It has become common to speak of a plurality of sexes, with new ones being discovered all the time. But loose talk of free choice of sexual identity in such domains as Facebook hides the real crux of woke sexuality, which has nothing to do with free choice.
Although feminism was the most universally grounded of the ascriptive liberation movements that have marked our history since the turn of the twentieth century—it has become difficult to conceive that at that time virtually no women anywhere were allowed to vote—woke institutions have made it clear that the interests of women as a biological group must take second place to the principle of gender self-definition. Women who resist this principle, for example in rejecting the idea of males “identifying” as women on girls’ sports teams or in ladies’ shower rooms, are not only reviled as TERFs**, but our purportedly conservative Supreme Court has recoiled at the idea of imposing the constitutionality of biological sexual difference (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bostock_v._Clayton_County).
The idea that there are as many genders as we can think to invent is one of those unanticipated yet seemingly inevitable consequences of libertarian modernity—an easy idea to entertain, since it has no real consequences beyond one’s profile on Tinder. Likewise, “gender fluidity” remains a behavioral concept that as far as I know has not led to contestation of legal rights. In contrast, wokeness imposes a binary choice: not of sex, but of gender, which is most simply defined as the sex of one’s soul.
The woke assert the rights of the transgendered over the cisgendered even at their most dubious—can transgendered boys not be aware of their advantages in competing against girls? In contrast with the social nature of racial distinctions, the principle, not of sexual choice, but of fidelity to one’s true sexuality, entails the denial, within the human community, of the most clearly biologically defined distinction of all: that between male and female.
The originary moral model is one of unanimous reciprocity, the in principle unlimited exchange of signs that are all instances of the same sign. It is against this configuration that all examples of firstness can be seen as oppressive. Normality, in contrast, excludes unanimity of this sort; it is an ethical conception that sets different norms for different classes of people, the most fundamental classification of all being once more that between male and female.
In principle, the ethical notion of the normal is a negative one, defining the limits of specific behaviors beyond which they become subject to complaint or stigmatization. Modernity has tested many of these limits, those of acceptable dress, for example; but even permissiveness in the acceptance of traditionally deviant conduct such as homosexuality had never previously required overt denial of biological reality, to the point where even scientists are forbidden to make hard and fast distinctions between the two sexes.
Until not long ago, homosexual activities were classified as crimes, although widely tolerated in private. The decriminalization of such activities has taken place in the context of a broadening conception of human rights that is reluctant to stigmatize “victimless crimes.” But the real turning point in the notion of normality that contributed to the tide of wokeism cannot simply be described as an increase in tolerance, and certainly not as a consequence of Millian liberalism in the sense that the individual should be free to do anything whatever provided it does not impact someone else; e.g., “the liberty of your fist ends at my nose.” On the contrary, the watershed occurred not in the domain of ethics but in that of human nature.
The traditional reason for stigmatizing homosexuality was that it was unnatural. Even among the Greeks it was common to mock those who were particularly predisposed to homosexual practices, and in particular, those adults (erastes) who were given to taking the passive role in their relations with their adolescent eromenos. I believe the homosexual practices associated with British public schools led to similar distinctions. The important point in such cases was the “objective” naturalness of the practice itself, not its naturalness with respect to the particular individual involved.
Thus, until the modern psychiatric era, and despite general awareness that some people were more attracted to these practices than others, the notion of the homosexual was not distinguished from practitioners of other vices such as being a habitual gambler, a drunkard, a compulsive seducer… In a word, homosexuality was seen as a vice, a trait de caractère, but not a fundamental category of human being, a “third sex” analogous to the two biological sexes.
The postwar decriminalization of homosexual activity was first understood in this minimally Millian sense: such activity harms no one, or in any case, no one beyond the “consenting adults” who engage in it, so it’s really not the society’s business. On the surface, this would seem to be the consistent liberal position; and I am fairly certain that when the laws criminalizing the practice were repealed, that was how the legislators and judges—and the homosexuals themselves—understood it. This is not to say that there was not a general conviction that engaging in such practices was “perverse” or abnormal, but such abnormality was no longer considered a reason to make it illegal. This was a triumph of classical liberalism.
We should note that nothing in this liberal stance suggests the possibility of a right to homosexual marriage. This emerged as the result of the efforts of activists in the homosexual community to in effect abolish the age-old category of “vice” as an activity that is stigmatized without being declared illegal. To argue over the extent to which this abolition is inherent in liberalism exemplifies the irrelevance of philosophizing that purports to find in the “inherent” meaning of words the answer to all moral problems. If one is a liberal, one must conclude….
I rather doubt that John Locke or J. Stuart Mill ever thought about homosexual marriage (an online article, https://polsci101.wordpress.com/2009/12/07/mills-view-on-homosexuality/ attempts to extrapolate a Millian perspective on the question), given that it impacts the Burkean social unconscious rather than the legal realm. It is certainly of historical interest that activities generally considered vices were tolerated in certain societies but forbidden in others. But in the contemporary world, the sea change has taken place not so much in the realm of morality as in that of our concept of human nature. Once homosexuality was no longer a crime, the contemporary mind was open to the idea that the category of “vice” itself was no longer legitimate. If an activity was not considered illegal in the sense of doing harm to non-consenting others, then one could no longer make any distinction between our right to practice it and other forms of private activity.
This would still not suffice to justify homosexual marriage. What was insisted on by its proponents was that homosexual desire differed only in its object from heterosexual desire, that the couples it brought together were not merely the equivalent of married couples, but that the society must recognize such unions as marriages tout court.
The important point here is the exact opposite of the liberal argument; it has nothing to do with permitting sexual freedom. On the contrary, the point is that because homosexual desire is as natural to some people as heterosexual desire is to others, these two natural tropisms should be accorded the same degree of cultural validity. Those homosexuals who would go yet farther and justify pedophilia (“man-boy love”) have remained marginalized. But once it became generally understood that the social purpose of marriage is not to carry on the reproduction of the race, but to consecrate a couple’s sexual affinity, there could be no difference in their legal status; we must not judge “whom one loves.”
It is in this context that we should understand the trans movement. Once more, activists defending a marginalized group, here far less numerous than homosexuals, make the same argument: not that one should be able to “choose one’s sex,” as websites like Facebook allow one to do, but that what used to be understood as the mental illness of gender dysphoria is, once more, redefined as a natural tendency that, as an expression of what I will again call one’s soul, ipso facto overrides one’s merely biological/physical sex. The reasoning is similar to that concerning homosexuality, save that it is not one’s sexual desire but one’s “gender,” i.e., one’s “true” sex, that is understood as the objective reality of one’s nature, whether or not it corresponds to one’s biological sex.
Homosexuals are a largely successful group who have shown their ability to function in society and whose implementation of the new marriage laws does not appear to have led to any grave problems. Nonetheless, by imposing the principle that human rights include the right to “follow one’s nature” within Millian limits, regardless of long-held social norms, the homosexual movement inaugurated a seismic shift from traditional, Burkean society, as the rapid transition of “gay marriage” from incredulity to inevitability demonstrates.
No other society had ever offered marriage to homosexuals, not as implementing some exceptional custom, but as a henceforth unproblematic extension of what marriage had always been. It is the insistent unmarkedness of homosexual marriage, whose couples commonly refer to each other as husband or wife, that is truly revolutionary.
It is this revolution that has led to the emergence of transsexuality as not only no longer a perversion or symptom of mental illness, but as existing in perfect symmetry with “cisgenderism,” to the point at which the entire respectable world increasingly takes seriously proposals to eliminate from official documents words such as mother and father, let alone pregnant woman, and even to cease indicating sex on birth certificates, the newborn not yet having reached an age at which it can choose, or better, come out in its true sex, whether or not in correspondence with physical organs and sex chromosomes.
It is obvious from these observations that what drives the woke obsession with transsexuality is quite the contrary of an ultra-liberal insistence on freedom of choice. On the contrary, wokeism denies freedom of choice, whether in racial or sexual matters. The difference between race and sex is that race is an external characteristic, based on objective criteria such as skin color, but imposed by the society rather than the individual, whereas sex is, independently of sex organs and chromosomes, a quality of one’s soul.
On the surface, changing one’s race should be much simpler than changing one’s sex, given the distinction between the continuously varying physical characteristics that manifest one’s race and the discontinuity of the labels affixed to them. Similar arguments are available in the case of sexuality, but the underlying dichotomous nature of biological sex, admitting only of rare exceptions, is understood as imposing a binary choice on individual psychology. Thus although it is common for people to say, e.g., that they are “three-quarters feminine and one-quarter masculine,” or that their gender is “fluid,” this is a mere description of one’s psychological tendencies, one’s tastes, not the equivalent of the binary distinction that it is felt that everyone must respect.
In the case of race, it is society rather than biology that imposes digital rather than continuous selection. In particular, the “one drop” rule tends to classify even today those with any detectable African ancestry as black—whereas the analogous mixture of white and Asian would be called Asian-American or Eurasian. But although changing one’s racial appearance is not difficult, and a number of whites have recently passed for blacks, whether to enjoy the privileges of affirmative action or, conversely, as in the 1964 movie Black Like Me, to experience the negative social effects of blackness, race-bending, unlike gender-bending, is not tolerated by the woke.
The idea of a “true” race borne in one’s soul is not accepted; in whichever direction the white-nonwhite identities are switched, the switcher is seen as a fraud, or at best, a sociological experimenter. If one can truly “pass” in one direction or the other, one is free to choose, but dyeing one’s skin is felt as essentially inauthentic; race, unlike sex, is understood as a social construction. The fact that sex is not, even when it is redefined as fundamentally a matter of conscience and not chromosomes, pays in fact indirect homage to the biology it affects to ignore: even if they be called genders, there remain only two sexes.
This difference in attitude is not really inconsistent. If we recall that the principle of wokeness is faithfulness malgré tout to the originary moral model, then racial difference is understood as ascriptive in the strong sense that race is ascribed to each individual by the society, all parties being presumed in agreement as to the apparent race of each individual. Attempting to change one’s race is not a sign of faithfulness to an inner identity, but simply an attempt to deceive.
In sexual matters, no doubt women were long denied equal legal rights, independently of their abilities. But today, when equality in rights and achievements has largely been met, an injustice far more egregious to the woke mind than sexual discrimination in the old sense is the classification of transsexuals as abnormal members of their biological sex and their consequent restriction, for example, to its toilets and locker rooms.
The analogy is drawn between appearance and reality in both cases. For race, differences in (all but physical) performance ipso facto reflect racism that distorts the (moral) equality of all, which should presumably result in equivalent statistics. For sex, my appearance as a man is taken as a physical fact, in contrast to what in the binary domain of sex is the bearer of moral reality: the sex inscribed in my soul. Thus the transsexual is a victim to the extent that he is judged by his sexual appearance, even if this “appearance” is substantiated by chromosomes and sex organs. Whatever one may think of it, the logic is the same, and restricting the name “woman” to cis-women a denial of the “true” femininity of the trans-woman, by the equivalent of a throwback to the days of the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde.
Once society is determined to be incapable of judging the normality, short of harming others, of the soul’s convictions, it will be forever embroiled in such disputes. That less scrupulous societies, focused on the propagation of their ethic as well as their gene pool, will take advantage of such complications, is the price we pay for “the worst system except…”
Let us hope that our incomparably shameful withdrawal from Afghanistan may serve as a warning signal that the level of our moral narcissism is approaching the lip of the vessel.
**Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist