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.
* * *
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.
But what is this problem of self-identity? Who are we? Perhaps it is when we have learned to let go that we will find everything in Christ.
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.
I once met someone who was actively undergoing a sex change in his late thirties/ early forties. This person was a tortured soul par excellence. There was just something deeply oppressive and dark and sad in this person. It’s hard to put my finger on just what it was. I thought it could even have its roots in some demonic stranglehold. Before I met this person the friend that was to introduce him told me to be nice, and I said that the whole thing was just so profoundly sad and disturbing there was no reason for me to be mean and nasty.
I don’t think about gender and all that stuff. I guess these days I’ve effectively tuned out. As a Christian I believe that we live amidst the wreckage of the Fall, but that there is hope because of of Lord. Whether you’re dealing with drug addiction ( like me), gender identity issues( like this person I mention), same sex attraction or whatever we are all laboring under the effects of the Fall.
We ought to just do what we can the best we can,pray and leave the rest to God.
I too met a “transsexual” once. When I worked at the bank I opened a current account for one. He came in at four o’clock; it was my last appointment for the day. I knew immediately that it was a man in drag. I sat him down, went through some preliminaries. When he gave me his passport, the photograph was of a young, east Asian man with cropped hair and a somewhat melancholy expression. In front of me was sat the same man, but with long hair and dressed in blue skinny jeans and a pink cardigan. I could think of nothing else to say than “that’s not really you, is it?” This then degenerated into an argument whereupon the branch manager intervened and counselled me on being “insensitive” and “inappropriate.” The whole incident caused me to be late for a dinner at my favourite restaurant with a good friend, whom I regaled with the story to his staggerment. In hindsight, it was one of the contributory factors in my decision to leave. I just could not find it in me to deal with such people with a straight face. It’s weird, in a kind of freak shew sort of way.
What you say about a demonic stranglehold is very apposite, because that’s exactly the impression I got from this individual. What did the father of the demoniac say to Our Lord? That the demon is always trying to destroy him by throwing him into fire and into water? I can think of no meaner, nastier way of destroying the body than in mutilating those parts that God took such great care to fashion. And the result? In Fr Chadwick’s assiduous words, a caricature of the opposite sex; protected from ridicule only by legislation enforced upon the population by a elitist toadies. A tragedy, and one of many, of our time.
I have only ever met one “transsexual” – female to male, very much in passing in a superficial social context. In a professional context, it must be very difficult to deal with such people. Even more so when you are an “aspie” and find fault in the mendacious logic of the world. Again, I would never have what it takes to work in a bank! However, we have to remember that people find “aspies” odd and the butt of jokes. “Do unto others…”
I have been writing a lot these last few days, both in this blog and on a personal file in my computer, about the need to be ourselves. We can also be dogged by illusions and ideas coming from outside ourselves, either from other people or wicked spirits. I am not of the medical profession, but I am deeply opposed to surgery that is not for a physical medical reason. Most surgeons are too. Something to do with the Hippocratic Oath and human common sense. Those who attempt to change sex only seek to be a caricature or mask of the opposite sex. That being said, if someone wants to be effeminate or dress oddly, why not? I wouldn’t want to (apart from my long hair, which many masculine guys have) but I wouldn’t want a world where everyone is exactly like me. We all have to live with the consequences of our choices. A few days ago, someone called me an “old lady with long hair”. I can respond in two ways: get a haircut or assume the fact that some people will find me odd and crack jokes. I have learned to look for the signs of humour in others, and I can be pretty “wicked” myself. I try to live and let live.
I don’t know whether people who get themselves mutilated – like someone in America who wanted to look like a cat, got an operation and then committed suicide – are possessed by evil spirits. That is possible but not proven. I think that people who are that way inclined could be counseled along the lines of self-awareness, psychological androgyny that places us all somewhere on the continuum between the universal ideas of man and woman; In good neo-Platonic philosophy, there are fewer binaries than continua and infinitely graded scales. The autism spectrum is an example. Perhaps no one is completely neuro-typical or at the lower end of the austistic scale. If we had this way of thinking, fewer would be looking for being the opposite end of the binary dialectic.
As far as I can see, it’s not just a problem of individuals who all have their demons to fight, but the absurdity of our society. That is nothing new!
Except in those rare cases of some sort of genetic abnormality, every human being is sexually identified in every cell of his/her body as female (XX) or male (XY). ‘Primary’ and ‘secondary’ sexual characteristics are determined (again, except for rare ‘mixups’) by this genetic marker. One’s sex is not determined by one’s specific sexual bits, but by one’s genetic makeup, and the ‘bits’ result from that. I can’t see any way around this, and thus cannot agree that surgical and hormonal alteration can make a male female or vice versa. Thus, I find myself in complete agreement that so-called ‘gender reassignement’ should not be done except in those vanishingly rare cases you mention. We are what we are and need to learn how to live as such, rather than trying to distort nature.
All that said, however, I do believe that considerable change is necessary as to what expectations society imposes as to expected gender roles. I am an atypical male, in that I never related to much of what boys and men considered important, was neither strong nor well-coordinated and thus not suited for sports (and had little desire to be involved). I never accepted the macho swagger so typical of boys my age, and was always more interested in art and literature than in ‘boyish’ pursuits. As a teen I was not interested in girls (it was only later that I was able to admit that I had always been far more attracted to my own sex). Looking back, I can even see what I couldn’t admit even to myself, that I would have much preferred to wear the more flowing and frillier clothing that was permitted my sisters than the harsher clothes that males wore. I was atypical and was not fully accepted by either peers or adults, and was sometimes mistreated.
I will not claim that I had a miserable childhood and adolescence. It wasn’t so. Those were, on the whole, good years, but they could have been far better, and I can recognize minor but definite scars on my psyche that have resulted. I was never really free to identify just what kind of a person I was or to develop ways of being authentic in the society in which I lived.
Self-identification is not even partly the selection of labels such as that multiple choice question demands. Such labels do nothing to identify the kind of person one is and tend instead to build ‘boxes’ into which to bind persons as categories and not as individuals. We need to find ways to help children and adolescents (and adults as well) to know themselves as individuals and to find appropriate ways to express themselves in that individuality as part of their society. We don’t do very well at that, and neither unbending conservatism nor ‘gender reassignment’ will help in the least. Only a free and balanced approach can produce healthy individuals in a healthy society.
You have a lot of courage, Ed, for being so candid on the internet! You have obviously done a lot of work on yourself, because this is the way we can be of better service to God, other people and the natural world. I have also dared to say a lot of things in opposition to the tendency of the “new right” that is engulfing our world in reaction to multiculturalism and so-called liberalism.
You are right. Labels are dangerous, and this is why I am reticent in looking for a diagnosis of being an “aspie”, where on the other hand, it would give clarity to myself and help other people make concessions in their expectations. We have to be ourselves and accept what we are, with all the gifts we have and all the handicaps from which we suffer as the Cross that God gave us to carry.
We need to learn to be generous and open, like many of the wonderful teachers I had in England all those years ago. I am very afraid of the “new right” conservatism, because it lacks compassion, mercy or empathy.
poem I wrote today, partially sparked by this conversation:
What Am I?
I am matter,
but not like other matter,
for in me is a force called “life”,
a force that is observed to be,
and often is discussed in depth,
but never can be well defined.
I am a living thing,
but not like other living things,
for in me life is clothed in thought,
and through that thought, aware of self,
I know the world around me,
interact with things that truly are,
and can imagine things that are not real,
perhaps to bring them to reality.
I am a thinking human being,
but not like other men around me,
for the mysteries of the force of life,
the force of thought,
and wild imagination,
have made me what I am,
a thing unto myself,
unlike those around me,
and yet among them,
with a common life to lead,
like and yet unlike,
distinct and joined,
with a life to live that is my own,
and yet belongs to others,
solitary in a herd,
different in my similarities,
and ever, always searching in myself,
ever always with this question:
“What am I?” –
never finding answers to my quest,
but only yet more questions.
“What am I?”
That I do not really know,
but I go on, ever learning,
knowing that there is an answer,
but only in the mind of God.
The Gender Identity movement and the demands of Transgender activists are increasingly putting the safety of women at risk, as men who identify as women, but who have the equipment to rape, demand admission to female prisons and women’s refuges.
The right of women to be safe is increasingly ignored in favour of the right of men to identify as what they feel like.
Eek! It sounds like Daesh terrorists mixing with Syrian refugees, so the answer from Brussels to Greece is to push the lot of them back into the sea, no matter how many little children get drowned. It seems better not to claim anything because the majority gets penalised for the minority. Strange how both movements are dominated by aggressive young men! I’m glad to be living out of town…
I’m not sure it’s accurate or helpful to compare transgenders with Syrian refugees, but it’s an interesting rhetorical point.
Sorry, I wasn’t very clear. What is comparable is the “Trojan Horse” element like terrorists with predatory men who want access to women’s facilities. That’s as far as it goes from my point of view. A rather silly conversation, if I may say so…
I’ve met only two or three ‘male to female’ transgendered, and all appeared to be sad and conflicted in many ways. A man with whiskers trying to grow breasts? One was working briefly as a cashier in our local food co-op. Always wore female clothing. Didn’t last long there. Another was in a transgender group which i briefly attended, group formed by a therapist. The third was a young man in foster care who had been raised by his grandmother as a girl. He wore earrings and wanted a sex change operation as soon as he reached majority. He had many other problems as well. In a juvenile facility he wrote love letters to hyper-masculine black guys telling them how sexy they were, and almost got beat up.There will always be ‘misplaced persons’ of one sort of another in any group. American Indians had ‘berdaches’ which were men who functioned in female roles in the community and were accepted. I don’t know the answer to this conundrum
I don’t think there is any answer to any conundrum. Humans are not very different from many species of animals in that you get the dominant males and females to a lesser extent. It is the survival of the fittest as expressed by Darwin and taken to the uttermost extent by the Nazis using the ideas of both Darwin and Nietzsche. The same ideology prevails now, but it is much more subtle. Someone who is not only different but an underdog is a loser. This is one of the originalities of the message of Christ, the loser will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven and the powerful will be put down from their thrones.
Life is always a compromise, made a little easier if you live out of town and to some extent on your own terms. As John Donne said in the 17th century “No man is an island unto himself“, yet some of us suffocate in the collectivity. There will never be one solution for all. There will always be the wierdos and there will always be the “successful” men in their suits and with their status symbols, yet perhaps the unhappiest on earth.
We can only be ourselves and let the rest of the world get on with its “thing”.
We can only be ourselves…so true Father. Like I said, these days I’m much happier and more content not trying to make people or situations other than they are. I’m also much more accepting of myself and who I am, even though I’m just as much on the margins as most of us here on your blog. I guess the key here is to live and let live within reason.
So much of my own past stress and suffering and anger stemmed from me wanting people and places and situations to be other than they are. When you stop trying to be like Atlas carrying the world on your shoulders there is at least a bit of peace.
Anymore all the questions about what is the ” True Church”, the anger and rage over bad bishops or bad liturgy or whatever just seem almost pointless to me. Just find a quiet corner someplace, some good companions for the journey and just forget about everything else. We cannot make the world and others the way we want, so better to just do our own thing and trust in our Lord.
Thank you for this nice little thought. We all have our crosses to carry, and we have our lives to work on from the point of view of dispelling ignorance and moving away from what we know to be sinful.
Perhaps many of the people who get steamed up about “true churches” or complaining about what happens in churches would do well to consider the spiritual desert in Europe or countries occupied by jihadist Islam, by Marxist atheism or simply the tyranny of whatever else. Perhaps some of them could just let go, live in secular life with secular values, and work out what they would really miss, perhaps they would not miss very much.
It is said that when we depart this life, it is not God who judges us but ourselves, and our self-judgement may be that much more severe. Many people who are dying of long illnesses or the like often regret not having been themselves and living their true vocation.