Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Is Laverne Cox A Woman?

Kevin D. Williamson at The National Review says no.

Obviously I generally find myself in disagreement with the crew at The National Review...  But, in this case, I have to say, I actually think that Williamson is right--and right on basically every point in this article.

And agreeing with NR always sends me to yellow alert...

But, at any rate:

I'm actually less interested in the specific answer to this question than I am in, roughly, meta-questions about the currently discussion of this issue, especially on the web.

The web is a big place, of course, and I'm not going to try to generalize much about it. The discussions I've seen have been mostly on Reddit--mostly /r/TumblrInAction--and on Metafilter. Metafilter (aka Tumblr for grownups) has a pronounced orthodoxy enforced by moderators, and that orthodoxy is very heavily slanted to the left. (The pretty kooky left, IMO...) Reddit tends to be composed of smart-assed, foul-mouthed, impious liberals. Plus some, like, Ron Paul cultists.  /r/TumblrInAction is smart-assed, foul-mouthed, impious liberals who can't stand the kind of kooky lefty Tumblrific nonsense one finds on, say, Metafilter.

At any rate...in the extended discussions of these matters I've paid attention to, there has been an orthodoxy that goes like this:

(A) If a male, Smith, has "MtF" sex-change surgery (often incorrectly called "gender reassignment surgery), then Smith becomes--unequivocally--female/a woman.

And:

(B) If you do not behave toward Smith as you would toward a woman, including speaking of Smith as a woman, then you are "transphobic," i.e. a bigot

And:

(C) In fact, overt behavior to the side, if you do not accept that Smith is female/a woman--i.e. believe Smith to be female/a woman, then you are transphobic, i.e. a bigot.

And:

(D) (A)-(C) are not up for discussion.

(A) strikes me as false, though I'm rather embarrassed to say so given (B) and (C). Like any good liberal, I am inclined to burst into tears at any suggestion that I'm a bigot. But...given that I'm skeptical of (A), I'm even more skeptical of (B) and (C). I'm a fairly liberal, usually-not-overtly-unreasonable guy...or at least usually not irredeemably so, and I have doubts about (A)...  But if (A) isn't obviously true, then (B) and (C) are even less obviously true. For any proposition p, if it isn't clear whether or not p is true, you can't be a bigot for not believing p. Nor for believing it. Right?

And (D)...well...I think (D) is right out.

We've gone straight from:

These issues aren't even on the public radar

to:

Here is the answer and, though the newly-minted orthodox answer is in no way obvious, you must accept it and not discuss it, on pain of bigotry.

This very, very, very, very, very bad.

The particular answer to the particular questions on the table here matter a lot less than does our general method of dealing with such questions.

The left is being irrational here--not because of (A), but, rather, because of (B), and especially (C), and especially especially (D).

Look, decreeing by fiat that everyone must suddenly and without discussion accept one position with respect to a complicated question is irrational and unjust. Ergo the left is, apparently, being irrational and unjust about this. And if relatively more centrist liberals go along with the relatively more extreme left, then we'll be irrational and unjust, too.

To be perfectly clear: like Williamson, I have no desire to tell people how to live their lives.

But that does not mean that it is true to say that Cox is a woman. In fact, that seems false to me. As Williamson notes, we aren't even sure whether Cox has had sex-change surgery--but we are told that we are bigots if we do not believe that Cox is a woman.

Incidentally, the claim that questions about surgery are out of bounds indicates that we are actually being forced toward a much more radical and implausible view: that anyone who represents himself or herself as a woman is a woman. Since we are being told to regard Cox as a woman whether or not the relevant surgery was performed, we are, in effect, being told that we must accept this more radical view. Cox is a woman because s/he says so.

At any rate: although I don't see anything that rules out the possibility of turning a male into a female (and vice-versa)--e.g. with some future technology--we don't currently have such technology. If what I'm given to understand about current technology is true, the most we can do is turn someone into something resembling a kind of borderline case between male and female.

I know that sounds harsh and rude...but we're asking here what is true, not what is polite. I'm certainly not saying that we need to say all this to Cox. Politeness is a different matter than truth.

Also: if you think it's harsh or rude to think of someone as a borderline case between male and female, it might be worth reflecting on the fact that the very people who are pushing us propositions (A)-(D) are also pushing us to acknowledge that some people--intersex people--are, in fact, borderline cases between male and female. In fact that is a good point. A very small percentage of people actually do have anatomies that are indeterminate as between the two common categories. And that really ought to be acknowledged.

Anyway...obviously I could be wrong about (A). Easily.

I'm wrong about a lot of things, and I have little confidence in my current, very tentative position.

I might even be wrong about (B) and (C)...

But I'm not wrong about (D).

The effort to force us to accept politically correct orthodoxy with respect to an issue like this before we've even had a chance to discuss it adequately--and long before we've had a chance to figure it out--is dangerous and unjust and must be resisted in a rational, democratic society.

I'm willing to be proven wrong--but that will require proof... Attempts to shame aren't going to do it.

I'm not willing to just be told what to think.

And you shouldn't, either--even if you're being told to think what you think already.

In fact, the reason I began identifying as a liberal as a youth was that I took it that liberals were the people who were least likely to accept being told what to think.

Unfortunately, I'm not completely sure that that's still true...

1 Comments:

Blogger The Mystic said...

As always, I appreciate your laser-like precision in reasoning through subjects such as these. I have found my attempts to bring up similar points (likely in a less precise and/or clear way) invariably to result in a..let's say "non-constructive" dialogue.

Recently, some very conservative friends of mine were blowing up my Facebook newsfeed (I MUST stop checking that damn soul-crushing site) with a discussion about the insanity of some parents allowing and encouraging their child to proclaim that she is a boy. The child reportedly made some remarks to the effect that she wanted to cut her hair so she could be a boy and the parents seem to have decided that she is transgendered.

The child is 2 years old.

I think it's somewhat obvious that this is insane given the child's inability to understand what is being claimed here or participate in a meaningful way. The standard fightin' lines were drawn, and liberal friends lambasted the conservative friends with all the standard buzzwords ("socially constructed" was used - I was actually kinda surprised) and accused them of bigotry. The conservative friends pretty effectively destroyed the liberal friends' arguments (which is a rarity - these guys argue for crazy-ass interpretations of the Bible, among other things, all the time).

As for my position, I recall one of my favorite sentences in Chuang Tzu: "One who has mastered life labors not over that which life cannot do."

Like you, I want to respect others' rights to live as they see fit, but encouraging delusion doesn't seem reasonable to me.

5:31 PM  

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