The idea that gender is a social construct has laid the foundation for much of the current discourse surrounding gender. Gender as non-binary, gender as a spectrum, cisgender, transgender have become mainstream terms widely shared and used. And it is precisely the widespread usage of these terms which conceals the fact that once gender is dissociated from sex, the term gender quickly loses any sense of real precise meaning.
Cosmopolitan in article to demystify gender defined it in the following way:
“Gender is someone’s own internal understanding about whether they are a man or a woman, something in between, [or] none of those things.”
This definition seems to be widely agreed upon even amongst academic institutions such as the American Psychiatry Association who also defined gender identity as ” …one’s deeply held core sense of being male, female, some of both or neither, and does not always correspond to biological sex”.
The first idea implicit and hidden in the above definition is that gender is a purely subjective construct with no connection to one’s body or biological sex. My mental state, “core sense” or “internal understanding” can be different from the actual state of my biological sex. It means then my core sense can be of a man, and if my body is also that of a man then I am defined as cisgender. If my core sense is of a man but my body is of a woman then I am transgender. But what exactly does it mean to be a man inside a man’s body or a man inside a woman’s body? How can one be a man without possessing a male body?It would have to mean that being a man is not about possessing certain anatomical and physiological features such as male chromosomes and sperm producing cells – it would be possessing a certain kind of mental state or core sense. This would imply then that there is a “masculine” and “feminine”mental state which are completely independent of one’s body which determine how you identify.
It is important to note that this mental state would be radically different from the traditional way we refer to masculine and feminine psychological traits. In the traditional view, we might find that the typical male has vocational interests that are thing-orientated while the typical female would be people-orientated. Now if we came across a woman (based on their body) who is thing-orientated we would not say they are actually a man trapped inside a woman’s body – rather we would simply say she is a woman with interests that are typical of men. The gender identity definition would not be referring to masculine and feminine mental states in this way because for gender identity the mental states somehow grounds your identity rather than simply revealing your dispositions and inclinations.
Furthermore,gender identity we are told can also be a core sense of being both male and female or even neither. So then,one can possess a gender that is neither male nor female ; as well as possess a gender that is both male and female. And it is at this point that the logical inconsistency is clearly displayed. What could it possibly mean to be both male and female; or to be neither male nor female? At this point we are no close to understanding what gender is. We know that has nothing to do with whether your body is male or female. It also has nothing to do with possessing psychological traits that are typical of males and females. The term gender as well as terms like male, female become completely empty of real coherent meaning once the traditional definition is abandoned.
The logic of gender identity is that: if someone identifies, which seems to mean feels,that they are some category X they are therefore category X. There is nothing in principle that limits what X could be; gender, race, species, another person, numbers, chemicals, rocks, imaginary objects – anything the mind can conceive. Therefore the principle of gender identity leads to absurdity.
Let us consider some concrete problems to illustrate this point. To”identify” as a man in a woman’s body becomes as inexplicable as identifying as a bird in a human’s body, or identifying as black in a white body. If someone said to you I am a pigeon trapped inside a human’s body; it is clear that they do not mean they are an actual pigeon but rather they feel as if they are pigeons. It would be obvious in such a case to point out that the person’s subjective feeling has gone horribly wrong. Or suppose someone you know told you they identify as Nelson Mandela. That they strongly and deeply feel a certain way does not change the fact that they are human beings and not pigeons; or that they are not the late Nelson Mandela. We can easily see this principle when it comes to people being hypnotized into thinking they are chickens: that they think and feel they are chickens does not mean they are chickens. However, for some unknown reason when it comes to gender we simply fail too see this rather obvious point.
So what does gender mean when referring to gender identity? Absolutely nothing – the term becomes meaningless. The term gender identity simply becomes a place holder for the metaphysical view of reality where the self has a radical autonomy over the objective world. The self is completely distinct from the body; and in no meaningful way determined and dependent on it. This is Rene Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” with a whole new meaning; simply by thinking I am some thing, I actually become that thing. This philosophical view I would argue is the logical conclusion of modern thought which abandoned a teleological concept of human nature; a view that the structure and parts of our body had intrinsic purposes which determined what was good or bad for us as human beings to pursue.
Rene Descartes often considered the father of modern philosophy said this about matter, a body:
“By a ‘body’ I understand whatever has a definite shape and position, and can occupy a region of space in such a way as to keep every other body out of it; it perceived by touch, sight, hearing, taste or smell,and can be moved in various ways.”
Thus was born the modern conception of nature, matter and the body – nothing but something extended in space which can be moved. Matter no longer had embedded in it intrinsic teleos, purposes or ends. Matter and nature had no moral significance in itself, rather it was the human mind which now projected moral meaning into nature; natural law was not natural at all. Once nature becomes empty of final causes, ends and purposes, then the self must search elsewhere for the basis of moral action. The modern self found that the basis for moral choices lies in subjective individual desire constrained by nothing else – not by nature, tradition or society. The authentic self to be truly authentic must be free from nature, tradition and society which oppress and are in conflict with our inner desires. We are left with a deeply fragmented picture of the human person; an arbitrary composite of body and self, where the body is at war with the true self.
The biblical worldview affirms the unity of the human person as an embodied spirit. The authentic true self is not attained by escaping from nature, but by conforming to the intrinsic purposes embedded in our nature. The biblical worldview also acknowledges that there is this principle of sin, what St Augustine described as a kind of disordered desire, within every person which leads us to have desires contrary to our God given nature. It is our desires which are in need of a radical transformation, and not our bodies – only then can we have freedom as our authentic selves.
Further good reads on gender identity
- The sexual revolution devours its children | Edward Feser
- What is gender identity? | Alex Byrne