sábado, 11 de marzo de 2017

This, friends, is how Christians think about names and identities


During the rollout of our university’s Preferred First Name Policy (PFNP), the McGill Reporter offered this apologia from one of the policy’s key architects:
“One’s name and gender are at the heart of who we are. For those of us who have a name that doesn’t reflect our reality it is a burden to have a ‘dead name.’ It can even be painful to be continuously confronted by an identity that one has rejected,” says Robert Leckey, Dean of the Law Faculty. “For example, if you have transitioned from Dave to Renée you do not want to be dealing with your old ‘dead’ name. It goes to fundamental issues of personal autonomy and choice.”
The grammar is a little painful, too, but we may set that aside. The striking thing about this paragraph is its unconscious borrowing from the following paragraph of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the sinful body might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.
What is unconscious must be brought in due course to full consciousness, so that a proper comparison can be made, but let us take as a fundamental point of agreement that one’s name and one’s gender are indeed, albeit in different ways, at the heart of who one is. The person who is deprived of his name in the gulag, and given instead just a letter and a number, is deliberately depersonalized. He is robbed of the dignity that belongs to him as human, and is treated as subhuman. Even lower animals are dignified by fitting names, sometimes even by individual names. Names designate natures, and within natures (if the nature is a rational-volitional one) individual or proper names identify persons. What could be more fundamental to who we are than our names? For it is precisely as a who, and not merely a what, that persons have names.

We shall come back to names, but let us take as a second point of agreement that gender is also crucial to our identity. What do we mean by “gender”? If we take “gender” as a synonym for “sex” (G1), we may say something like this: The sexed nature of our bodies matters because our bodies themselves matter. “Man is as much body as soul,” to quote Tertullian, and as such the body of any human person must be taken with full seriousness as an intrinsic, identifying feature of the person. That is one reason Tertullian, like Paul, has so much to say about the resurrection of the body.

Suppose, however, we do not take “gender” as a synonym for “sex,” but use it rather by extension to refer to the expectations that quite naturally, if somewhat differently in different societies, become attached to the two sexes (G2). Used thus, the word becomes more problematic or the concept more controversial. Where reference is made to established social roles—the usage here is generally adjectival, as in “gender expectations”—the term may be politicized as an attack on or a defense of those expectations or those unable or unwilling to conform to them. Here, there may sometimes be agreement that gender is not in fact crucial to identity; that identity is not or ought not to be over-determined by sex-based social expectations. Of course there will also be many disputes about whether or when identity is being enhanced or distorted by conformity or non-conformity to common expectations. This usage raises the question of how far identity is self-determined and how far it is determined by others. To this question also we will return.

More problematic yet is “gender” as used in the expression “gender identity” (GI). It is too little noticed—even by eminent people in eminent universities, rolling out policies that turn on this expression—that “gender” here remains undefined. GI is defined. In the words of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, for example, GI is “each person’s internal and individual experience of gender.” But “gender” itself, in this context, is not defined. We might suppose it to be the person’s sex (G1), or the person’s sex considered in relation to social expectations (G2), but we would be mistaken. As the Commission goes on to say, GI “is a person’s sense of being a woman, a man, both, neither, or anywhere along the gender spectrum.” That is not G1 and it is not G2. It is something else, but what?

Now, if we were content to say that GI is one’s sense of being male or female, we wouldn’t need to specify a third meaning, a G3. G1 would do nicely. Or if we were content to say that GI is one’s own alternative to society’s sense of what it means to live properly as a male or female, again we wouldn’t need a G3. G2 would do nicely. Either way, GI would specify something about our personal psychology. It would specify our internal, subjective response to something objective and externally accessible: either the kind of chromosomes we have, or the way society handles people with that set of chromosomes. That would be to miss the whole point, however, of talking about GI. Talk about GI is intended to break down the male/female binary as an objective referent for law and public policy.

GI, in other words, is not merely a subjective response to being male or female, nor to some collective determination of what maleness or femaleness entails socially. GI, as the Commission says, is our sense of being male or female, or partly male and partly female, or entirely male and entirely female (a Chalcedonianism of the sexes?), or neither male nor female. The “neither” is crucial, because it is precisely here that the binary begins, not only to break down, but to disappear. And when it does disappear, G3 turns out to be—the self in its absolute autonomy over the body. Gender identity (GI), then, is simply the story the self tells itself about its body, and gender expression (GE) is the acting out of that story, the laying down of public and/or private markers, whether physical or linguistic or behavioral, that signify the self’s exercise of autonomy over the body.

G1 we cannot deny outright, though we may fight against it by describing it (with the Commission) as something “assigned at birth,” as if it were no more than an arbitrary label imposed on us by society in suppression of our autonomy. This, of course, is to take an objection made, sometimes fairly, against over-rigid forms of G2 and to extend it backwards, altogether implausibly, to G1. That move is highly telling. For it underscores the fact that the whole business rests on a radically Cartesian, perhaps even a Gnostic, mind/body dualism. Which is to say: We will only come round to positing G3 if we have first set at odds the mind and the body, or at least determined that man isnot as much body as he is soul. And if man is not as much body as he is soul, if indeed the self is the self apart from the body and even over against the body, if identity is determined by the mind—or perhaps we should say, the will—alone, then a number of things follow. I will mention just two of them.


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