What’s behind our newfound, headlong rush to embrace “gender reassignment”?
You might assume it’s just the latest link in a chain of hedonistic excess: the same old “If it feels good, do it” mindset, but really run amok this time. For example, from the desire for pleasure without marriage came the push for cohabitation. Or from the desire for marriage without commitment came the push for no-fault divorce. Or for pleasure without the trouble of bearing and raising all those babies, the push for the Pill.
A little further down the slippery slope, maybe you want pleasure without the hassle of even a temporary relationship, so you jump on the hook-up bandwagon. Or pleasure without forethought, so you push for the morning-after pill. Or pleasure without cost: co-pay-less birth control.
And so on.
I don’t mean the people who advocate or practice these things are that simplistic. I don’t pretend to see into their hearts. Every person has a story, and the more premature pigeonholing we attempt, the further we stray from the truth about anybody. But as you look along the progression of the history of ideas in search of a unifying thread, it might seem obvious that it’s hedonistic selfishness: chasing pleasure without responsibility, without hardship, without complications.
So does that account for the appeal of transgenderism ideology? I don't think so. Only a tiny fraction of people suffer from gender dysphoria. I don't think impulsive solidarity with them can account for the way enthusiasm for a chemical-surgical fix for their troubles has taken the movers and shakers of public opinion by storm.
I think it has a lot more to do with rejecting "the given." It’s not that we rebuff this or that reality because it’s inconvenient, or painful, or not to our liking. More than that, we reject the whole idea of anything at all being given to us—just as it is, non-negotiably, non-adjustably—rather than created or constructed by us. If something is "given," you can tinker with it all you like, play make-believe all you like, but it remains what it is.
Being male or female is that kind of thing, but still, we want to meet it with "Oh, yeah? We'll see about that!"
Reality as we find it is “the given” in two senses:
It’s given, as in: that’s just the way things are. Like 2+2=4. Or "Given the state of our political life, these are the candidates we have to choose from." Resign yourself. "Accept the things you cannot change."
But there's also a more heartening meaning: it’s “given” because it's a gift. And not just any gift, but something valuable, custom-designed, particularly for you.
These reflections were inspired by an excellent talk which I thought was by then-Chief Rabbi of France Gilles Bernheim. (R. R. Reno has details about the true authors here, in his apology for unwittingly running plagarized material it in First Things, but as he points out, "the essay's arguments aren't any less true for having been plagarized.") I've written about the talk here and here. It was about calling same-sex unions "marriage," but it's very relevant. It calls sexual difference “a fact of nature infused with spiritual intentions.”
As the author puts it:
I am one of those who believe that a human being is not an autonomous construction with no given structure, order, status, or role. I believe that the affirmation of freedom does not imply the negation of limits and that the affirmation of equality does not imply the leveling of differences. I believe that the powers of technology and of the imagination do not require that we forget that being is a gift...
Sometimes a gift doesn't feel like a gift. Sometimes we need some kind of powerful healing before we can experience "the given" as a gift, rather than a predicament.
I bet that's true of all of us, in one way or another. And I think trying to rejoice in "the given" is probably futile unless we can come to know and trust the Giver.