Gender Identity

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Some unforeseen issues around the primacy of subjective gender identities

Helen Joyce:

"The idea that everyone is born with a “gender identity”—an innate sense of being a man or woman that usually, but not always, aligns with biological sex. If the two are in conflict, the person is “transgender” and it is their gender identity, not their biological sex, that indicates who they truly are. The theory has been expanded to include people who regard themselves non-binary, “agender,” gender-fluid or a host of other terms, meaning that they belong to neither sex or feel located at some indeterminate (and possibly shifting) point between the two. According to this theory, no one can determine a person’s gender identity except that person, and no one else can challenge it. As with religious belief, it is entirely subjective. A simple declaration—“gender self-identification”—is all it takes to override biology.

One consequence is a huge increase in the number of people who say they do not identify with their natal sex. In Britain, for example, since the GRA came into force, just 5,000 people have used its provisions. Now the government reckons that approximately 1% of the population is transgender—around 650,000 people.

Another consequence relates to the question of who is permitted to use single-sex facilities. What Americans call the “bathroom wars”—between liberals, who have embraced gender self-ID, and conservatives, who have largely resisted it—in fact goes far beyond public toilets. Changing rooms, school residential trips, rape and domestic-violence refuges, and prisons are going self-ID. So are electoral shortlists and even sporting competitions.

Redefining what it means to be a man or woman redefines what it means to be gay. Depending on how they identify, people with male bodies who prefer female sexual partners may regard themselves as either heterosexual men or lesbian women. It also affects women’s political activism, since defining womanhood as based on a feeling rather than anatomy is incompatible with the feminist position that women are oppressed because they are physically weaker than men and bear the entire burden of reproduction. And it affects education: Many schools now tell children that being a boy or girl is not a matter of what it says on their birth certificates, but what they feel like. Since that is a circular definition, lessons quickly degenerate into endorsing sex-stereotypes: If you like trains and trucks, maybe you’re a boy. If you like pink chiffon, a girl." (