I’ve noticed that “identity” has become a popular topic of late. Granted, it has probably been a popular topic for several millenia, but it has recently dawned on me – after listening to the President of France today – that there is something of a schizophrenic understanding of the concept. To understand what I mean, consider two recent news events:
1) The suicide of “Leelah Alcorn.” Alcorn was born Joshua, physically male, but by 17 had decided that “she” was a female, wanted to change “her” name to “Leelah,” wanted sex change operations and hormones and all the rest, and when “her” parents refused, “she” chucked herself in front of a truck, thus using some uninvolved truck driver as her means to shuffle off this mortal coil.
Now, don’t get me wrong: people who are physically male and think they are female is a Real Thing. It’s not that they are nuts (though I imagine there is a notable fraction of that), but many of them are genetically, hormonally or structurally screwy. Something went wrong in their embryonic development, and a female brain got inserted into a male body (or the other way ’round). Unless you yourself are bugnuts, you can’t look at this situation and think that the person under discussion is necessarily morally wrong, or that their desire to adjust their physicality to match their persona is inappropriate. Sometimes, things just go wrong; if someone was born blind, or with a missing limb, you’d hardly blame them if at 17 they decided that they wanted to take advantage of medical technology to correct the flaw.
That said… Leelah/Joshua was physically a male. Look at the photos of him, and it’s clear he was a dude. A kinda1980’s sitcom stereotype of a gay dude, perhaps, but a dude. And for the bulk of human history… if you’re built like a dude, yer a dude. That’s the way the vast majority of people have been raised and naturally think. So if you’re in this situation, you might *want* everyone to think of you as a chick and refer to you as a chick, but most people are going to see a dude. And the more you demand that they see you as something that they don’t, the more screwy they’re going to think you are.
Still: society has gotten to the point where “gender identity” is such a politically correct concept that every media outlet is going to accept the gender identity chosen by the subject of the piece. And thus Bradley Manning, the Army traitor who stole a bunch of data, delivered it to Wikileaks and is now luxuriating in federal prison for the next several decades, is generally referred to as “Chelsea” Manning, despite the fact that he/she is not too likely to get hormones or a sex change anytime soon. And half of the news about Leelah Alcorn is how her evil parents buried their son under his birth name.
So: it is accepted wisdom in our culture that if you want to be considered a woman, even though you look, talk and are built like a man… you will be accepted and referred to as a woman.
2) In the last couple of decades the world had seen a spate of terrorist acts carried out by people who say they are Muslims, and say they are doing these things in the name of their faith. And yet, we get statements like this:
On the one hand, society is being told to accept the self-chosen identities of *some* people, but to reject it for others. This is not new; even GWB yammered on about how the 9/11 hijackers had nothing to do with Islam, even when it was abundantly clear that that was the primary motivating factor.
So long as such things as identity are so chaotically understood, there will be chaos in society.
If anyone has a solution to this conundrum, I’d be thrilled to hear it.