The Hatred

I originally wrote this post with the intention of publishing it prior to the anniversary of the January 6 Insurrection. But I found I couldn’t bear to start the year on so sad and awful a note.

A few years back, pre-Pandemic (since that is how we all now date everything in our lives) an acquaintance informed me that we would not fall out over my blog post, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, written concerning his experience with the so-called “Love” booth at an Indy Pride event. As I explained in that earlier essay, it wasn’t entirely clear, from his description, what this “Love” booth was actually all about. I assumed that it promulgated love and acceptance of the LGBTQ community. Or perhaps, I thought a bit wildly, the people manning the booth were there just to give hugs, like the great church-wide hugging plague of the 1980s. Still another possibility was that the stall provided information on ways the community might demonstrate love and acceptance to everyone of every race, creed and gender. My friend’s description of the booth left its purpose unclear, but he’d been very upset by the individuals operating the Love booth.

It seemed that, as he’d listened throughout the day to many very liberal, far-left comments by the people manning the stall (which was positioned right next to his own booth), he’d found himself wondering, was still wondering: Had he strolled over to that stall, wearing his MAGA hat, and explained to them his adamant view that then-President Trump was “our greatest President ever”, what would their reaction have been? Would the people manning the Love booth have considered him loveable, or even likeable? Or would they have reacted with anger? He was extremely doubtful, he said, that love would have been their reaction.

My blog post about that situation explored the idea that my friend assumed their response, rather than put his question to the test. He didn’t engage with the people manning the Love booth, providing them a chance to refute his position without rejecting him personally, or to talk through their differences.

So a few weeks after that event, when my blog post on the subject was published, my friend magnanimously explained to me that we would not fall out over my remarks, because: “You weren’t there. You didn’t hear it—the hatred”.

Unfortunately, once again, he made an unwarranted assumption. Because I was hearing it—hearing and reading and seeing the hatred every day. At the time, restrictions to written news commentary had not been established. Every news story could be commented upon; one rarely even needed to register on most news sites to leave a comment. Those comment pages were filled with sadistic, trolling statements; rife with cruelty that the overwhelmed moderators could not screen out. My highly-political and extremely conservative father constantly forwarded e-mails to me that, remarking viciously upon the viewpoints I held, made me cry. And while I personally eschewed social media, friends told me of the brutal statements that were posted to their pages. I’d even once sat, helpless and cringing, while two acquaintances nearly came to blows over their opposing viewpoints.

Hatred, I discovered, was not confined to any one group or any single position. People from both sides and corners of the fence slung insults and violent verbiage at one another. And all of it was escalating.

Trying to establish a middle-of-the-road position for myself, I read the news from multiple sources, both left and right, and was on each part equally horrified. What had happened to compromise, to the art of listening? How had our constitutional right to free speech fallen so far?

Then we held a free, fair and, yes, honest election, and Trump lost the popular vote for the second time, this time losing the electoral vote, as well. He had paved the way for doubt on the part of his followers by claiming the election to be rigged even before it happened. Having genuinely lost, he then totally refused to accept his failure. He did not even pretend to be anything other than that entity so despised throughout my childhood: a sore loser.

And so January 6th happened. Sitting paralyzed with horror, clutching my toddler grandchild within the protective circle of my arms, I sat watching while tears rained down my face. I watched it: the hatred, and the horrific violence fueled by hatred.

Months later, still engaged in attempting to maintain a fair and balanced vision of all that was happening in my country, I sat watching once more as Fox News pundit Laura Ingraham viciously mocked the PTSD suffered by those who had gallantly struggled to defend our Capitol on that ghastly day. Observing her derisive facial expressions, listening to her contemptuous remarks, I experienced it yet one more time: the hatred.

“You weren’t there. You didn’t hear it—the hatred.”

No, my friend, I did not need to be there on that long ago Indy Pride day to hear, to experience, the hatred. I have seen it a hundred, a thousand times, then and since: In banned books. In violent attacks on minority individuals and elected officials and their families. In defamatory comments toward those who hold differing viewpoints. In incitement to violence. In bigotry and racism from and toward people of every color, creed and gender.

I have seen it everywhere, on every face; heard it in every voice: the hatred.

And I despair.

You may read the original essay, “The Benefit of the Doubt”, by scrolling to the archived blog posts, below. It was published on July 31, 2019

We Need a New Pronoun!

She, He, Ze or Te, that is the question.

I’ve just read (well, actually, skipped over reading most of) yet another story of some celebrity about whom I know little and care less who has come out as bisexual / transgender / asexual / lesbian / demisexual / gay / pansexual / cisgender / “I only have sex with Martians.  Green Martians, not purple ones”, or some other variation on the apparently-boundless spectrum of human gender and sexuality.  Well, here is me coming out with my reaction: Who the (multiple bad words deleted) cares?! 

Why is announcing this information to the entire planet not considered to be simply in bad taste, let alone the uttermost extremity on the far intergalactic end of the narcissism spectrum?  Why is it anyone’s business, except for the individual’s own partner? (Or partners, to be more likely accurate.)  Normalizing variations of human sexuality can no longer be considered an excuse for these vainglorious announcements, since “normal” comprises an extensive range these days, while those who do not accept such differences are never going to do so, anyway.

This most recent declaration included the expository remark that the individual in question wished to be known by the pronouns them or they.  And THAT, as much as anything, set my teeth on edge.

I fully understand and agree that those who’ve concluded they fall into a previously-unremarked gender category may feel disconcerted by referring to themselves using the gendered pronouns she or he.  But, frankly, in light of these unremitting public revelations,  we badly need a new, genderless pronoun added to the English language.

Language, not just spoken language but written language, changes. In the longer-ago-than-I-care-to-remember era in which I grew up, the only pronoun of general reference was “he”.  It didn’t matter than an entire magazine issue might be geared toward the female of the species; “he” was the pronoun of indeterminate reference used within its pages.  This was galling and irritating to all females everywhere; it was simply wrong.  I even endured one minister, God help me–pun intended, by the way–who insisted that we were all, male and female together He created them, Sons of God.  That’s right. Sons.  Only Sons.  No Daughters. Not even Children.  Just Sons.  (Here insert the sound of grating teeth…)

Eventually—I believe it may have been sometime shortly after the introduction of the prefix Ms. to replace Miss or Mrs.–one began seeing writing which used the phrase “he or she”.  Yes, always, always that damnable “he” first!  Or occasionally even “s/he”.  (As an aside, this could lead me spinning off into a discussion of why it is always the male noun now used when gendered nouns were once the norm; i.e., always actor, rather than actress—why is it always the male noun that becomes the norm?  But I suppose that’s a grumpy discussion for another blog post.)

In any case, despite these permutations, the pronouns of multiple reference were always “they” or “them”.  A student who misused the words they or them in writing that school essay was likely to see a blatant red circle on the sentence and a lowered grade.  Worse yet, students who had, as I did, the misfortune to attend a parochial elementary school were apt to have the Ruler of Death smacked across cringing knuckles.

Consequently, I will never be able to view the pronouns they or them as anything but pronouns of multiple reference.  An individual referring to her or his (Ha! Take that, Wielders of the Ruler of Death!) person using they or them will forever indicate to me that the speaker suffers from multiple personality disorder. It’s not just grammatically incorrect; it’s downright confusing.

The simple fact is that, if we are to accept, acknowledge and adhere to our new understanding of the fluidity of human gender while using the common pronouns of personal reference, then we  need new pronouns.  The English language is endlessly malleable. New words are added at an alarming rate. We have, after all, come up with new words to describe these many variations of human sexuality.  The word transgender; the uneuphonious cisgender, which I personally so dislike (more about that in a future blog post) —those words were not commonly used until at least the 1960s, or even much later.  Why, then, not new pronouns?  Why not words which genuinely eschew gender, and simply reference humanity?

I have seen Ze or Zhey used, as well as Te or Tey.  (I suppose it should actually be Ze or Zhey or Zheir or Zhem, or Te or Tey or Teir or Tem.)  I have no preference for either form, and a consensus could probably only be reached by whatever words see the most use—sort of like the antique VHS/Betamax debate.  And while learning to use brand-new words instead of trying to hammer old puzzle pieces into the picture in an attempt to make them fit might be disconcerting to many, it is actually the appropriate thing to do.  One should  genuinely bend with the winds of change, rather than try to break in a word that’s already seen gender-filled usage for generations.

Until that happens, though—until the English grammar texts and the grave arbiters of language correctness settle on a pronoun of indeterminate gender reference, I shall continue to use my preferred “she or he”, if only to avoid the Universal Ruler of Death.  I have very tender knuckles.

Liked this essay?  Then you might also enjoy “Who or Whom? That is the Question!”, from April 17, 2018.  Scroll down to the Archives link to locate it.