n.b. this piece is part of a series based on the Sydney Diocese Social Issues Committee Gender Identity Report.
Previously: GETTING ACROSS THE TRANS ISSUE – INTRODUCTION
How have we arrived at a point in our western culture where there is such a broad mainstream normalisation of the idea that a person’s self-perception of their identity is paramount, even when it appears to be in 100% contradiction to their physical state?
Here’s what the report has to say,
(21) Emerging gender ideology has been advanced using, and is evident in, a host of new terms and in the redefinition of existing vocabulary. According to this new set of definitions, the once-assumed clear bond and correlation between sex, gender, sexual orientation, and gender expression is no longer a given.
(22) This new vocabulary has quickly been popularized and entered the mainstream, through entertainment and the media, for example, with social media platform Facebook recently giving users over 70 gender options for their personal profiles.
(23) It is increasingly evident that this new vocabulary is shaping the reality we are operating in. The nature of language is that it names and shapes our perception of reality as well as our ability to speak of things. Those who would engage in the debate are, by nature of the case, forced to use the new vocabulary (with its meanings) or go to great lengths to define their own.
Words matter. When they’re repeated they become part of our common usage and so the new ideology has been successful in giving us a new vocabulary and, also, insisting that old words cannot be used.
But where do these new words and, far more importantly, the underlying thinking that generates them come from? The answer is clear: queer theory; a new way of looking at the world. The report describes it as
..the questioning and deconstruction of previously-assumed norms and the structures which support them, of which language is one.
There have been many great analyses of this phenomenon but perhaps one of the best is “A Brief History of Gender and its Significance” by Daniel Patterson. Patterson helps the reader understand the enormous influence the way of thinking has had upon our culture, tracing it’s path through the three waves of feminism before showing us the more general influence upon society. Simply put, every structure that you thought you should take for granted is artificial and (in the words of Gershwin) ain’t necessarily so! Here’s how Patterson describes the influence upon the question of gender:
Queer theorists see gender as an institution, by which they mean a social convention or arrangement sustained by a set of accepted determinative ideas – norms. It is for this reason that gender must be queered because it is a harmful institution that forcibly frames (constructs or makes) society’s subjects. Queer theory seeks to undermine (deconstruct) the view that the only existence is that which falls within the boundaries set by the institution of gender that is ordered by nature or biology…
Put crassly, queer theorists reject the fact that men have a penis, are masculine, and desire and have sexual relations with women; and they reject the fact that women have a vagina, are feminine, and desire and have sexual relations with men. Human gendered and sexuality experience, they argue, is much more diverse. Queering gender is therefore an attempt to reveal and legitimise other liveable gendered and sexuality realities apart from or besides those prescribed by the bio-logical man/woman gender binary.
It seems almost ludicrous, but it helps us understand what someone who in every way presents as a man may yet think that they are a woman and that self-understanding would be seen as valid.
Of course, queer theory is a direct challenge to the notion that the world is structured in an ordered, consistent way. Everything is now up for grabs. There is no “normal”; there is just how I perceive myself. As the report puts it:
Any talk of norms or common sense based on biology, is seen as meaningless, and (worse still) oppressive and phobic, because it seeks to impose on others what they themselves have not chosen.
What you may have taken for granted is now seen to be coercive and dangerous.
All of this is a direct challenge to 2 prominent claims about how the word is structured; the Bible and medical science. In our next pieces we’ll turn to look at what they have to say on the subject.
image: Argyle Deconstruction