What to Say When a Friend Asks You to Switch Pronouns for Him or Her

By Tom Gilson Published on July 18, 2017

What do you do when a friend asks you to switch pronouns: to call him “her” or vice versa, or to use one of the new sex-free/gender-free pronouns?

The best answer doesn’t seem obvious. We want to be loving, after all. We want to be kind. Yet some of us, myself included, believe God created us male and female, not cross-gendered or “fluid.” Changing pronouns to fit a person’s altered gender identity would violate our convictions. What do we do when they tell us to do otherwise?

I’m going to suggest a specific answer, but before I go there I need to explain what’s behind that answer.

Compassion for Pain, Wisdom About Trends

First, there are various reasons people make this request. “Trans” people who claim their gender identify doesn’t fit their biological sex vary from painfully transgendered to simply “transtrender,” and a whole lot of other variations in between and off to the side.

By “painfully transgendered,” I’m referring to those who are truly gender dysphoric, to use the technical term. Their internal world is painfully misaligned with their external world. They actually feel like their body is all wrong. There’s no magic that can make things “right” for them, not even hormones or surgery. They can’t just wish their feelings away.

These individuals are in pain. They need compassion; they need friends; they need love. They may want you to alter how you refer to them. But that doesn’t mean they need you to pretend to be someone other than you are. You can’t be a real friend unless you can really be you.

The main thing is to ask and to listen. But listening doesn’t mean agreeing.

As a friend, though, the first step in your conversation really ought to be asking the person what’s going on inside, finding out what it’s like for them. As believers we should take others’ pain seriously and compassionately.

Now, you may get a completely different sense from them as you ask them about their experience. Some “gender-fluid” people are really “transtrenders.” They’re riding the latest nonconformist trend for the thrill of being outrageous. You ought not treat them without love or compassion, but the less you sense they’re in real pain, the more you can feel free to ask, “Hey, what’s really going on here, anyway?”

There are many other ways to be “transgender” than I could even begin to cover here. Those are just two of them. The main thing is to ask and to listen.

Recognize the Power Play for What It Is

But listening doesn’t mean agreeing. Too few people recognize what’s really going on when trans people expect us to change our pronouns for them. Believe it or not, they’re actually claiming a power that no human has ever held, nor should hold. They probably don’t realize that’s what they’re doing, so it would be insensitive to accuse them outright. Still, this is what they’re really telling us: “I expect you to chuck aside what you think is true, and believe instead what I feel is true, just because I say it’s true. My internal, mental reality must become your reality, because I say so.”

Usually this gets tacked on, too: “If you disagree, you’re not just wrong, you’re a bigot.”

That’s an unjust use of power. I shouldn’t be able to command you to believe what I believe, just because I say so. No mere human being should have that power.

Listen, Then Answer

I strongly recommend you start by finding out — sensitively — what’s going on inside your friend.

Now, that’s all background so far. It helps define the problem more clearly and to find out what’s really going on in the mind of your friend. But I promised you more than that. I said I’d suggest a way you can answer the demand.

Eventually, it must come back around to the question of pronouns. Here’s what I recommend you say:

I understand that you have a set of beliefs and principles leading you to make that request of me. I hope you understand that I have beliefs and principles, too. For me to go along with your request would violate my personal convictions and my personal identity. I don’t want to violate your convictions or your identity, I don’t want to force my beliefs on you, and I don’t believe you want to do that to me, either.

What I think we both want is to build and maintain our friendship. How about if we talk and see if we can to work out a good way to do that, without either of us to violate our conscience?

Stick to your convictions during that conversation when it happens. Anything less isn’t just a failure of integrity, it’s also a disservice to your friend, who needs you to be you, if you’re going to be a real friend.

 

Tom Gilson is a senior editor of The Stream and the author of Critical Conversations: A Christian Parents’ Guide to Discussing Homosexuality with Teens (Kregel Publications, 2016). Follow him on Twitter: @TomGilsonAuthor.

Adapted from criticalconversationsbook.com. Used by permission.

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  • Gary

    I don’t get all this “be nice” stuff. It is very unlikely that I would ever have a friend who wanted to be the opposite sex. If I learned one of my friends was headed in that direction, I would go in another direction. Friendship done. Unless they realized they have a problem and asked for my help. Then, I might try to help them. But if they were adamant about pretending to be the opposite sex, and wanted me to pretend with them, that would be a friendship killer.

    • Yes, it could be a friendship killer, as you say. I didn’t write about the “what-ifs” that might follow when you have this initial conversation. I couldn’t; there are too many directions it could go.

      One of them is the one you’ve mentioned: that the other person is adamant in insisting you violate your principles. We should still stick with what we know is true. If they break the friendship over that, then the friendship may well be broken, just as you say.

      But “be nice”? Of course! It’s called love, and it’s a command for Christians. If you run away from them because they’re sinning, you’re not loving as Christ would love, you’re acting like the Pharisees who self-righteously avoided the “sinners.” The friendship may indeed break, but let them be the one to break it, not you.

      • Gary

        Jesus also avoided some sinners. And Paul instructs Christians to avoid fellowshipping with certain people. I think I would be better off to follow their example and advice than yours.

        • JTLiuzza

          ” I think I would be better off to follow their example and advice than yours.”

          And you would be correct.

          The proper response to someone asking you to go along with the diabolical gender fluidity insanity is to encourage them to seek help from a competent, sane mental health professional and an orthodox priest. That, and prayer for the person and their obvious affliction constitutes your Christian duty.

          What they do with your advice is up to them.

          “Nice” is for the morally stunted.

          • Who said “nice”? Sticking with our principles is strong, not “nice.” Loving in that circumstance is strong, not “nice.” I agree: telling a person to go get counseling is a great idea if you have any hope they’ll do it with the right counselor.

            Whether that happens or not, you still have to decide how to deal with their pronoun request, which was the subject of my article here.

        • Beth Van

          Which ones?

        • We’re told to avoid fellowshipping with unrepentant sinners in the church, but the prohibition specifically does not apply elsewhere. It’s actually clear as day in 1 Corinthians 5.

          1Cor. 5:9   I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. 10 Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner—not even to eat with such a person.

          And there are also instructions elsewhere to avoid fellowship with people who claim to be among us but are false teachers.

          If the person fits in one of those categories, then go ahead and keep your distance. Remember, though, that every time God imposes a consequence, its primary purpose is redemption. Separation from and protection for he church are secondary purposes. Gloating over the person is never a purpose. Avoiding them just to show how bad they are (without redemptive intent) is never the purpose. Staying away to avoid having our reputation. Stained is never a purpose.

          Refusing to love the sinner is never the purpose.

  • Andrew Mason

    You might be able to avoid the issue using spoken Mandarin Chinese – 他/她/它/牠/祂 he/she/it/animal it/third person pronoun for a divine being – all of which are pronounced ta (first tone) however written Chinese and English do not permit the issue to be avoided.

    And while I agree to fail to keep your standards is to fail to be a friend, there is also the question of whether the friendship can survive such a radical shift. I suspect it would like be a deal breaker for many Christians. We are not mental health workers and trans issues reflect massive problems many of us wouldn’t know how to handle, or perhaps I’m merely unusually emotionally constrained?

  • Facebook User

    I would say, “Are you crazy dude?!” If they persisted, I would say “Deal breaker bro!” This mass insanity has gone too far and we need to put an abrupt end to it all! You aren’t thinking of becoming a she-man are you Tom?

    • No, I’m not. I’m trying to explain how to live according to our Christian convictions, which include love even for those we don’t want to love.

      • Gary

        In order to avoid conflicts and disagreements, I find it is better to avoid people I don’t like.

        • Linda

          Jesus loves them though, and as His follower you can’t go against what He wants from you, which is to love the lost.

          • Gary

            You do what you think best, and I will too.

          • Docent

            Did you love your boss enough to try to talk him away from his sinful lifestyle that separates him from Jesus? Or did you congratulate yourself on your expression of tolerance and confuse this with love while a person wallows in sin? Just praying is not enough. The Christ-like obligation is to always try to convert the sinner in the manner of Christ, so you can be kind, etc., but the choice is to follow the style of Our Lord who admonishes the sinner to “go and sin no more,” or you

  • J_CAS

    And what if it’s a co-worker, who then files a complaint against you and you could lose your job?

    • That’s a tough one. It’s even worse if you’re in Canada where there are laws now requiring you to comply. I would still start with this same approach. From there it could go so many different directions, all I can say is hold fast to your convictions, pray, be wise, try to express love, and realize God didn’t promise it would be easy.

      It’s one thing to try to work things out with a friend, it’s quite another to do so with a company bureaucracy or with the law. They won’t bend. You might have some very difficult decisions to make.

      • Andrew Mason

        How do the requirements cater for religion though? Both Christianity and Islam insist humanity is binary – though regressives would argue otherwise. If the government insists on gender usage then it is criminalising elements of religion. How does that stack with freedom of conscience and freedom of religion being a fundamental right, or the fact that discrimination on the basis of religion – which is what criminalising entire classes of people would be, is similarly precluded?

    • Gary

      Your employer requires you to be friends with transsexuals? I’d be looking for another job.

  • Rclifton

    For me it would be simple…bye-bye hope you have a good life.

    • Trans people feel rejected by Christianity. There’s something to be said for trying to keep a friendship alive!

      • Bungo Baggins

        Not if you have children who would be around this person. You must tell these people WHY you are disconnecting your friendship and tell them that you will pray for them.

  • Beth Van

    I might say something like, “In order to not violate your beliefs or mine, from now on in any situation I will refer to you by your legal first name”.

  • Docent

    TG: “I understand that you have a set of beliefs and principles leading you to make that request of me. I hope you understand that I have beliefs and principles, too. For me to go along with your request would violate my personal convictions and my personal identity. I don’t want to violate your convictions or your identity, I don’t want to force my beliefs on you, and I don’t believe you want to do that to me, either.”

    Good intentions, TG, but already conceding way too much by establishing a kind of initial moral equivalence between your beliefs and principles and the person who has beliefs based on irrational principles that deny objective morality.

    Next comes a form of relativism: “I don’t want to force my beliefs on you, and I don’t believe you want to do that to me, either.”

    Actually, if you believe in and can demonstrate objective truth, then you should want to “force” such beliefs upon others by using logical argument and reasoned discussion based on natural law principles applicable to everyone. Of course, others can reject objective truth, but such rejection must not result in “your beliefs are yours and mine are mine,” so let’s be friends.

    Let’s apply your approach to the abortion doctor as another example of why even partial moral equivalence approaches are misguided. Would you also say “I don’t want to force my beliefs on you, and I don’t believe you want to do that to me, either”? In the meantime, dead babies continue to increase in numbers, but at least you didn’t try to force your belief on the abortionist.

    As the great Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) admonished: “Do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.”

    • Bryan

      I think sometimes we extend the context of articles like this one beyond it’s original intent, in order to reject it for not being “strong” enough. This article doesn’t advocate relativism or the dismissal of objective truth. If this article were about standing for your convictions before an anonymous crowd, then, yes, it’s kind of wishy washy. You wouldn’t want that paragraph to be the basis of a sermon condemning abortion as you suggest.
      But the article is written in the context of a personal friendship with a specific person. This means there is a relationship between two people of some sort and that one of the parties is trying to fundamentally change it. The stated situation is not a debate where there is a winner and a loser but a conversation. So in that case, you would show courtesy to your friend by not assuming the worst of them, but offer them the grace that you expect from them. And all the while still maintaining objective truth throughout the interaction. Most people want to live and let live and if you tell them that their request would violate your convictions, will be understanding. But if you recoil in disgust and tell them you’ll never call him a her because it’s disgustingly reprobate, you’ve pretty much sealed their opinion of Christians, God, and the Church as people that cannot love them because they’re different, that God only loves perfect people, and that Christians are all hypocrites because we always talk about love but reject those desperately seeking it.

      • Docent

        “But if you recoil in disgust and tell them you’ll never call him a her because it’s disgustingly reprobate, you’ve pretty much sealed their opinion of Christians, God, and the Church as people that cannot love them because they’re different, that God only loves perfect people, and that Christians are all hypocrites because we always talk about love but reject those desperately seeking it.”

        Fascinating. Re-read my post in light of your very first sentence, and note how you have read into my response a context that is not there. In no way, shape, or form do I advocate approaching the deluded ones in the manner you suggest, so you have jumped to a false conclusion in an effort to defend the author’s misguided approach that is indeed permeated by relativism in the manner he suggests approaching deluded people.

        In any case, instead of trying to disabuse you any further of your faulty notions, I will also repeat the quote from a beautiful Saint and add one more thought:

        “Do not accept anything as love which lacks truth.” Edith Stein (St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

        As human beings, all people are to be loved because that also reflects truth, but delusions promoted that defy truth and God in His creation of Male and Female must be rejected

        • Bryan

          Good point. I guess that’s an easier trap to slip into than I realized. I apologize for putting my own foot in my mouth.
          I still believe the sentence I wrote before the one you quoted. I was trying to say, in too many words, that in the situation with a friend (true friend not an acquaintance or a non-close work colleague) or a relative, the conversation requires tact while not equivocating on Truth.
          For me, I would not want to sacrifice Truth for a mortal friendship. However at the same time, that friendship may be the thing God uses to bring a lost one home. So I don’t want to abandon the friendship because they’re messed up. If the other party chooses, as you mentioned, to reject the friendship because I will not compromise on Truth, that’s their choice. As Paul said, make every effort, for my part, to live peaceably with others.
          I’ll try to keep my logical fallacies to a minimum from now on.

  • ArthurMcGowan

    The edict must have gone out from the AP and the New York Times:

    I am seeing, even on Catholic sites and conservative sites, the replacement of “he/him/his” and “she/her/hers” with “they/them/their.”

    It has got to the point that I have seen this: “If your SON comes home and informs you that THEY are…”

    Catholic and conservative writers need to draw a line in the sand, and use English.

    • John Flaherty

      During the 90’s, I recall learning how to phrase things with gender-neutral pronouns. During my last college years, the idiocy that this intent inflicted became all the more clear. Simple grammar became absurdly complicated, all because we dared not say “he” in reference to someone who MIGHT be female. (…but also might not) Sadly, I’ve learned that gender pronouns are only one of a host of matters that may offend people.
      I’ve heard “freedom of speech”, “tolerance”, “diversity”, touted from academia and cultural elites. I wish very much they would be bothered to follow these same concepts.

    • Andrew Mason

      Why not switch to it? If he claims to be a she, which is simply impossible, then he will object to being called a he. They and them are plural terms and a singular pronoun is required. English only has 3 – hesheit. The first 2 don’t work, so that just leaves the last.

    • lukuj

      We could just call everyone ” it” and avoid the whole problem.

      • Danfire

        LOL! And, it may come to that! No pun intended 😉

  • John Flaherty

    To be frank, I have no intention of giving this whole paragraph and a half spiel. If it’s laudable to attempt to recognize a person’s feelings, it is not laudable to bury objective reality under this much fluff. I have come across many similar “compromise” solutions in my lifetime. Sadly, they generally lead to demands that I surrender my own principles. I will not do this any further than compelled. If someone informs me they are transgendered, I very likely will ask what sex they possessed at birth (unless I’m at work, where I’ll be forced to comply with whatever they ask, lest I suffer idiot “counseling” from HR personnel). Or, I may refrain from referencing them at all, except by known first name. If my referencing them in this manner will not be acceptable…they may carry on their way. I need not attempt sham friendship.

    I have little doubt that there are some who are genuinely conflicted. Sadly, separating these from those who’re just “going along with it” is virtually impossible. More sadly, I cannot help them with the charade of genderless pronouns they may foist.

  • Liliane

    I don’t have to worry about this: just to be openly Catholic is enough to keep people with issues and their supporters away.

  • Fr. John Higgins

    Excellently written! Thank you. I’ve had one young man tell me that he was “transgender” only to discover, though conversation, that he was “TransTrender”. He was angry at all kinds of things and was going to hide in a new identity he thought would work for him.

  • Jack Bonenberger

    You can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay or you can call me R.J. or you can call me R.J J. Junior, but ya dosent has to call me Johnston. Good article, but I find any body that is touchy about whether I call them James, Jim, or Jimmy to be someone with enough issues that we would probably never become close friends any way. Too many control issues. I can be nice to anyone and show respect, but actual friends with someone like in this article is just off the reservation. But, as you say, it would depend on the out come of our conversation.

  • Az1seeit

    You know, reality has never been a faith thing in my mind. I can’t call a he “she” because of…you know…plumbing? Same with so-called “same sex” marriage: a self-cancelling concept. These things are simply reality, like gravity. If I am phobic, it’s of people who live in unreality and expect me to not just agree, but participate. I cannot and will not knowingly do either. I’ve lived too long in the real world…last I heard, lieing and deception are still frowned upon….unless those are now considered truths…

  • Pam Demas

    What do you do when this is a young grandchild?

    • Bryan

      First we pray. Then talk to the parents about your concerns. Since one of them is related to you, I presume, your influence may be best felt through that parent. Then, keep praying and loving, speaking truth when you can. It’s up to God to change your grandchild’s heart.
      I am praying for you. Gather others around to pray for and encourage you as well!

  • Jill

    Didn’t the church give in long, long ago when Bible nouns were changed? It irks me no end to see a verse I’ve known for decades with the word “man” in it and to read “human being” in the new PC Bible. Yuck. I’m a woman, and to read ‘man’ as meaning all human persons does not bother me one iota. If God inspired men to write ‘man’, for crying out loud, leave it alone. Look where it’s gotten us. The church was gender aware before any of this secular nonsense began.

    • Kelly B

      Amen sister – I had to stop reading my otherwise enjoyable NLT bible version because of the “brothers and sisters” nonsense. Ridiculous!

  • Kelly B

    What great timing – a long-time male friend of mine who I haven’t heard from in 10 years just emailed me yesterday to tell me “he” is a “she” and my plan is not to address him in either way – I refuse to let him control my speech but neither do I want to cause him needless pain or conflict. I truly believe this whole thing is Satanic – imagine someone feeling suicidal UNTIL they are able to live in a way that mock’s God’s very design for us.

  • Chris C.

    I offer this for purposes of making sure all know of the state of affairs in the life of the Church regarding this topic. The Holy Father was quoted last year as saying this:

    “Last year I received a letter from a Spaniard who told me his story as a child, a young man, he was a girl, a girl who suffered so much because he felt he felt like a boy, but was physically a girl. He told his mother and the mom…(the girl) was around 22 years old said that she would like to do the surgical intervention and all of those things…….She had the surgery and an employee of a ministry in the city of Spain went to the bishop, who accompanied (this person) a lot. Good bishop. I spent time accompanying this man. Then (the man) got married, he changed his civil identity, got married and wrote me a letter saying that for him it would be a consolation to come with his wife, he who was she, but him! I received them…” (taken from LifesiteNews)

    • Jeanine Narayanan

      Sadly, many if not most Catholics still have their heads in the sand WRT PF. LifesiteNews and 1P5 are the only Catholic sources reliably telling what is going on in the Church. The mainstream media loves PF (though his stock may have gone down a little after his comments about the press and coprophagia).

  • BTP

    I hope for compassion when I inform people that I am, in fact, the extraordinarily long-lived Clovis, King of the Franks and that they must call me Lord Clovis, High and Most Christian King of the Franks. After all, Christians are supposed to have compassion.

    Seriously, what is all this nonsense about one’s conscience? I can’t call a man a woman because of my conscience, I can’t do it because it’s not true.

  • Uncle Jo

    If this so called “problem” of gender dysphoria supposedly affects such a miniscule percentage of people, then there is certainly an inordinate amount of publicity and news time being spent on this subject, to the point of being oppressive. It is a highly calculated and well designed oppressive campaign to normalize abnormal behavior and to destroy any and all that oppose the LGBTQ (ACDEFHIJKMNNOPRSUVWXYZ) agenda.

    I would tell them: God made you who and what you are which is a miricale in itself. You nor any doctor has the ability to change or convert you into another sex. Neither a psychologist or surgeon can reverse what God has made you. It is impossible. Now, what are you going to do with the rest of your life.

  • Utahlady

    Call them by their name!

  • DUH

    They are lying to themselves and they want us to sin by lying too.

  • David Willhite

    I believe you have hit on an important point, but the point I want to discuss has NOTHING to do with Gender. You wrote: “I expect you to chuck aside what you think is true, and believe instead
    what I feel is true, just because I say it’s true. My internal, mental
    reality must become your reality, because I say so.”
    This mechanism is essential to the coming of the One World Order. It must be present in society in an analogous form in order to not be rejected outright when it is presented. When the Anti-Christ stands in the Holy Place and declares himself to be “God”, this mechanism will more easily allow society to accept it – – because the mechanism has been internalized and personalized over gender issues. This kind of mental tyranny is nothing short of brainwashing and mind control.

    I also believe that redefining gender is the ultimate Cue d’Etat in the homosexual agenda. Homosexuals felt confusion over their own gender, so the best way to recruit more homosexuals is to cause gender confusion in society.

    I would simply avoid calling the person anything. It’s surprising how much you can even address people without using their name. For example, “Hey did you ever see this movie?” or refer to them as “My friend”.

  • Kent

    I can’t think of one time when I addressed anyone in the third person in conversation with them. That would just sound weird. Just use a name

  • MelissaCyn

    I disagree. I am a transwoman and ask that others refer to me with female pronouns…as a courtesy. I do not expect them to change how they think of me. It is like addressing a woman as Ms. rather than Miss. Just because you address a single woman as Ms. does not mean that you buy into the feminist ideology that spawned it. It is a matter of courtesy…how we treat each other in a civil society.

    • Cathy Phillips News-Line

      It’s not at all the same as Ms or Miss. Its more like calling a black person white. It’s not a modifier, it’s an opposite.

      • Edmund T. Dean

        whoa whoa whoa. Men are opposite to women? Blacks are opposite to whites? Is that really what you’re trying to say?

  • Edmund T. Dean

    Here’s a bizarre idea… we can just use the pronouns people want because it really doesn’t make a difference? I’m a Christian and I don’t see how this could possibly be an issue of conscience. If anything, my conscience demands that I treat people with love and respect regardless of any ideological or moral differences. Would I be sacrificing a platform by referring to the Dalai Llama as “His Holiness”?

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