Where in the hell does NPR find this kind of obscure stuff? Do their reporters just go sit under the weirdo tree and wait for something to fall out and bop them on the head? Margot Adler reports on what she calls a new trend among teenagers: refusing to recognize gender categories. At first, Adler was skeptical:

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: It began with a speaking event at Oberlin College in Ohio. I was at dinner with the college chaplain and 16 students on his interfaith council. I was startled when everyone introduced themselves saying their name, what year they were, what they were studying and then described their preferred gender pronouns. I wasn’t taping but it sounded similar to these high school students introducing themselves to me recently in New York.

RUSSELL LASDON: I’m Russell Lasdon and I use he/him/his pronouns.

KETZEL FEASLEY: I’m Ketzel Feasley and my PGP’s are she/her/hers.

ADLER: For those of you who have never heard this done, as I hadn’t, this is happening on many campuses. It’s a way of being supportive or an ally to those who are transgender or gender non-conforming. Those who are not cisgender – that is, their emotional gender identity does not match their biology.

I admit my first reaction was it felt cult-like and I thought, these people are paying $50,000 a year for college and this is what they care about most – what pronouns you use? When during my college days we were fighting for civil rights, registering voters in Mississippi and facing tear gas and fire hoses. But then I stopped and thought about it.

She realized that these kids are on a Freedom Ride to free themselves from the shackles of gender and gendered language. More from the front lines of the Civil Rights movement of our time:

LYNN WALKER: We encountered high school students who said, I want you to call me Tractor and use pronouns like zee, zim and zer. And, in fact, I reject the gender binary as an oppressive move by the dominant culture.

ADLER: That’s Lynn Walker, a director at Housing Works, an organization that provides housing for those with HIV. About 10 percent of their clients are transgender. Walker teaches a course called Trans 101 for all new hires. When she started coming across people who were gender non-conforming in so many different ways, she began to ask new questions.

WALKER: And then part of the intake is to say, well, what pronoun do you like today? It might be just today.

ADLER: Because Walker has clients who might be Jimmy one day, and Delores the next.

WALKER: Once you develop the habit of saying, oh, that person, that is a she, that’s Delores. It doesn’t matter that she looks rather like Jimmy or looks like she was called Jimmy by her parents.

How is it that we made some deeply confused people — Tractor? Zee, zim, zer? Honestly? — into avatars of cultural progress? I suppose you have to have an expensive education from a boutique SWPL farm private college in order to believe that fighting for your right not to know whether you are a male or a female is the same thing as fighting for your right  as a black man to be treated with human dignity — and putting your life on the line in so doing. I would love to see the letter Tractor would text or tweet from the Birmingham jail.