When the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor decided to allow students to pick their own pronouns to describe themselves, one troll stepped out of the dungeon with club in hand.
Grant Strobel is a junior at UM and the national chairman of Young Americans for Freedom’s board of governors, and he announced Wednesday via Twitter that he’d used UM’s option to change his preferred pronoun to “his majesty.” Henceforth, by the university’s own rules, he would have to be referred to that way.
In Strobel’s tweet, his majesty also created the hashtag #UMPronounChallenge, encouraging others to protest UM’s move by coming up with similarly ridiculous pronouns, such as “Unicorn” and “The Greatest of All Time.”
The majority of tweets using the hashtag expressed outrage at its existence, the mark of a true trolling success.
Although I imagine trolls to be extraordinarily fly-bitten creatures, I’m still a believer in catching more flies with honey, so I normally wouldn’t approve of Strobel’s trollery. His rationale, however, made me understand and perhaps even appreciate, if not entirely condone, his majesty’s actions.
In an interview with The College Fix, Strobel gave the less politically polarizing example of “someone named Richard who would like to be called Dick” and said that it would be “respectful to make a reasonable effort to refer to students in the way that they prefer.”
So far, his majesty and I are in agreement, which is why I have been referring to him, albeit somewhat sarcastically, as “his majesty” throughout this piece. I’m not Matt Walsh, dying on my lonely hill as I bravely proclaim that I will refer to you by the pronoun corresponding to your biological sex or immolate myself in protest because I have THE TRUTH, dammit! If a friend honestly wanted to be referred to as something other than his original name and pronoun, I would do my best to accommodate him even if I disagreed with him on the finer points of gender theory.
I draw the line, however, at being forced to do so.
And so, it seems, does Strobel. His majesty explained that his majesty was not protesting the practice of referring to students by their preferred pronoun, but rather protesting the University’s institutionalization of said pronouns and the possibility that the updated roster may make it easier for the University to sanction students who misgender their classmates. The University has yet to hint at the possibility of such sanctions.
Again, I find myself agreeing with his majesty. The roster strikes me as nothing more than a publicity stunt by the University, since the same result could be achieved by having professors simply ask students their preferred pronoun on the first day of class.
There is a deeper issue here, though—that of trolling and what causes it. Legislation cannot change deeply held beliefs, no matter how valuable and well-intentioned it is.
Consider a scenario that will likely play out in the coming weeks.
The University implements its new, more inclusive roster. Students who find the whole thing ridiculous troll the roster mercilessly. The University punishes the trolls. The trolls retreat to their dungeons, seething with bitterness. Nobody is happy.
Wouldn’t it be easier for everyone involved if students simply did their best to accommodate each others pronoun preferences? It’s an easy fix that requires no new databases, rules, or punishments. Best of all, it doesn’t feed the trolls, who thrive on institutional persecution but turn to stone in the bright light of free and informal dialogue.