'The Liberal World Does Not Know for Sure What a Man or Woman Is'
California has just passed a new law saying school districts may not bar transgender students from same-sex settings, like men's basketball teams or women's locker rooms (Assembly Bill 1266).
Opponents promptly submitted a referendum to overturn the law, but it will take more than the usual political activism to stop the momentum on what some are calling the next major drive for "equality."
It will take a serious, sustained program of education in both scientific facts and real respect.
Every law has an implicit worldview, a set of assumptions that justifies it. The worldview implicit in the transgender movement is that our physical bodies have no particular value – that our biology is irrelevant to who we are as persons.
Consider the language used. Several states and school districts have passed laws on “transgender discrimination,” and most read something like this (from a 2011 California law): "Gender . . . includes a person's gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person's assigned sex at birth."
What's the key word here? Assigned. As though a person's "sex at birth" were purely arbitrary instead of a scientific, biological fact.
What such language implies is that biological facts do not matter. The law is being used to impose a worldview that denigrates the physical body as inconsequential to personal identity. It is a worldview that drives a wedge between one's body and one's sense of self, which exerts a self-alienating, fragmenting effect on the human personality.
The transgender movement is a stepping stone to a completely postmodern conception of psychosexual identity. What does that mean? A psychotherapist explains in these words: People "don't want to fit into any boxes -- not gay, straight, lesbian, or bisexual ones. . . . they want to be free to change their minds."
The quote appears in an article addressed to people who had “come out” as homosexuals but were later attracted to heterosexual relationships again. So what am I? they asked. Not to worry, the psychotherapist said. We're moving away from “the old, modernist way of thinking” that we are born with a gender that does not change because it is rooted in our biological identity.
Instead we are moving to a postmodern view that gender is something we can choose, independent of biology – and thus something we can also change.
The New York Times reports that at some universities, students no longer have to check “Male” or “Female” on their health forms. Instead they are asked to “describe your gender identity history.” In other words, which gender identities have you embraced over your lifetime?
This is not some fringe idea. It is already mainstream. Virtually all sex education curricula take their lead from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which has stated, "Gender identity refers to a person’s internal sense of being male, female, or a combination of these” and “may change over the course of their lifetimes.”
A few weeks ago, an NPR program featured young people who literally changed their gender identity throughout the day. "At one college, things were so fluid you could make up a different pronoun for a different event," NPR said. Students might go to lunch as a he, then to class as a she. "We encountered high school students who said, I reject the gender [male/female] binary as an oppressive move by the dominant culture."
Admittedly, some young people are merely rejecting culturally contingent social roles. As one liberal pastor put it, questions of gender tend to get mixed up in attempts "to restore the 'traditional' gender roles of the (Eisenhower-era middle-upper-class) family."
But many are going further, insisting that gender identity has nothing to do with biology. In an internet forum discussing transgenderism, someone wrote, Why should anyone care about "some little bit of flesh between the legs?" Why should that make a difference to your sense of who you are?
The autonomous self will not tolerate having its options limited by anything it did not choose – not even its own body.
We can call this view liberalism, employing a definition by the self-described liberal philosopher Peter Berkowitz. In his words, liberal thinkers focus on “dimensions of life previously regarded as fixed by nature” and seek to show that in reality they are “subject to human will and remaking.” For liberals, even your identity as male or female is now open to "human will and remaking."
This radical autonomy may be promoted as liberation, but it is a devastatingly disrespectful view of the physical body. The implication is that your body is not part of your authentic self.
A few years ago, Christianity Today quoted a female United Methodist minister who underwent a sex change operation to become a male. Her explanation was, “My body didn’t match what I am.” Clearly, she did not regard her body as part of “what I am.” She did not think of her body as part of her authentic self.
Of course, humans are more than biological beings. But biology gives an objective, scientifically detectable baseline for human identity.
When disconnected from biology, gender identity becomes subjective and ultimately unknowable. In a book titled Omnigender, the author says that all sexual identities are now up for grabs. A review of the book said – and this was written in all seriousness – “Arguments against women’s ordination need wholesale revamping since we do not know for sure now what a woman is.”
The liberal world does not know for sure what a man or woman is.
Not that long ago, nature was regarded as God's creation, endowed with God's purposes. This is called a teleological view of nature (from the Greek telos, meaning goal or purpose), and it is supported by the most evident empirical facts: Eyes are designed for seeing and ears for hearing; wings are designed for flying and flippers for swimming.
Of course, our physical bodies are part of nature, so they too were respected as having a purpose, a meaning, a moral significance.
But at the heart of liberalism is the denial of purpose in nature. Historically, the key turning point was Charles Darwin. The central elements in Darwin's theory – random variations, sifted by the blind, automatic process of natural selection – were aimed specifically at getting rid of the concept of purpose or design in biology. As historian Jacques Barzun says, "This denial of purpose is Darwin's distinctive contention."
Today we are seeing the real-world results of this denial. Transgenderism treats the scientific facts of human biology as having no intrinsic purpose or significance. It treats the body as nothing but a piece of matter that gives people no clue about who they are as persons. It is a self-alienating worldview that teaches people that their identity as male or female has no inherent purpose or dignity. (For more, see chapter 3 in my book Saving Leonardo.)
Liberals often portray the morality of the Bible as negative and restrictive. But in reality, Biblical morality honors humans as embodied beings. It respects our identity as male and female, thus leading to integrity and wholeness. The root of the word integrity means whole, integrated, unified – our minds and emotions in tune with our physical body.
A Biblical worldview offers a positive message that respects the whole person and is motivated by love and compassion.
Because every law presupposes a worldview, the most effective way to address the law is to show the negative impact of the underlying worldview. For the law to be humane, it must reflect a view of the person that is holistic, integrating gender identity with the biological facts of life.
It is far better to respect the facts than to fight against them.
This article is adapted from Saving Leonardo, by Nancy Pearcey, director of the Francis Schaeffer Center for Worldview and Culture at Houston Baptist University and editor at large of The Pearcey Report.