Sunday, June 1, 2014

Distinction: Equality of What? Validation of What?

TIME's latest issue spotlights the transgender equality movement in an article titled "America's Transition" by Katy Steinmetz. While reading through it, my attention was drawn immediately to how ambiguous "equality" is. I've commented on this discourse of these sorts of movements before ( There seems to be a blending of several different equalities:

1) Practical equality—equality in pursuing stable and comfortable living circumstances, such as health care, education, employment opportunity and wages, in travel, military, etc.

2) Abstract equality—non-concrete/physical things, such as dignity, ontological status, psychological and spiritual validation, conscience formation and moral responsibility, etc.

Equality is always a difficult concept because its application depends on what is being called equal. Equality is always equality with respect to ... There is a qualifier for equality. When we say that 2=2, we mean equality of quantity. It would be meaningless to say that the number two has equality with respect to its redness. Numbers are intellectual concepts, not things that can possess redness. Likewise, to say that one tree is equal to another as a tree is not to say that any two trees are necessarily the same in height, species, or oxygen production capacity. I can hear it now: "How dare you suggest that elms are in any way inferior to redwoods!"

Therefore, we have to define what is being equated. But to state what is being equated (aequandum), we must have a shared notion of the aequans (the equalizing notion), or in other words, we need a definition. But how do we have a discourse when we meet such statements like: "Perhaps the biggest obstacle is that trans people live in a world largely built on a fixed and binary definition of gender. [...] For the majority of people who are accustomed to understanding gender in fixed terms, the concept of a spectrum can be overwhelming" (pp. 40, 42). Okay, perhaps we could grant that gender is not binary (whatever gender means), but even within a spectrum of possible genders, each gender is a finitude, a specific, concrete, psychological modality. These genders may transition among different genders and gradually be replaced or eclipsed by others, but even in such processes, the transition is from one concrete to the next and back. There cannot be a complete disintegration of gender's manifestations without a total annihilation of any meaningfulness to gender itself. If spectrum makes any particular gender meaningless, then the spectrum itself is a meaningless glob upon which any meaning may be projected and upheld. Under such circumstances, we must return to the question: equality of what? Equality of meaninglessness?

For rational discourse to occur, there must be some subject. Perhaps the transgender movement implies (whether consciously or not) that the entire notion of gender ought to be revamped or even discarded. That may be for another discussion.

The TIME article repeatedly emphasizes that the choices of trans people are based on a fundamental desire to validate their inner psychological experience, which is/has been incongruous to their external experience and how others perceive them. The implication is that gender is a moral application of psychological states and feelings:

  • "Green describes gender dysphoria as discomfort with the gender a person is living in" (40).
  • "It felt like being locked in a dark room with my eyes and ears cut off and my tongue cut out and not being able to connect my own inner experience with an outer world" (ibid).
  • "Wearing dresses didn't feel right" (ibid).
  • "I wish [my father] could see me as what I want him to see me" (42).
  • "No matter their anatomy, transgender people want to live—and be identified—according to how they feel" (42).
It's clear that trans people struggled very deeply with a lack of validation throughout their formative years, both from parents and peers (such as in bullying). This experience continued under various forms of discrimination into their adult years. 

It seems clear that the moral choices a person makes should not deprive them of equality with respect to practical living as well as the possibility to pursue genuine moral excellence. Everyone ought to be emotionally and spiritually validated and guided by competent and loving parents into an integrated, responsible adulthood. The difficulty as Catholics, however, is that the pursuit of equality in these aforementioned matters is then extended by activists to the very ontology of the Mystical Body, the Church. Then women demand ordination, homosexuals demand marriage, etc. 

Trans people as well as homosexuals see the language of the Church as simply another manifestation of what they received from their own severely deficient parents and peers growing up: "disordered." This word "disordered" brings back all of the lack of validation and love that the person sought but never received. 

The problem, of course, is that such people, being so caught up in the unarticulated and equivocal language of equality, are unable to differentiate between the validation owed a person in their very being and development towards a morally-responsible individual and the validation of any preponderant desire and intuition in their psyche.

Here the question must be asked: does every overwhelming and consistently-present desire deserve validation? Do the constant and thoroughly-embedded impulses of a serial killer or rapist deserve validation? Did the stalking tendencies of Father David Ajemian (notorious for stalking the TV host Conan O'Brien; deserve validation? Do the illusions of many of the contestants who go on talent TV shows yet possess very little talent deserve validation? Examples may be multiplied.

In every case, the answer is no; nevertheless, the person, in their intrinsic dignity as a person, ought to be validated. Validation, like equality, requires a qualifier. The validation of what? We cannot indiscriminately validate everything. It would have the effect of reducing validation itself to a meaningless term and action.

The language of the Church is ontological and psychological but always with respect to a standard, always in the context of an aequans. Trans people, not subscribing to that standard or perhaps being totally unaware of it, suddenly think that being called "disordered" is a rejection of their very selves.

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