Of the many things that are apparent in the present debate over transgenderism and its implications, I find two things recurring here that occurred previously in the marriage debate. Firstly, the proponents of marriage redefinition invoked a rhetoric of ‘exclusion’ by default; and thus the issue from the outset was one couched in terms of marriage ‘equality’ rather than whether redefining marriage was justified given what the ends of marriage were, how these were reflected in the definition itself, and how this could be accommodated, if at all, in the interests of those in same-sex relationships. Secondly, if the debate ever moved past the spurious notion of ‘marriage equality’, the definition was criticized in ways that we now find being directed at the definition of sex/ gender.
Regarding the rhetoric of ‘exclusion’, we see presently the claim that all that ‘trans-men or -women’ want is ‘equality’ with women or men, respectively; where this is understood as the license to self-ID as the other sex, recognized and acknowledged as now a member of that class, and thereby enjoy the rights and privileges of that class, whether it involves entering their spaces, participating in their competitions, festivals, or the like. The use of this rhetoric is powerful in a democracy because the public reflexively feels that exclusion per se is bad whatever the justification of the exclusion itself.
As to the second, if the debate ever gets to an exploration of what male or female is, and we’ve seen prominent people either evade answering the question allegedly for ‘lack of preparation’, or claim, self-defeatingly, that man or woman is whatever a person identifies without ever specifying what man or woman is, or how they came to know it.
These same patterns also appeared in the marriage redefinition debate. Firstly, the plaintive cry among marriage redefinitionists was about a rhetoric of ‘exclusion’; all they wanted, we were told, was to be included in the institution of marriage and that not including relationships between the same sex was ‘exclusionary’, ‘discriminatory’, and so on.
Secondly, when the debate happened to turn to what marriage is and they were confronted with the definition that marriage as a union of the sexes, orientated towards the generation, custody and education of children, and the good of the spouses, we were bombarded with replies such as, then how can infertile men or women get married, or what of marriages that don’t bear children for whatever reason, and so on. Debates on the old Cat almost always raised such objections. On this argument, the counter to the definition of woman below,
will be that it excludes post-menopausal or infertile women or women that suffer from some other relevant condition. This, of course, will entirely rely on the proponent of sex redefinition ignoring what is here meant by ‘typical’ (the ‘general case’) as applying to the class ‘female’, not to every individual instance which occasionally fails to fulfill those capacities or that it includes a power that can be lost through aging, or due to infirmity, or the like. Here is a particularly egregious example cloaked in scientistic verbiage:
The same is true of marriage, the definition applies to the general case, not to every particular case, nor must it; namely, that the typical union of a typical man and woman will generate children, and so on, since the power of generating and caring for children applies to, again, the general case.
But how is this connected to Liberalism, I hear you ask? Well, because this pattern of debate is inherit in Liberalism itself. With respect to the first, this is an outcome of liberalism’s voluntarism which is suspicious of all inherited norms and distinctions, whether they are natural or social, because they are beyond the scope of, or limit, our autonomy . Sex, like family, nationality, and religion, is to the liberal, simply another imposition upon our autonomy as persons. Transgenderists, and their liberal allies, oppose the limitation of nature that sex imposes upon them as persons to create and re-create themselves. So when they see women behaving as women and they notice there are impediments to men behaving as women in women-only spaces, activities , etc. they view this as inequality and they bamboozle the public by speaking in terms of exclusion and fairness and claiming that ‘all they want to do is live their lives’.
With respect to the second point, this is an outcome of liberalism’s nominalist metaphysical background; namely, the rejection of universals in favour of particulars, which meant that the labels (marriage, man/woman) are only names that lack any referent in reality. Weaver’s Ideas have Consequences is a great introduction to the argument. It’s the common thread that can be found in many debates in which liberals involve themselves and their responses to their opponents, whether its abortion, euthanasia, marriage redefinition, sex/ gender, and so on. The first step in resisting these patterns apart from noticing them to begin with is recognizing their source/s.