How trans identity politics imprisons us all

Jan 9, 2022 by

by Tim Black, spiked:

The ideal of authenticity – of being true to one’s self – is one of the governing ethics of modern social and political life.

Public figures, from politicians to reality-TV stars, aspire to be authentic. Producers of goods promise ‘the real thing’. And, above all, authenticity provides identity politics with its moral propulsion. It’s what justifies individuals and groups in their quest to express their true identities, hitherto suppressed, effaced or simply ignored by mainstream society.

Nowhere is this ethic more pronounced right now than in trans identity politics. For this is a cause explicitly motivated by the desire for people to be true to some inner, gendered sense of themselves – their so-called gender identity. This, as trans-activist charity Stonewall defines it, refers to individuals’ ‘innate sense of their own gender, whether male, female or something else… which may or may not correspond to the sex assigned at birth’. Indeed, this supposed conflict between an individual’s authentic inner feeling of gender and the inauthentic gender roles they are expected to play is at the heart of the trans cause. As one author puts it, it is a ‘collision between who we are, how we should be, how we need to express ourselves and live our lives, and the gendered straitjackets others would force us into. It is the misery, the wrongness, of being forced to live a lie. The pain of being called fakes for our authenticity.’

Critics of trans ideology tend to interpret it on its own terms. They try to understand its development and insurgence through the ideology’s own internal history. Some look at the work of clinicians John Money and Robert Stoller on intersex, gender roles and identity in the Sixties. Others wade through the verbal thickets of Judith Butler and the subversive games of queer theory. And they do so in order to explain how trans ideology came to deny biological reality.

This is certainly useful. But the resonance of trans identity politics among a significant minority has less to do with the reality-defying genius or otherwise of its proponents, than the fact it expresses, in arguably its purest form yet, this simple but pervasive cultural ideal – be true to yourself. This certainly has the ring of virtue, which is part of its appeal. But identitarians have warped this ideal, turning it from a call for individual freedom into a narcissistic demand for recognition.

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