One of the first rules we learned in kindergarten was that the girls’ bathrooms were for girls and that the boys’ bathrooms were for boys. Fifty years later, apparently, everything has changed. Now, anyone who insists that what we knew to be true 50 years ago, what we knew to be true for thousands of years, what we knew from common (shared) human experience, from nature, is to be considered a bigot. Insisting on this difference is considered by some to be so heinous that they are threatening economic boycotts of the state of North Carolina, who recently re-asserted the traditional policy. Aging rockers Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr, to name two, have cancelled an upcoming tours to North Carolina in protest of the law. A recent video interview of some representative university students highlights the problem. Political correctness tells them (and thus they told us) that we must regard a person as belonging to whatever gender he or she chooses. To illustrate the absurdity of this position, the interviewer asked the students if they were willing to regard him (a 5′ 6″ Caucasian) as if he were a 6’5″ Asian. They hesitated. Why? Because it was obviously contrary to fact. At a certain point even politically correct university students had to draw a line, they had to stand boldly for the proposition that their sense experience is generally reliable and that sense experience informed them that their interviewer simply was not a 6’5″ Asian man.
Why, then, do they capitulate to the demand that we regard males as females and vice versa? Politics and rage. They have learned to survive in a radically, if selectively nominalist environment, in which the relation between the sign male or the sign female and the thing signified as been broken. It does not take very many encounters with an enraged LGBT advocate or very many strident lectures from a prof or very many warnings from the university administration about creating a “hostile environment” or stories about kangaroo courts in which students are charged of offenses against political correctness to convince a 19-year-old to talk nonsense for the sake of getting a degree. That’s just the politics of intimidation and rage. “Affirm my self-identity or face my rage.”
Consider the widely used notion “gender assignment” as in an article in Medical Daily: “Transgender individuals do not have any sex hormone abnormalities that would lead them to identify with the sex opposite to the one they were assigned at birth.” There are four prima facie problems with this sentence:
- There is no clear, unambiguous, fixed, agreed, or objective definition of “transgender.” Advocates more or less admit that transgender is as transgender says. So a 5’6″ Caucasian may not identify as as a 6’5″ Asian but a male (e.g., Bruce Jenner) may identify as female. Here we have a medical publication discussing an ostensible category of persons for which there is no objective definition. This is nothing if not a tour de force.
- The article concedes that one of the claimed biological foundations for the very category does not exist. One of the pioneers in the advocacy for transgender people, Paul McHugh, has rejected his earlier position. This was never, he says, a problem of physiology but of psychology. People who seek to present themselves as belonging to the opposite sex have a psychological disorder. In this case, the North Carolina law (and others like it) is protecting us from the mentally ill who are seeking to use the wrong bathroom. How is that a cause for outrage?
- The very phrase “gender assignment” is nothing less than a lie. It creates the impression that the physician, at delivery, arbitrarily assigns a sex to an infant. He does nothing of the sort. Obviously you and I do not remember our own births. In case you have not been present at the birth of a child since, let me tell you how it goes. Assuming that the physician is unaware of the results of the ultrasound scans that have been done in the months prior to delivery, at a certain point as the baby emerges he looks at the baby’s body and recognizes the sex on the basis of the child’s genitalia. I assure you that infants are not ordinarily born without them, that we are not human Legos to which parts may be randomly attached. “Gender assignment” is a complete misnomer. What takes place is the recognition of sex. That is all.
- The very abuse of the category gender in place of sex gets to one of the fundamental issues here. Gender is a grammatical category not a biological category. They are not exactly equivalent. The substitution of gender for sex allows advocates to create the illusion that the sex to which one belongs is nothing more than a social convention. Again, this is complete rubbish. Human beings belong to one of two sexual categories: male or female. These are not arbitrary social constructs. These are fixed in nature. They are pre-social. Gender, by contrast, is a grammatical category. It is relatively arbitrary. In some languages ships (e.g., Navis in Latin) are classed as “feminine” nouns. This is relatively arbitrary. The substitution of grammatical category for biological, natural categories is mischief that is doing real social harm.
The very concept of nature has become so alien to assessing sexual identity that a recent essay seeking to explain why the “angst” over transgender bathrooms never mentions it. The ending of the story is predictable. Those who question the transgender movement are fearful, ignorant rubes who are out of touch with late-modern life. Claims about progress and who is on the “right side of history” are not actual arguments. They are theological claims about (Marxist) eschatology. That’s the great thing about the future. Anyone can say just about anything he wants and no one can gainsay him because the future has not happened. Rejecting nature in favor of patently incoherent nonsense is not progress. Substituting rage for reason is not progress.
If a movement is so easily and quickly dismantled and yet it continues then we must ask ourselves why and how it proceeds? It proceeds, at least in part, because the West has lost the very category of nature, that there are givens that are logically and even temporally prior to convention. This has happened for a variety of proximate reasons. There has been a centuries long shift away from the rural to the urban and suburban. People in densely populated urban areas make concessions to get along. It is not possible to argue with 8 million people so citizens of New York, Mexico City, and Tapei simply learn to look the other way in other to get to work. Suburbanites do a similar thing. We pull off the freeway into our suburbs and into our garages and turn on the television. It’s quite possible to be completely isolated from one’s neighbors. Most of us shop at supermarkets where food appears in shrink-wrapped packaging, as if it dropped from heaven. In fact, food does not just appear. It is grown, it is harvested (or slaughtered) and prepared for sale. That is reality. That is what is.
The controversy over transgendered bathrooms is really a symbol of the success of subjectivism. Hans Christian Anderson (1805–75) anticipated this crisis in the early 19th century and told us a story about the “Emperor’s New Clothes.” If ever there was a parable for this age, this is it. In it people are told repeatedly to deny their sense experience in favor of political correctness. A small boy, however, unaware of the potential socio-economic consequences (or the rage of the LGBT lobby) of telling the truth, speaks truth to power to the everlasting shame of the adults. So it is in our time. The Transgender Emperor has the wrong clothes. Caitlyn Jenner is not a female. He is Bruce Jenner who has a serious complex of psychological, emotional, and spiritual problems that sex-change surgeries and medication cannot treat. Jenner et al are at odds with nature and nature’s God. Miserable under the effects of the fall, instead of recognizing the true source of discontent (and the true solution: God the Son incarnate), they blame the Creator, shake their fist at him, and go to work to reorganize themselves and all of society with them. What Bruce needs is not a new (trans) gender but the grace of God in the free acceptance of sinners with God in Christ. Bruce is, as Johnny Lee said, “looking for love in all the wrong places.”
Christians are not immune from this late-modern disease. We too have lost touch with the very category of nature. Much of modern evangelicalism is premised on the (usually unstated) doctrine that grace obliterates (rather than renewing) nature. For many fundamentalists, creation refers to the length of the creation days not to a pattern of working six days and resting the seventh. There is a quasi-Gnostic character to that evangelical piety that says a Christian must be in a perpetual state of bliss and that grief is a sort of sin because it denies this version of Christian joy. How many evangelicals have unknowingly adopted the heretical Anabaptist doctrine of the “celestial flesh” of Christ, a docetic (Greek for “it seems”) Christology that says that Jesus only appeared to be human (hence “docetic) and hence denies that Jesus is true man? Why would such a Christology appeal to Christians? It does because we too often, like the Gnostics, are suspicious of the very idea of nature. We suspect that creation or nature is intrinsically evil and something to be banished. It may be that the evangelical suspicion of nature helped to facilitate the very mess in which we find ourselves today. What if the LGBT activists have only appropriated a couple of ancient Christian heresies (Gnosticism and Docetism) which 19th-century evangelicals transmitted to the modern world?