Otto Tellick wrote to me in a comment concerning my recent BreakPoint article,
Your own black-and-white view of gender, like any strictly segregationist view of race, is not consistent with reality, and stands in direct opposition to a true sense of social justice.
This is indeed a nuanced kind of issue, though not for me in the same way that it is for Otto. For me the question has to do with society’s rush to reject reality.
In order to explain what I mean by that, I need to approach it first from the perspective of individuals and our differences. I’ll return to the societal level toward the end.
Some Binary Distinctions Are Real
The phrase “black-and-white” is unfortunate in that it carries racial connotations, but the fact is that with regard to color and color alone—not race but, say, the color of an iPad—black is black, and white is white. Could an iPad to come out of the factory some other color? Sure, if Apple allowed it (I had a red iPod once), but that doesn’t make the black ones white, the white ones black, or either of them gray, red, or rainbow-colored. Sometimes there really are binary distinctions that can be recognized without being simpleminded.
It is my considered and studied opinion that marriage is what marriage is, and that its is-ness includes being the union of a man and a woman (there are other things that are true of marriage, but this is the one in question). The push for same-sex “marriage” denies reality, if I am right about that.
Individual Experiences Are Real
I am also very aware of gender dysphoria, confusion, etc. I have a studied opinion, not a casual one, on that, too. In regard to sex male is male and female is female. This is a binary distinction that can be recognized without simplemindedness. The concept of gender, however, is different. It has arisen in recent decades; it is new on the scene. It has to do with socially expected roles, personally adopted roles, one’s internally experienced identity, and so on. Gender is not a binary, either-or kind of thing, for people’s roles and experiences can cover quite a range.
In that context, the first question is whether one’s internally experienced gender can differ from one’s biological sex, and the answer is absolutely yes. That’s reality. There’s a spectrum that ranges from fetishist transvestism to bisexuality to (some say) autogynephilia to inter- and transsexuality, among others. Of these, only inter- and transsexuality really relate to my topic (possibly autogynephilia, too, though that’s controversial). The others do not imply internal disagreement between one’s gender and one’s biological sex.
Individual Experiences Are Not Normative
When one says, however, “I am not on the inside what I am on the outside,” it must lead to a second question: is that normative? Does that experience of dysphoria or disagreement with one’s body define reality? Johns Hopkins used to do sex-change surgery until they realized they were most inappropriately using knives and sutures to treat a psychological problem. That’s their assessment, not mine.
Some are gender-dysphoric and/or gender-confused. I feel for them; it is an unfortunate and difficult condition. They are very few, though, in relation to the overall society. Some are homosexual or lesbian and want to marry partners of the same sex. This too is a painful thing, which I have tried to understand from a biblical perspective. These, too, are very few in number.
So what we have in these cases (and also in the XY Chromosome disorders Otto mentioned in that comment) is a small population of people with a dysphoric condition.
Society’s Rush To Reject Reality
Given that reality—that there are some people whose internal gender experience conflicts with their biological sex, or that there are same-sex couples who want to marry—what should we do? What is our culture in fact deciding to do? We are grinding slowly in the direction of calling those wishes reality.
There. I’ve finally gotten to my point. We are taking upon ourselves the privilege of saying what’s real and what is not, as if we small human beings had that power in the universe. Marriage was once one thing, but it wasn’t really that, it was “the union of two people in love.” Sex was one thing, but now it isn’t really that; it’s gender, the way one feels, the way one wishes to be.
And our culture is saying that this very small proportion of people, with arguably disordered desires or psychological experiences, shall re-define for all of us what is real.
The Context of Social Justice
The typical justification for this rush to re-define reality is as Otto said: social justice, or, the imperative to make a welcome place in society for all persons and beliefs. It is a chimerical quest, for every push toward some socially accepted belief is a pull away from another, and someone is always going to feel unwelcome based on their beliefs, internal orientations, or whatever. That means that there is something inherently impossible and contradictory in taking “welcoming for all” as our measure of social justice. There must be a better way than that, unless there’s no way at all.
I submit to you that the best way to define social justice is in agreement with reality; that the quest we should be pursuing is not, “what will accommodate the most persons’ experiences or desires?” but “what is real, and how can we order society in accordance with it?”
Despair Over Reality
Finally I need to acknowledge that there is a history behind all this. The story of modern philosophy (since about Descartes, but especially Kant) is the story of despair over discovering reality. I will not attempt to go any further into that here; it would take far more time and space, and also to do it really well, more expertise than I have.
Attached to this is despair over justice as a feature of reality; for if reality at its base is does not exhibit and maintain justice, then we have to come up with our own version of it. It’s proving to be impossible but we have to try anyway. This is where our culture stands.
This despair is the fruit of rejecting the reality of God and his self-revelation: for he is good, he is just, and the knowledge he provides us is sufficient as a grounding point for what is really real. Reality is therefore ultimately good and just, and to a sufficient extent knowable.
There is much I haven’t said here, much that I’ve touched on far too lightly, much that’s beyond my scope and my space available, much that’s beyond my experience or understanding. Still one thing seems clear. Sexuality is only an illustration of a much larger point: our culture has lost hope concerning reality; we have lost touch with reality. And we’re rushing to reject what little contact we have.