer to him as the younger age because age is a biological reality that can’t be changed and is therefore not a matter of preference. In the same way, sex is a biological reality that also can’t be changed and also is not a matter of preference. Using a pronoun that refers to a person’s chosen sexual identity is like using a number to refer to person’s chosen age. Both are illegitimate because neither age nor sex is a matter determined by choice.
Some people, however, claim that language evolves and pronouns can now refer not only to biology but also to “gender identity” (a person’s internal sense of what “gender” they believe themselves to be). Though that might be believed by a segment of society, there is also another large portion of the population that doesn’t accept that shift in language. In fact, they believe words matter and allowing/collaborating with the change in what a pronoun refers to is a problem. They don’t see the attempt to change language to embrace transgender ideology as benign.
Second, when talking to a person, you don’t use their pronouns. You just use their name (“Kaitlyn, can you meet for coffee?”) or “you” (“You did an amazing job”) to refer to them. In other words, declining to go along with a person’s preferred pronouns will not likely upset that person since they’re not usually present when you use their pronouns.
Pronouns are most often used when you’re talking about someone with another person.