Recently I’ve become concerned—of all things—about my personal rights, and specifically my right to express “my view of the world as I most competently see it.”
Here’s the background:
In my community there are two people who are ostensibly one gender but are claiming to be the other. For example one person has a body that, from the waist down, bears the unmistakable characteristics of femaleness: wider hips, rounder buttocks, more feminine thighs and calves and a softening of the shape of the knee. Yet this person is claiming to be a man. There is a similar situation with a person having a body bearing the unmistakable characteristics of maleness and yet claiming to be female.
In addition to writing blog posts to explain my views I’m planning on connecting with each of the trans-gender people in my community.
Above all, to be upfront and honest that, after some time trying to contort myself around their wishes, I am simply no longer willing to allow their preferences and /or imagination (that either of them are the gender that is opposite to the one discernible by their outward appearances) to overrule and subjugate my view of the world as I most competently see it (that is, both honestly and compassionately).
But why? How does this impact you? This is their choice, isn’t it?
Yes and no, I think. For instance, when I am referring to either of these people in conversation and it comes to using third person singular personal pronouns I refuse to use the pronoun “he” to refer to a person who bears the unmistakable characteristics of femaleness (i.e., according to at least visual traits, though perhaps also according to personality / patterns of action or engagement) and similarly to use the pronoun “she” to refer to a person who likewise bears the unmistakable characteristics of maleness.
The “pain point” here, as I experience it, is this:
I have dedicated much of my life to developing and maintaining both my understanding of reality and my attachment to it, and my sense of the relationship and distinction between “the real” and “the possible.”
In other words, I have taken pains to develop my attachment to truth and cultivate the modes of being-in-the-world most conducive to recognizing, interpreting, and appropriating truth, wherever / whenever / however I find it. Not only this, but I have taken similar pains and attention to connect myself with love, in terms of being loved / receiving love and loving / giving love and in terms of cultivating the openness to do so reciprocally: to love myself and accept self-love.
In the face of this long pursuit and cultivation of love and truth, truth and love, I am unwilling to allow my rights to be connected with reality (in pursuit of truth and oriented toward love) to be subordinated to / denied by someone who tells me that I must call black “white,” sweet “sour,” or male “female.”
Here’s how I see it:
I view these types of gender identity claims as—at best—the claims of an imaginative understanding of the individual taken to extreme excess, whereby the imagination (in the service of an individual’s preferences and feelings relative to his/her gender identification) effectively trumps my individual rights to see the world as I most competently see it. This amounts to the rights of another (to the expression of his or her imagination) being treated as superior to / championed above my rights.
And specifically, two key rights in specific:
First, my right to truth as i) the due prerogative to engage with reality as I best understand it, ii) the logical necessity of seeing the world from my own perspective and iii) the unalienable privilege of honestly expressing such.
The preceding does not foreclose on the need a) both to relate and distinguish reality and possibility well, b) to engage my personal perspective with the perspectives of others empathetically, in a subjectively objective manner, and c) to remain open to dialogue with others and ensure that my views remain situated within a tension between confidence and humility.
Second, to my right to love as i) the due prerogative to maintain a “diacritical” hermeneutic that places my own value in tension with that of others, such that both must be upheld and neither, of necessity, can be abased, ii) the logical necessity that I can only offer to others what I am capable and willing to offer to myself, and iii) the unalienable privilege of compassionately engaging with the world.
Similarly, the preceding does not foreclose on the need a) to be open to the critique that I may be unbalanced in my treatment / failing to respond differently to different circumstances, b) to cultivate the skills necessary to read myself: to develop sufficient self-awareness / self-understanding, and c) to locate love and truth, truth and love within a flexible and variable tension such that each can corroborate and / or critique the other.
Yet more is involved than just “rights.”
A certain “lore,” or discourse, has developed concerning matters of gender identity, which I find to be both authoritarian and metanarratival.1 In this regard I both maintain vital suspicions about the motivations behind the authoritarian nature of gender identity discourse in our society and I utterly reject the metanarratival nature of this discourse, which does not simply deny / undermine my position but invalidates my person as an eligible participant in this discourse.
Stated differently, gender discourse in current Western society has become authoritarian in that it “shoots first” (by being unilaterally ‘pro’ about the disjunction between gender identification and biological sexuality) and metanarratival in that, by making its story the story and denying that dissenters are even sufficiently human to merit engagement, it “fails to ask the questioner” because it “shoots to kill” (and then essentially “buries” the questioner in an unmarked grave).
Here’s how it works:
Authoritarianism manifest itself when those who question the status quo of gender discourse are immediately seen as “objectors” (and labelled as “enemies”). Metanarrativity manifests itself when those who “object” are not simply “wrong” people (as those possessed of wrong thinking, wrong morals, and wrong virtues / vices) but are actually non-people: they are literally seen as invalid people (because they are unenlightened, unethical, and uncaring) and so the “proper” response is not to berate them but to ignore them.
Thus dissenters are not simply erroneous but irrelevant.
This, of course, is the function of a metanarrative: to explain reality according to a story that acts to substantiate the position and power of the teller while systematically eliminating not only the perspectives but the very status, as persons, of those who challenge or call the story into question.
Perhaps distinguishing between sexual orientation and sexual identity is helpful:
For someone to makes claims of attraction to those not of one’s gender or of one’s gender is a claim internal to that individual and so adjudicating its factuality rests with the claimant. Such a claim is effectively beyond reasonable dispute, even if the claim may invite or prompt other forms of engagement.2
For someone to make claims to be something that—based on all the normal criteria used to adjudicate such matters—one is not (one who is ostensibly male claiming to be a woman, a cat, or a dragon) is at least an over-extension of imagination, if not a category mistake: the claim that personal preferences / senses of identity should not only be included among the criteria used to identify gender but that they should supersede all others.
This is both untrue (to my experience of living in the world) and unloving (of myself, as a being entitled to pursue truth as that which is an essential component of human flourishing). As such I will not be a party to it.
- Here I am understanding “metanarrative” as per Jean-Francois Lyotard. For a valuable precis of Lyotard’s perspective see Jamie Smith’s Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism? especially pages 62-70. On the false notion that Christianity should be considered a metanarrative see Merold Westphal’s Overcoming Ontotheology, page xiii. ↩
- In this regard, the equally metanarratival nature of sexual orientation discourse should give us pause for thought: regardless of context there remains a vast difference between rejecting a position that dissents from the status quo and marginalizing those holding such positions. ↩