14 May 2023

Considering transgenderism from a libertarian perspective

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what is simplistically called "trans" issues, but given transgender activists (and their challengers) see it as being a collective of issues, I'll happily deal with them together.  I am writing it bearing in mind I have a trans-relative, and so I have some appreciation of how sensitive it is as an issue. It's hardly trivial for most people who assert a change in gender

Transgender adults should be considered as having the same individual rights as other adults.  Live and let live, as in most cases, it is nobody else's concern whether or not you want to claim to be a different sex.  

The non-initiation of force principle indicates that if you want to live your life identifying differently from your sex, then you should be able to without it being subject to other initiating force against your body or property.  Unlike sexual behaviour, which involves another person, if you want to be assert that you are now a different sex, then whose business is it other than your own? If you want to pay for surgery or other medical treatments to reinforce it, then similarly, as long as you are an adult (so able to consent to the procedure) you should be able to choose. Indeed I'd go so far to support the recent move by the ACT Government (Australia) to prohibit unnecessary medical procedures on those born intersex. Letting people choose what to do with their own bodies, when they have the capacity and capability of fully understanding the consequences of those decisions.

But what about the issues that get most publicity?

  • Trans-women using female only spaces
  • Trans-women competing as female in sport
  • Use of language to describe trans-people
  • Gender self-identification on demand
  • Trans-gender treatment for children
  • Drag queen story time
There are principles for all of these, and it wont please everyone.

Property rights should govern questions about spaces and any organisations.  If you provide toilets, changing rooms, then it is up to you how you handle this issue.  If someone doesn't like it, then that person is not compelled to use your establishment.  This includes womens' refuges, or indeed any property owner that wants to restrict access based on sex or gender.  Lobby whatever you wish to property owners, but you have no right to decide what businesses, voluntary organisations or any private entities do around rules about access.

That is, of course, for privately owned property that doesn't have a statutory monopoly (those with a statutory monopoly do, effectively, use the state to force consumers wanting their goods or services to use their property). 

 However, for government owned property the issue becomes more complex, in that there is an expectation that it should treat everyone with similar levels of respect.  It becomes more important when this government property has sex segregation for sound public policy purposes. It might be healthcare (where the body you objectively have is likely to be important), or the criminal justice system (whereby it can rather matter a lot what prison someone gets sent to, for their own sake and that of fellow inmates).  These cases need to be dealt with based on a framework that protects individual rights, which when properly defined allow someone to be who they want to be, but not to threaten or violate the rights of others to control their own body or property. 

Sport is also a property rights issue. World Athletics Council has made a decision on this issue, which it is fully entitled to do.  In most countries sports is led and managed by private entities, so let them do as they see fit.  Likewise those women (and realistically this is only about women) who regard the policies around transgender athletes to be unfair, should be able to freely boycott and leave organisations they think do not do their sport justice (and vice versa with transgender athletes).  For some sports it wont be an issue (e.g., does it really matter with archery?), but for others it is.  This goes to freedom of association.  You are free to join whatever organisation you wish, including employer, and they are free to adopt whatever policies they want around sex and gender identity.  

Freedom of association:  This is the extension of property rights. Nobody has a "right" to demand that others associate, contract, socialise or engage at all with them. It is your body, your life and any organisation you belong to, or associate with, is both your choice to associate with and their choices to let you do so. You cannot force anyone to be your friend, just as they cannot force you. 

Freedom of speech governs questions about what people are called and what language is used.  Use whatever pronouns you like, say "trans-women are women" or say "trans-women are trans-women not women".  Use the term "cis" or don't, or TERF or whatever.  However the state should not force anyone to use any terms or any definitions.  There is quite some culture war going on about this, notably regarding women, largely because women and girls DO have specific health needs separate from men and boys.  As long as language isn't being used to threaten, then the person has the right to say what they wish, and you don't have a right to not be offended. Someone may say you're "CIS" you can object to that, but that's it, you don't have a right to insist someone calls you anything except that if someone does go out to deliberately antagonise you, you can then choose to ignore them, not trade with, employ, engage with or otherwise.  No one is required to please you by the use of terms you dictate, but obviously if someone deliberately fails to do so, presumably to antagonise, then why bother engaging if it means so much to you?

Again, what government does matters here, in relation to goods and/or services supplied by the government.  The state should never be ambiguous, it should be clear what it means by terms like "woman" and if it needs to differentiate between people, it ought to be absolutely neutral on this and use terminology that is clear. Sometimes "woman" will include "trans-woman", sometimes not.  

What gets many agitated is the banal use of so-called "inclusive" language which is largely in relation to medical issues affecting women and girls such as pregnancy, menstruation and the like. I don't think there is an orchestrated attempt to eliminate women anymore than there are plans for genocide of trans-gender people, but there are issues where there should be some clarity and certainty as to the boundaries of people's rights, and how to treat people's identity such as...

State record of identity: Birth Certificates are generated to identify the birth of a human, by date, name and sex. Sex is identified at birth (not "assigned", like children being told which sports team they are allocated to). It is a statement of record, it should not be amended subsequently unless there is an obvious mistake. If you change your name, you may want a separate record of your change of name, and likewise if you wish a gender change, then there should be a record of the date of that change, but it should not  change the birth certificate, which is an objective declaration of fact on a specific date.  

If you want to change your gender and get that formalised in some government authorised documentation, then that should require some threshold to enable it. It should not be undertaken by a minor, because children are not entitled to contract or to consent to many procedures or activities, but as an adult it should be possible to have a record as to your gender (and indeed if you engage in surgical activity to do so, you may have a change of sex recorded). However, this should not be a procedure able to be undertaken in order to obtain any sort of advantage. 

There are sound reasons to separate sexes in the criminal justice system, specifically because men generally have more physical strength and aggression than women, and have the capability to harm women in ways they cannot harm men because of physiology. So for a man to identify as a woman in order to be treated differently in the criminal justice system, particularly following being charged for an offence (particularly a sexual offence) is irrational and unjust. This is patently opportunistic. 

However, why does it matter if people can switch their gender identity, as long as other people can exercise their individual rights of freedom of association (including non-association), property rights and freedom of speech? i.e. if you want to change anything about you, don't expect the force of the law to force people to associate with you, allow you into spaces set up for people of a different sex or gender exclusively, or for people to call you what you want (even though they ought to be polite, it is not a crime to misname or misgender someone, for a good reason -  it isn't actually a violation of any rights). 

A is A but so what?: I read an article published by objectivist economist George Reisman on 11 April after I started writing this post, where he makes a case to completely reject transgenderism as irrational.  In short, he challenges the idea that you should be able to self-identify as anything you want, as being a complete rejection of objective reality.  I understand his point, that simply proclaiming that because of subjective emotions you can declare you are something you are biologically and objectively not, does not make your feelings actually a reflection of objective reality. Yet more fundamentally, if everyone else simply has rights to property, freedom of association and freedom of speech, who cares if a person identifies as another gender, another age or another thing?  Nobody is seriously going to expect a 50 year old man to be treated as a 5 year old girl and be admitted to a primary school because he says he identifies as the latter.  Indeed that should be called out, with people applying their rights to ignore, block and reject anyone who does so. However, if a 25 year old woman says she is now a man, then whose rights is it infringing upon? You may think it is absurd, illogical and denying reality, but you need not associate with that person, invite him/her into your property or call him/her by whatever name or pronoun wanted.

This is why Reisman is completely wrong that someone who seeks to be another gender should be given hormones of their biological sex as therapy, because this simply isn't a medical answer to what might be a psychological condition or issue.  Of course if someone wants to do that, then good luck to them, but neither he nor I is qualified to make such a judgment as to its effectiveness or its secondary consequences.

This is also why it is critically important that in the cultural sphere, there should be unlimited space for people to live, dress, act, talk and exist peacefully without being bound by any historic or culture-bound stereotypes about what it means to be a woman or a man.  Nobody knows what it feels like to be a boy or a girl by any logical reference point, because the alternative is unknowable - and the responses of other people to how you look and act are a reference to your behaviour and appearance. Indeed girls should be anything, as should boys, they should strive to follow their own passions, interests and aesthetic, and not feel bound by what others say they must be, as long as they live a life of peaceful fulfilment.  This leads onto perhaps the most difficult issue...

What to do about transgender youth?  My basic position on childhood vs. adulthood is that until someone is an adult, there is no ability to make decisions that the child is unable to fully understand the nature and consequences of, especially if it is irreversible. This is why I believe that puberty blockers and surgery for anyone below the age of 18 is wrong.  The use of such drugs interferes with and can harm fertility, and since there is widespread public consensus that below a certain age nobody should be able to make decisions that create irreversible impact on the body of a minor for non-medical reasons.  Certainly they should be given all of the counselling support and encouragement to be themselves until they reach full adult age, after which if they wish to medically change their bodies, it is their choice to do so.

Drag queen story-time? I literally don't care about this issue, as it should be up to parents to decide whether their children attend, and should be up to property owners to decide whether they host such an event.  Judgments can be made about whether people around children should dress provocatively or act such, and parents will know what they think of that, but that is up to them, and the freedom to support or reject it should be clear.

In conclusion... the rise of post-modernist identitarianism has seen the rise of trans-genderism as a new "frontier" in collectivising people based on perceptions of oppression and power.  There is a three-way culture war underway on this issue between:
  • Post-modernist identitarians
  • Traditional identitarians
  • Feminist identitarians (who may be a mix of modernist and post-modernist).
The post-modernist identitarians believe everything is subjective, so if someone says "she" is a "woman", then not only is that "real", but that if you do not recognise it, you are part of the traditional power structure that has "always" oppressed trans-people, like it oppresses (insert list of oppressed collectives).  They want the power of the state to initiate force against those who refuse to accept their demands around eroding property rights, freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Traditional identitarians regard trans-genderism as an illness or perversion and seeks at best to discourage it, and at worse to prohibit it. 

Feminist identitarians see trans-women (they are not so concerned about trans-men) as men pretending to be women to enter women's spaces and organisations, and so are not able to really reflect the reasons why women set up such spaces and organisations in the first place.  They see being a woman as being distinct, and as a group of humanity historically denied basic individual rights, that having men claiming that identity, undermines women's progress for such rights. Some may also say that trans-men reflect backwards thinking around feminism, that girls do not think they can be full individuals without changing gender to be boys/men which undermines feminist objectives for girls to not have to pander to stereotypes about what gender is.

While all may have some legitimate concerns at some level, rejecting identitarianism completely sees a position based on individual rights. That position is that whatever an adult does is nobody else's business a long as it does not interfere with the same rights of another adult, including control over one's body, property and who you associate with. For children those rights are held in trust by parents until they are adults, and cannot be abused by parents to deliberately or recklessly undermine the ability of a child to become a fully functioning adult. 

So let people be, but also respect others when they say they only want women on their property, and they choose not to include trans-women. They exclude men, so they can exclude others. It is polite to call people by the name they want and refer to them by the pronoun they prefer, if you ever do that in front of them, but the state and the law should not exist to police rudeness which does not constitute a threat.  Finally, there should be robust discussion and debate about medicine, especially psychology and trans-genderism, and it should not be hindered by fear of causing offence, regardless of what position someone takes. There should be caution about medicalising any mental health condition for minors, as a matter of course, and care given around people's feelings, because in most cases this whole issue arises because people are not feeling good about themselves. Having individual dignity, self-esteem and feeling able to pursue life and happiness are core to being human.  The quest to belong to a group, to have support from others and to collectivise also happens to be human, but the latter (the desire to collectivise and "belong") should never be used to undermine the former (the need for self-esteem and to be an individual). 

1 comment:

6ft4 said...

Individual dignity, self-esteem and feeling able to pursue life and happiness without some random demanding you prove your birth gender when you use a public toilet sound like pretty basic human rights to me. The same goes for men using public family changing areas to change their children's nappies shouldn't have to explain what they are doing to a police officer called by an angry woman as happened at Queensgate Mall a few years back. As for public toilets being 'safe spaces', that is not what I told my children.