Friday September 30, 2016

'I'm not a bigot' Meet the U of T prof who refuses to use genderless pronouns

Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto.

Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. (

Listen 12:13

This week, University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson released a video online criticizing political correctness on campus. He also said he doesn't recognize a person's right to be addressed using genderless pronouns like "they" instead of "he" or "she."

Under the proposed Federal law Bill C-16, it will become illegal to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or expression. As It Happens host Carol Off spoke with Peterson about his position.

Carol Off: Professor Peterson, why have you said you don't recognize another person's right to determine what pronouns you use to address them?

Jordan Peterson: That's right. I don't recognize that. I don't recognize another person's right to decide what words I'm going to use, especially when the words they want me to use, first of all, are non-standard elements of the English language and they are constructs of a small coterie of ideologically motivated people. They might have a point but I'm not going to say their words for them.

CO: There are a lot of words that you can't say even though you may want to, that may be considered, not just offensive, but even illegal. So you're not entirely free to use whatever words you want in any context...

JP: No, that's certainly true. I'm not claiming that a person is free to use any words, in any context. But what I'm saying is that I'm not willing to mouth words that I think have been created for ideological purposes.

CO: Even if it's the law that says you should do that?

JP: Well, I guess we're going to find out exactly what the law says and it's one of the reasons that I don't like Bill C-16. I think that it's loosely written enough that the kinds of things that I'm talking about could be transformed into hate speech almost immediately.

CO: You have said that you don't believe that there is enough evidence that non-binary gender identities even exist?

JP: No. I didn't say that actually. If I'm going to be accused of saying things I have to be accused of exactly what I said. There's not enough evidence to make the case that gender identity and biological sexuality are independently varying constructs. In fact, all the evidence suggests that they're not independently varying constructs. I can tell you that transgender people make the same argument. They make the argument that a man can be born in a woman's body and that's actually an argument that specifies a biological linkage between gender identity and biological sex. I'm also not objecting to transgender people. I'm objecting to poorly written legislation and the foisting of ideological motivated legislation on a population that's not ready for it.

CO: Well, transgender people are ready for it and they have been feeling a great deal of discrimination and that's why they were seeking this type of redress in the law. Do you appreciate that?

JP: I don't believe that the redress that they're seeking in the law is going to actually improve their status materially. I think, in fact, it will have the opposite effect. I believe that the principles on which the legislation is predicated are sufficiently incoherent and vague to cause endless legal trouble in a matter that will not benefit transgender people.

CO: You've heard from one of your colleagues, a physics professor, A. W. Peet who is responding to your video.

JP: I already mentioned to Peet online that I'd be happy to meet for a debate on this issue. I'm willing to debate with someone who has already publicly called me a bigot and complained to the University of Toronto that's precisely what I am - even though I haven't said anything that's bigoted and even though I'm not an enemy of transgender people.

A.W. Peet

A.W. Peet is a physics professor at the University of Toronto. (Christopher Dew)

CO: Professor Peet would like to be addressed by the pronoun "they" — do you accept that?

JP: The mere fact that professor Peet would like to be addressed by a particular pronoun does not mean that I am required to address him by that pronoun. That doesn't mean that I deny his existence or the existence of people who don't fit neatly in binary gender categories. I reserve the right to use my own language and I'm perfectly willing to take that to its conclusion. If it's the case that I can't use my language the way that I see fit, because I'm using my language to formulate and articulate the truth in the clearest manner I can possibly manage and if that lands me in legal trouble — well, so be it.

CO: In Ontario, the law states that gender is a "person's sense of being a woman, a man, both, or neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum."

JP: Yes. That particularly statement I regard as logically incoherent to the point of dangerousness. I think that the reason it's been rushed into law is that people haven't been paying attention. The mere fact that I don't want to use pronouns that some else has decided I should use doesn't mean that I don't believe that transgender people exist. It also doesn't make me a bigot. Regardless of how hard people try to push me into that corner — I'm not a bigot.

CO: A lot of people in the trans community have suffered a great deal because of discrimination, because of not being recognized. This is something that is one step, they believe, toward that recognition.

JP: Yes, well the mere fact that they believe it doesn't mean it's correct.

CO: But don't you have an interest in seeing them accommodated? Do you see the value in…

JP: It depends on the nature of the accommodation and at what price? I don't believe that it's reasonable for our society to undermine the entire concept of binary gender in order to hypothetically accommodate a tiny minority of people.

CO: What you are proposing, that you will not use pronouns, may become something that's a criminal offense. Are you aware of that?

JP: Of course I'm aware of that — that's exactly what I wrote the lecture about.

CO: And so how will you respond, when you are in that situation in a classroom?

JP: I'm not going to mouth words that I believe put me in the position of an ideological puppet. I won't do that. If it turns out that's a hate crime in Ontario, well, as far as I'm concerned, bring it on!

CO: Isn't it also the role of a society to make people feel included and to have inclusiveness?

JP: No. It's not the role of society to make people feel included. That's not the role of society. The role of society is to maintain a modicum of peace between people. It's not the role of society to make people feel comfortable. I think society is changing in many ways. I can tell you one thing that I'm very terrified of, and you can think about this. I think that the continual careless pushing of people by left wing radicals is dangerously waking up the right wing. So you can consider this a prophecy from me if you want. Inside the collective is a beast and the beast uses its fists. If you wake up the beast then violence emerges. I'm afraid that this continual pushing by radical left wingers is going to wake up the beast.

For more on this story, listen to our full interview with Prof. Jordan Peterson.