Our good friend Dr Tighe has sent out a link to an interesting page in his e-mail list – Gender identity and the plastic nature of self-definition. It is about English schools trying to make life easier for pupils who don’t fit into one stereotype or another. At the head of this article is a somewhat frightening multiple choice of self-identifying types according to various words used nowadays to describe what I have called the androgyny continuum. The article itself is presented from a conservative Christian point of view suggesting that all this is merely an aspect of modern hedonism and that the remedy would presumably be a return to the old methods of the 1950’s and early 60’s.
My own introspections over the past few days and review of my school reports, full of gentle talk and euphemisms, have brought me to remember older notions of education and parenting. Masculinity was generally associated with the competitive type and the refusal of sensitivity and emotion normally associated with girls and women. The genders have been stereotyped for quite a long time, and this makes it much less difficult to understand what they are doing in English schools. There has certainly been a big problem with bullying as soon as a child or adolescent steps out of a very narrow orthodoxy. Children can be incredibly cruel, even with insignificant differences like wearing eye glasses, being a bit overweight, “nerdy” (austism spectrum), etc. I am not involved in education, and fortunately. My mother was a teacher and definitely told me that teaching would be a no-no for me. That doesn’t mean that I would be unqualified to give some opinions on the basis of having been a pupil in the 1960’s and 70’s.
I am rather glad that things are being done to solve the root cause of bullying: the refusal of diversity of temperament as well as race, culture and religion. I might be accused of going along with modern gender theories, whereas my thought is much more original. In the “trans-gender” culture, freedom is supposed to be found by a boy becoming a caricature of a girl. The old binary thinking has not changed: it has simply flipped over to the opposite extreme. I have always contended that we are human beings, male and female according to our gender-defining chromosomes and whether we have a penis and testicles or a vagina and breasts. The older gender-defining criteria would define the genders with characteristics that have nothing to do with the question of gender. Either gender has an infinite continuum of temperaments and quirks of persons.
I have been through the English school system, and I am old enough to remember corporal punishment. Some teachers would be extremely careful to make sure the pupil understood why he was being punished, and others were little more than sadists. The school uniform was designed to abolish differences due to background and social class. There are other indicators like the accent and the way a kid talks. It’s obvious that such and such a boy is the baker’s son and not from the family of the doctor or the bank manager. One problem with clothes is the association with social status through the brands of the firms that made and marketed the garments, thus increasing children’s expectations and sense of entitlement. You can’t put boys into traditional girls’ clothes, but you can allow choices where the differences are not so distinctive. The real problem is the school itself and its leadership, whether you have a character the pupils respect and follow or whether the community is broken down by ideologies and conflicts. You need a head teacher of the calibre of Dr Arnold or Kenneth Barnes.
With the right kind of person in charge, distinctions can be made for the good of the school and each pupil. The notion of dysphoria is a scary one, because it involves both psychology and political ideology. There is often a “copycat” phenomenon that makes some impressionable kids think along these lines simply because another person has done so. I do believe that many of the issues involves with “transgenderism” could be resolved by ceasing to make children conform to the older stereotypes of what it is to be a male or a female. When I was in prep school, my teacher saw that I was useless at football and unmotivated, and asked the rhetorical question in my school report – What does it matter? My talents and abilities would lie elsewhere.
Just a paragraph or two above, I mentioned Kenneth Barnes. He was headmaster of Wennington School in Yorkshire, which was one of the most fascinating experiments in modern education. I was a pupil there from September 1971 until Easter of 1972 under Barnes’ successor, Brian Hill, who had been the Latin and English literature teacher. Hill didn’t have the charisma or the personality for the job, and morale plummeted. The experiment failed, but the ideas from the Barnes era were inspiring. My short experience there brought me to appreciate the co-educational ideal and the integration of boys and girls, thus reducing the smutty talk and discrimination, and increasing mutual respect. The theory becomes fact under good leadership, and it flops when it is a dead-letter ideology.
We should know that even in modern secular society, people don’t get “sex-change” operations on a whim. They go through extensive psychological and psychiatric evaluation and only then are they brought to understand everything before anyone goes ahead. I personally find the idea revolting, but I am not in the skin of someone in this situation. I believe there are more constructive ways to live one’s life without becoming a caricature of the opposite sex and something completely bogus. Some men can live like women whilst not having their bodies modified. They might seem to be odd, but who isn’t odd in some way? We are free in living our own lives if we don’t hurt anyone else.
An educator has to have vision and charisma, and he or she has to discern what the kids are going to be like without supervision. The real bane of a school is a culture of bullying, and you’re going to get that everywhere. There was quite a lot of it at Wennington. It only takes one or two perverse narcissistic personalities, and they manipulate the entire system to their advantage. Schools can be awful places for some kids. If you’re going to create complex rules for all sorts of “types”, that might aggravate the culture of bullying and corruption.
Another problem with some of those schools is that they’re so damned big. My own alma mater, St Peter’s School in York, had 400 boys in the 1970’s. Since then, they have taken over the neighbouring Queen Anne’s School for girls and become completely co-educational. I find the web site impressive, and the smiles on their faces shows something much more open, constructive and positive than what I knew in the 1970’s. Institutions need constant reform, and I have the impression that St Peter’s is vastly improved. New ideas and methods might sometimes be scoffed at, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Are the pupils happier and more successful in their achievements?
For too long, school was a nerve-racking experience of conformity and competition. I suffered greatly under it. I never had the idea of wanting to be a girl, but I did want to be less “masculine”. I could do so through preferring activities like the choir and music, rowing and sculling rather than team games like rugby, soccer or cricket. Things were going the right way under Peter Gardiner, a generous and liberal-minded headmaster. To the contrary of the conservative Christian article, self-identity is paramount in the pursuit of happiness and a successful achievement. How does that fit in with religion? That is another question, and one which will depend on a good chaplain who gets on well with the headmaster.
There need not be any opposition between identity and personality on one hand and the honest service of God on the other. One big problem in churches that is probably a leading cause of atheism is the assumption that grace and virtue have to be contra naturam. There has to be constant conflict instead of peace and harmony allowing self-discovery! School RE is pretty gruelling, and is but thin gruel most of the time. It is mostly about the refusal of personality and individualism in the mechanics of grey conformity. If we want young people to be spiritual seekers and believers, we have to do better than in the bad old days! With a more “gnostic” outlook, self-identity – as I still find – is a part of discovering the immanent divinity or “image of God” in all of us.
The end of the article rants on and on about the evils of allowing a child or adolescent self-discovery, identity and happiness instead of the worship of an oppressive Demiurge and being guilt-ridden. It is such an attitude that caused the shifts in the 1960’s and 70’s that I myself experienced in spite of teachers making every effort to understand and accommodate the changes. Whatever, the conservatives will not get the genie back into the bottle. It is true that we all have to learn the role of disinterested love that involves self-sacrifice and the quest for truth. That is a part of all of us, if only it can be allowed to grow in the person together with the rest. I remember the rhetoric of Remembrance Day and how hollow and hypocritical it all sounded. If you want to see what I mean, I recommend seeing Lindsey Anderson’s satire, If… When I was at St Peter’s, our film club showed the film in about 1973, and it made a big impression. Our school was sufficiently modern to resist the criticism, but the satire is sufficiently close to the reality of the English public school for us to relate to it. I still have my tuck box! It is now used as a travelling chapel.
Are we going to go back to that, to bullying, abuse and sadism? I welcome the vision of modern educators. The trick is not to swing to the opposite extreme. We need to ask ourselves honest questions about what school did for us before preaching about returning to the floggings and the fagging.
As for trans-sexualism, I can only hope that the medical profession will continue to keep a close eye on copycat phenomena and other illusions. I would prefer reassignment surgery to be made illegal except in the case of birth deformities because of genetic errors. At the same time, gender roles need to be more blurred. When I was at Wennington, the boys had cooking and sewing lessons as well as woodwork, and we had girls doing woodwork. It was wonderful, and I have seen wonderful work done by those little hands. Thanks to “domestic science”, I was able to cook meals as a bachelor and make vestments for the chapel. We had nude swimming, boys and girls, and I did notice that the lewd conversation between boys at other schools was almost absent here. I was sent to Wennington because I had difficulties with the “traditional” system, and the failure of the Wennington experiment had me sent to a more Establishment school. I still live with it all as I have written in my last couple of postings.
As for some of the comments after that conservative Christian article, they are really quite lewd and infra dignitatem, almost encouraging the culture or bullying, beatings and rape. We have our choices to make. I don’t have any children, but if I had, I would give great attention to the way they would be educated.
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Currently, there is a story on Facebook about a young woman in Norway who believes that she should have been a cat. It brings me to wonder how far the notion of dysphoria can be taken. Species dysphoria is a known concept. I am not a psychiatrist, and so could only idly speculate about hysteria or autosuggestion. The other extreme would be to conclude that mental illness is nothing more than what the person in question can control under self-discipline or external discipline. The subject is related to the notion of gender identity. I remember reading Jung and finding that he saw as much sickness in the world as in his patients. What is normal? What are the limits of normality? Do we all have to be identical to what is perceived to be the majority? If so, religion would have to go out of the window because most people are not churchgoers, whether they are atheists or just simply not interested in church. What is reality? What is sanity?
A girl who wants to be a cat seems so outlandish that we wonder if other people want to be elephants or ants! It just seems to be too ludicrous for words. If the girl is sincere, there is also the way the story has been reported. We are all used to jokes about insane people who think they are [whatever], card games played by four Napoleons in a lunatic asylum. The possibilities are endless.
The association between female humans and cats is known. It is usually limited to woman having one or several cats as pets and being extremely attached to them like children, especially if the woman in question has been unable to have children for medical reasons. It is the case with my own wife. Perhaps this bonding between a woman and a cat can lead to identity issues in a few rare cases. The girl in Norway is either drawing attention to herself through an elaborate joke, or she might be suffering some kind of psychosis (which involves a distorted understanding of what most people agree on as “reality”). I will at this stage cease looking for a psychiatric explanation because I simply don’t have more than a few notions of that scientific discipline.
The alternative explanation is what psychiatrists call dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder. Exorcists call it demonic possession by one or several entities. If you go back to works like the Malleus Mallificarum, one will see associations made between black cats and evil spirits. These unfortunate animals were often the victims of this belief by being thrown alive into fires. Black cats are very much part of folklore in many cultures, because of their alleged association with witches. Cats were not massacred to the same extent in England as in some other European countries. In the instance of the girl in Norway, the black colour seems to have nothing to do with it, and I have seen no sign of her being involved in occult or satanic worship. Also, I don’t know whether she believes that she is a cat or both human and feline.
It is easy for most of us to lose patience. First it is homosexuality, then transsexualism and now people taking on non-human identities! Is this some kind of joke? Should these people be killed or locked up? Some would seem to think so. Fortunately, there are laws stipulating under which circumstances a person should be sent to jail or a psychiatric hospital.
I appended to a comment in Facebook an old Yorkshire saying: There’s now’t so queer as folk. How true.