Setting our Sails by Gender Ideology

One hallmark of open and free society is the ability to contribute to the marketplace of ideas, in open forum and reasonable discourse, without fear of reprisals, recriminations, or ridicule.

In certain categories of thought, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the proverbial word in, even edgewise.

Across the country school boards, city councils, and state houses are considering the best ways to protect from discrimination students and adults whose experience of gender does not readily coincide with their anatomy or with traditional expectations, those whose sexual identity is, in broad terms, “gender nonconforming.”

In one respect, it seems an effort in futility to speak about such things, because the prevailing winds have blown for some time, with great strength, in the direction of separating gender from its connection to anatomy or biology. When one lives by prevailing cultural currents, however, he must realize that the winds of change are fickle, and sometimes blow back into his own face. It is reasonable, therefore, to take great care to consider what shores will be reached when an entire society’s sails are set by the prevailing wind.

Perception is reality, as they say, both in evaluating an issue and in speaking to one another about it. And the labels we use contribute greatly to that perception. No one wants “hate,” and no one wants “discrimination,” or to be known as favoring either. But it is much too easy to label others “hateful” or “discriminatory” or “bigoted” and thus avoid the hard work of discerning what is actually the most loving thing, and what is actually the most inclusive thing.

Many people, from diverse segments of society, and from differing worldviews and the perspectives they bring, acknowledge that there is a problem, that there is real difficulty suffered by those who experience gender dissonance — a disconnect, discord, dysphoria between what their anatomy and tradition tell them and what their feelings and desires tell them.

In some sense, we all experience this tension between what we want and what reality, truth and Providence seem to permit. All who suffer such tension or dissonance seek to relieve it, to achieve congruence. Society is not best served, however, by telling one another that the only solution is to require that everything else conform to personal perspective and desire. In other words, we should not suggest that the only path to gender congruence is an upheaval in the concepts of anatomy, reality and truth. There is, in fact, another way.

Further, it is not necessarily the best solution to tell increasing numbers of people that disagreement equals discrimination, to suggest that their problems stem from the fact that they are discriminated against, and to protect increasing classes of condition, status, and behavior from all disagreement. “Everything starts to look like a nail,” as the saying goes, and culture will at some point realize that the current approach is not yet thoughtful or compassionate enough, despite how zealously, tirelessly, and forcefully we wield the gender discrimination hammer.

When unqualified acceptance becomes the test, the anchor, the god to which all homage is paid, the sun around which all lesser luminaries revolve, society has abdicated any sure foundation for relating to one another and to community. Applying this standard across the board to both objective categories and also to more subjective interests proves unworkable. The more words and the more actions we deem “discriminatory,” the less we are able to make legitimate and necessary distinctions, and the fear of discrimination overrides the fruit of discernment.

Though it is significant, a person’s sexual identity — congruent, dissonant, or nonconforming — is not the sum total of who he or she or one is.

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