So, on the one hand, …. I find myself befuddled by the North Carolina “bathroom law” and other extreme responses to transgender rights and the assertion of transgender identity. I say this as someone who generally appreciates the force of conservative views of sex and sexuality even when I disagree with them. For example, though I fully support same-sex marriage, I am on record arguing that the debate was more complex than partisans on either side wanted to admit.
But the transgender question is different.
I do understand some basic premises of the “traditionalist” position. (I use the term “traditionalist” simply as shorthand here, not to derogate the value or legitimate power of “tradition.”)
Simply put, I think it is right that human beings are both embodied and embedded creatures.
We are embodied in the sense that biology matters. We are not simply the products of our own will or emotions, but also of our bodies. And sexual difference is a fundamental biological fact, not only for human beings but for most species on Earth. To be sure, we are not reducible to our sexual differences. Nor should our sexual differences determine our status or rights or occupations or ambitions in life. But sexual difference is not nothing.
We are also embedded. We are not merely lone selves, but parts of larger social structures. And one of those structures is the male-female pair with its capacity and responsibility to reproduce the species. Not all human beings fit into this particular structure. For that matter, reproduction – in the broader sense of taking responsibility for raising and nurturing children – neither needs to be nor should be limited to the structure of male-female pairs. That’s one reason that I support same-sex marriage. Moreover, the particular forms that the social structures of male and female identity have taken in man societies, including our own, has often been profoundly oppressive and constraining of individual human potential. But the basic abstract structure – and the sexual identities that come together to form it – are still a vital part of the larger human constitution.
None of this, though, justifies the hostility to assertions of transgender identity and transgender rights.