A Kensington woman was somewhat surprised when she woke up to discover a 3ft snake coiled next to her. She rushed out of her bedroom, believing the snake was trapped there, and phoned the RSPCA. When an officer arrived the snake had disappeared, but it was found next day making its way along the hall, and identified as a royal python, which is harmless to humans and is recommended as an ideal pet.
Much more frightening than the innocent reptile was the report from the RSPCA officer who collected it. Jill Sanders insisted on referring to the woman who found the snake in the plural: ‘The poor resident must have had the fright of their life waking up to a snake in their bed. They jumped out of bed and closed their bedroom door to contain the snake.’
As the resident in question was an individual, it is a mystery as to why Ms Sanders constantly referred to her as ‘they’ unless someone else – obviously not the snake – was present.
One suspects that like so many other public bodies, the RSPCA has fallen victim to an ‘equality’ agenda under which some are more equal than others, and the supposed sensitivities of this new aristocracy – as determined by their self-appointed social justice warrior representatives – must be soothed by employing language at variance with verifiable reality. But if such vital details as the number of individuals involved in a news story cannot be reported, what happens if the subject is a trans person who has escaped from police custody? Will the public be allowed to know ‘their’ personal details, or will this be considered an insult to trans persons everywhere? If ‘their’ sex cannot be disclosed because ‘they themselves’ do not know what it is, it sets a precedent for omitting the vital details of other ‘protected categories’, in case reporting their age, racial background and even height might be considered ageist, racist and heightist. And such a news embargo would be positively dangerous if it were extended to suspected terrorists.
As this story shows, our language is becoming as slippery as a snake, and we are apparently no longer allowed to describe reality except in unreal ways.
Speaking from personal experience of an escaped snake, using the correct pronoun would not be uppermost in my mind; however, being confronted by a loose snake is slightly less worrying than the prospect of receiving a visit by the pronoun police. A more Pythonesque scenario would be hard to imagine.