Thursday, April 13, 2017

Transgender Europeans: Activated by Political-Correctness or Human Rights?

The European Court of Human Rights issued a ruling on April 6, 2017 “in favor of three transgender people in France who had been barred from changing the names and genders on their birth certificates because they had not been sterilized.”[1] I submit that the use of the term sterilization is misleading. Such a framing gives the erroneous impression that human rights are at issue. In other words, it is possible for a human-rights activism to go too far.

A gay march in Paris. Are transgender people necessarily gay? If not, maybe the gay pride flag has gone too far in representing gender issues too. (Source: NYT)
Julia Ehrt, of the group Transgender Europe, claimed that the court’s decision “ends the dark chapter of state-induced sterilization in Europe.”[2] The European states had not been requiring transgender people to be sterilized, as for instance the Nazis had required mentally retarded people. Rather, the names and genders on birth certificates could not legally be changed unless the gender had been changed—meaning that a man could not be legally recognized as a woman unless he no longer has the male genitalia. The fact that a man who is no longer a man would no longer be able to produce sperm does mean that he would be sterile, but to characterize this as a requirement by the state that he be sterilized is misleading at best because being sterile is simply a consequence of him no longer being male. In fact, were it possible to transplant female reproductive organs and genitals in him, she would no longer be sterile and yet she could be listed as female on her birth certificate! Clearly, sterilization was not the intent of the laws. Rather, the point is that a man can feel like a woman and relate to women psychologically, but as long as he has male genitals, he is a man.
The problem, societally, I submit, is that cultures excessively limit what is considered to be masculine (and feminine) characteristics, mannerisms, and styles. Even so, to “break out” of these artificial strictures is to relegate them rather than no longer be a man (or woman). If a person with male genitals naturally talks a certain way or whose face or body looks a certain way (naturally), that way is masculine, by definition, rather than being of the other gender. For people who feel they are of the other gender, actually losing their original gender means losing (or replacing) the genitals of that gender, rather than merely relating to the other gender or even thinking that one is of that gender. Put another way, the “facts on the ground” have not changed unless the original genitals are gone or replaced (i.e., not necessarily sterile).
To refuse to change the gender on a government document simply because a person relates to or feels like the other gender can thus not reasonably be said to violate the person’s human rights. The claim that it does capitulates to a self-defined subjectivity that all too often demands its own legitimacy—that it be accepted by people of opposing views—in modern society. In other words, the European Court of Human Rights may have unwittingly succumbed to a social-reality enforced by the passive (and active) aggression of the political correctness movement. The danger is that any aggrieved sensitivity will be deemed a basis of human rights. If someone doesn’t like a word or expression, for instance, the person will need only declare (presumptuously) that it is inappropriate and saying the word will be judged to violate the person’s human rights. For example, at a talk on a university campus about modern social mores, I asked whether polyamory isn’t just a nice name for playing the field, sexually. A student interrupted the presenter’s answer to demand that the question not be answered because the expression “playing the field” is inappropriate and thus unacceptable. Fortunately, the presenter answered my question, though in line with political correctness—for the presenter himself was in an open relationship. To the extent that the “requirements” of political correctness do not rest on a firm foundation, but, rather, merely on subjective preferences, the violation of them can hardly be said to be a violation of human rights. Hence, the advent and perpetuation of the political correctness movement may ironically weaken the human-rights movement precisely in diluting it.


[1] Liam Stack, “European Court Strikes Down Required Sterilization for Transgender People,” The New York Times, April 12, 2017.
[2] Ibid.