There has been a lot of attention on Target and the transgender community recently. The internet tends to make these things appear larger than life, like a tsunami cresting high above us. I think perhaps bathroom policies are not so large as the internet has made them appear; however, I think beneath the policy and the subsequent backlash are ideas that are worth fleshing out.
Often there are two reactions to issues such as the recent Target sensation:
On the one hand, you have many who are mindful of the repercussions and the practical implications (specifically regarding children and their safety) they feel it is obvious that we ought to simply go where our biology dictates, it’s simple, so why not do it? Most are not operating out of hatred or even fear of any group of people, but rather they are looking to long-term repercussions of the practical outcome of decisions. Whether boycotting is the way to communicate this best remains to be seen.
On the other hand, there are many who sympathize with this group and want to make them feel welcomed and safe, even at the expense of a majority feeling unwelcome, and perhaps unsafe because this minority group feels discriminated against. They see something like open bathrooms as a small opportunity to give support to a group that feels like outsiders, and they consider it a practical way in which they can help prevent suicides and change public perceptions to be more accepting. Whether open bathrooms can achieve this aim also remains to be seen.
I think the first perspective fails to fully see the complexity underlying the gender issues. It is perhaps not as simple as saying, “go with biology and that is that”. For the latter group the ideas of gender feel more complicated; they believe that how an individual who identifies as transgendered, agendered, bigender, or genderfluid, perceives themselves is of more importance than their biology. In many ways I can understand this effort to be sensitive to a group of people who seem to be emotionally fragile, and often wickedly ridiculed. I sympathize with their desire to find peace with themselves, and I know that for most individuals who identify as transgender, agender, bigender or genderfluid, there is an overwhelming feeling of being out of step with their biology, and perhaps even a root of hatred for their own anatomy. That sounds horrible, and terrifying, and my heart aches on their behalf. The last thing this group of people needs is to be mocked or ignored.
I’m not convinced the conversation is as simple as saying, “buck up and use the bathroom of your biology”. There is a complexity to this issue, and a group of people who ought to be considered, respected, and heard. But I’m also not convinced that acquiescing to gender fluidity is helpful for any of the parties involved.
I want to posit a third approach, focusing for a moment less on the pragmatic issues (though I think they are still important) and instead taking a moment to understand the philosophy undergirding this issue.
At the root of the open bathroom policy is post-modern thought, which makes self-perception of the highest importance, elevating above or replacing truth. How an individual feels about themselves and whatever self-perception makes them the most happy is essentially their “truth”. Truth, therefore, is this sort of fluid, non-truth contradiction. There is no absolute truth (except the absolute truth required to posit post-modernism as an idea in the first place), only “truth-claims” and there are no right or wrong “truth claims”. The “truth” is whatever a person wants to make it, and because we all only have “truth claims” to offer, none of us have the right to contradict another’s “truth claim” or self-perception. It is in post-modern thought that the phrase, “what’s right for you is right for you, but not for me” was born. So, from the perspective of one who adopts post-modernity, the issues of gender are obviously fluid. For them, if one’s biological gender does not coincide with their perceived gender, then biology is irrelevant, and they ought to pursue whatever means necessary to fulfill that self-perception. The “truth” about their gender then, is whatever they perceive.
Dostoevsky’s underground man illuminates post-modern thought well:
My God, but what do I care about the laws of nature and arithmetic if for some reason these laws and two times two is four are not to my liking?
-Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground
In post-modern thought one can choose “truths” according to preference. So if two and two is one sounds more beautiful to me, then it can be just as valid as two and two being four.
But as we go down the line of “truth claims” post-modernism continually runs in to problems.
We cannot say, for example, “I do not prefer the law of gravity, so I perceive I am able to fly”, and consider that to be true. If I believe that, and attempt to step from a cliff, the truth of gravity will still be in effect.
I think post-modern thought is really attractive. It sounds kind and simple to be able to part ways in a disagreement by saying “that is true for you, but not for me”. It sounds benevolent to want to be welcoming and accepting of all self-perceptions.
But it is not kind to see your friend standing, one foot hovering over a cliff edge, and to tell them that while you believe in the law of gravity, you do not have the right to tell them they will fall, because it may not be true for them.
That would be nonsense, and as your friend was dashed to death on the reality of rocks below, a sane person would feel guilt over having encouraged their step toward falling.
Post-modernism is problematic because the very nature of Truth is that it is absolute, and while we do not agree upon it at all times, it is something that exists outside and independent of our perception (whether it is painful to admit or not). And if Truth exists, isn’t it worth knowing? Can we truly be happy by pursuing mere preference?
If we can know the laws of nature: of physics, biology, mathematics, and metaphysics, it is worth our whole lives to find the truth and know it.
There is much debate on whether we can ever know truth. With the myriad of conflicting ideas, it appears that even if there is absolute truth we have no hope of finding it. And here is where Christianity has something unique to offer in Jesus who identified himself as Truth.
In Jesus, Truth is revealed to us. He stands outside of our perception, breaking into our world and making himself known clearly. He stepped into the dizzying conflict of ideas and stood before us, solid, unmoving, unchanging. He announced himself with kindness and grace, dying so that we can know him. We can know Truth, because he came to us and said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
There is freedom that comes with the knowledge of Truth, and if we learn of it, it seems both cowardly and irresponsible not to share it with others.
For an individual who identifies as transgendered, agendered, bi-gendered or genderfluid, there is a distaste toward their biology. Almost a repulsion for their bodies. If a woman tells us she believes her biology doesn’t match the gender she feels she is, and she wants to surgically change her biology that she might feel at home in her own skin, might it be more loving to come alongside her, to love her, and encourage her to love her body instead? Wouldn’t it be kinder to teach her that she is created by One who does nothing by accident? To point her to the absolute truth of biology and metaphysics, that there is a God who loves her infinitely more than she will know, and that he allowed his own body to be broken on her behalf, and that he made her uniquely and intentionally female, body and soul as one unified and beautiful person?
Is it kind to encourage her to hate the body she has? To celebrate her mutilation of it in search of peace? Will anyone ever find peace in searching from a place of self-hatred?
I think perhaps, if we can step away from bathrooms and boycotts momentarily, and seek to understand the underlying perspective of a people group who is begging to be heard, then we can see the need for the freedom of the truth. Maybe our aim can be instead to share the only source of truth and peace with people who desperately need him.