Recently, at an all-girls high school, I referred to a student as “she” and was quickly informed that I was not using the person’s preferred pronoun. As society continues to unfold, some contend that the two biblical genders are not enough. Starting with chromosome anomalies and continuing with personal preferences of the psyche and medical phenomena of the transgendered, it turns out that language is not keeping up with multiple gender-identities. As students educated me about some of the pluses in LGBTQ+ world, I was a bit disappointed because the scriptural reading that day was about a eunuch, but he (or it) didn’t make it onto the long list of diverse sexual possibilities.
Like many of you, I’m not sure what to make of preferred pronouns. Human males share 99.4% of genes with male chimpanzees, which is more genes than we share with human females. For this, and many other reasons, I’m not sure God appreciates it when we automatically refer to Him (I did it again) in a masculine sense. We do that because of our patriarchal heritage. Though in the Bible God is, once in a while, referred to in the feminine, the Almighty is overwhelmingly referred to as masculine and male. If God had a choice in the matter, I wonder what the pronoun of preference would be. My instinct tells me that it would simply be “God.” Because there is only one, it serves as a pronoun as well as a name, kind of like (though different from) Pat, the infamous androgynous 1990s Saturday Night Live character.
As much as it would be nice to call everyone by name, it is impossible—or it would cause havoc, like in the Seinfeld episode when Elaine swayed the mayor’s office to have all New Yorkers wear name tags. According to the script, that fiasco caused Mayor Dinkins defeat in his bid for re-election. There is a myriad of perplexities awaiting us, starting with the high school language department that cannot allow a plural pronoun to refer to an individual or the administration team of a single-sex school that cannot enroll someone who self-identifies as a different sex. But I suspect the creative minds which keep adding letters to the LGB…list will soon also have a gender-neutral word that rises above our current vocabulary to capture it for us all.
Some of you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment. I have taken it six times in thirty-five years with various groups. In the first category, “E” (extrovert, processing data in an exterior fashion) vs “I” (introvert, processing data interiorly), three times I have landed on each side and, each time, by the slightest margin possible. As explained to me, my natural preference is to function as an “I” but my role (as priest, pastor, manager, administrator…) urges me to function as “E.” Though not sure if this is a valid example of what is going on with those who seek a gender-identity on a continuum between pure-masculine and pure-feminine, I know that I am neither “E” nor “I” but possess characteristics from both sides of the continuum. Perhaps it actually would be better if there was another letter to explain it.
Obviously, I don’t have any good ideas for how to respond to the dilemma of preferred pronouns while most of the world finds it rather silly to give it any attention at all when serious issues get subverted. But it is important to some young Catholics—so we, who care for them, probably should not ignore it. As always, let us respond conscientiously and respectfully but also with common sense, steering away from ridiculousness as much as possible.