There are times when “leaning left,” as this space tends to do, defies good judgement. Identity politics, especially around the issue of gender and sex, merits much scepticism, cynicism and certainly suspicion. And there are emerging situations in which the only reasonable response is a defiant “NO!”
In British Columbia, for example, one set of parents has required the provincial government to insert the letter “U” (undetermined, undecided) on official documents registering their newborn, because to place an “M” (male) or an “F” (female) there “would be an infringement on the baby’s rights.” Call me dumbfounded! Even call me stupid, out of touch and perhaps even aadvarkian!
If this practice, parental pressure, or delusion (you choose!) continues, we will witness and experience another assault on what was previously considered “normal” and “truthful” and “biological” and “indisputable”. Leaving open, at birth, the question of a newborn’s gender seems at least a default of parents’ normal responsibility to provide a platform of understanding for the child as s/he begins to interact with the world. Stability, security, a sense of “who I am” in the ever-enlarging world of my parents, siblings, extended family and eventually wider world of daycare, nursery school and eventually school is a very important foundation on which to grow.
Expecting all those who will need to interact with the baby, including nurses, doctors, family members, and the general public to retain a “neutral” or detached or even a non-quizzical attitude to the personhood of the baby is a step too far. Developmental issues, for starters, are well documented to be different between male and female children. Psychological differences, too, abound. Parenting, even quite early, that is appropriate for a young boy is quite separate from what is appropriate for a young girl, even though androgyny is rightly regarded as optimum whenever possible. There is clearly nothing wrong with boys wanting to play with dolls or girls enjoying LEGO; in fact, for the culture to move gradually and incrementally, deliberately and consciously in that direction would help to mitigate against the extreme stereotypes. Repressing boys’ tears, because “Boys don’t cry” is just one of the more heinous of social expectations that needs trashing.
That “U” however, is not a step forward, but rather is more than one step backwards. It will ruffle the feathers, if not also the anger and venom, of red necks everywhere, to the significant social debilitation of the new child.
Should the child, upon reaching an age of “majority” at which time a reasonable, independent, medically and psychologically supported decision to reverse gender, make such a decision, then, and only then, is such a decision permissible. In the crib, the play-pen, the nursery school and the elementary and perhaps even the secondary classroom, birth-arranged gender is the only appropriate platform on which to construct a health personhood.
And the governments that accede to parents’ wishes, as the government of British Columbia appears to have done, need to take a “time-out” to reconsider the implications of their concurrence. Governments are elected, not to genuflect at the first sign of public pressure, especially when the implications of such genuflection are so monumental, and so detrimental to the prospective “health” of the child. As a parent, and as a former teacher, I can assure these parents that their child would be treated either as a boy or a girl, depending on the traits most prominent whenever I were to come into contact with their child. And I would be speaking with my own children, if they were to encounter this “U” child, to continue to treat him/her with whatever learned habits of respect and deference they have already acquired for each gender, from their previous experience. We do not, after all, exist in a bubble, even if that bubble is formed out of pure and honourable motives of attempting to “restrict stereotypes” and “protect human rights”.
A similar argument can be made, and is being made, in support of Professor Johnson at University of Toronto, for refusing to use a specific pronoun chosen by a transgender individual, whenever he encounters such a person. All the politically correct impulses notwithstanding, we are not about to overturn our language or our concept of social deference to meet such a requirement. In fact, the good professor has experienced an overwhelming public reaction, monthly funding reaching into the 6-figures on the internet. And with this support, he is reportedly about to initiate an on-line liberal arts program, leading to university graduation equivalency. Critical thought, at the core of a liberal arts education, is a capacity (not merely a skill) desperately needed in this post-truth world, simply in order to be able to discern fact from fiction, ethical principle from dodging and denying, integrity from mere sham. Ambiguity, too, is not dissembling; it is rather a forthright acknowledgement of intellectual honesty, not a blatant attempt at escaping responsibility. One would hope that the current occupant of the Oval Office would take time from his twitter-fixation to enrol in Professor Johnson’s program.
And there is another ugly spectre raising its head in Ottawa in a bill already having passed through second reading. Some of us will do whatever we can to raise public consciousness and needed opposition to its final passing. It too is a result of a balance being thwarted in favour of political correctness that, some criminal lawyers say removes “habeas corpus,” the right of an accused to innocence, unless and until proven guilty by the Crown. Here is how the bill is reported by Barbara Kay in the National Post:
Bill C-51 expands the rape shield protections for sexual assault complainants by restricting the ability of the accused to use communications by a complainant or witness that are of a “sexual nature” of for a sexual purpose” as part of his defence, particularly to establish he defence of “mistaken belief of consent.” An accused will b prohibited from introducing sexually explicit texts or emails a evidence in court unless a judge first rules them to be admissable, after conducting a closed hearing with the Crown prosecutor, which the complainant may attend, accompanied by her own lawyer if she chooses.*
As expected, criminal lawyers are upset about the potential impact of this new piece of legislation, given the dramatic tilt of its intent in favour of the complainant, in most cases a woman. Those texts and emails that demonstrated a degree of interest (“I love your hands!”) from one of the complainants in the Jian Gomeshi trial, would clearly be subjected to the decision of the presiding judge, and their exclusion would inflict a serious blow to the ‘context’ of the relationship, no matter its nature.
There is an energy about the land these days that purports to lend a hand to women in the statistical culture that says they are too often the victims in sexual assault cases. However, there ought to be a reasonable limit on the stretch of that elastic legal band, so that habeus corpus, a law for which fights and debates have been waged for centuries, is not sidelined, or rendered inoperable. The full context of any relationship including evidence from social media, friends and acquaintances who have first-hand knowledge of the two people, should be part of the court hearing. He-said, she-said, is not adequate to provide a judge or judge and jury to reach an appropriate verdict.
A “rape shield law” is a law that limits a defendant’s ability to introduce evidence or cross-examine rape complainants about their past sexual behaviour. The term also refers to a law that prohibits the publication of the identity of an alleged rape victim. Of course, if I indicate that I concur with this “shield” for complainants, as I do, critics will pounce and push back that my objection to the provisions in Bill C-51 is merely a resistance to change.
Not so! A complainant’s previous sexual behaviour outside the relationship over when the complaint has been filed, no matter whether it involved one or a hundred and one sexual partners, ought not to be a consideration in a rape trial. However, if the behaviour of the complainant is such that the defendant could reasonably be convinced that her will indicated concurrence, then that evidence merits consideration by the court.
Let’s look at this a little further. For many years, if not decades, men, ordinary citizens who are male, and those especially who are charged with organizational leadership, have bent nearly flat to the ground in order to “respect” the female gender, no matter the situation, and no matter the encouragement of the woman in any current or potential sexual relationship. Fear of reprisal, fear of revenge, fear of being labled sexist, and fear of being emasculated by women who did not receive such genuflecting may have been part of their reason. And yet, if women area to be treated “fairly” and respectfully, with equal rights, (and not rights that subvert the rights of men) is it not reasonable to suggest that deferring more than half-way in a gender dispute is little more than patronizing, pandering and abdication of an way of investigating that pursues the full truth.
Only through such a deliberate, objective and not pre-ordained process (like the process that directs a majority of children in divorce settlements to the mother) will women and men begin to receive equal treatment both by social convention and by the law.
Bill C-51 needs some radical surgery, administered by the Senate, in order to remove the provisions that so stretch the rape shield provision to the breaking point. Women are at least 50% of every relationship and the sooner our culture and our laws acknowledge that reality, the sooner men and women will move to a more easily accessible and more readily perceived equality.
There is no excuse for men who “take advantage of their female partners, just as there is no excuse for women who lead their partners on, and then turn the tables. I have spoken to too many men in prison who have been caught in this snare-like trap. Women are not blameless, nor are they so fragile that they cannot “own” the full truth of their participation in a sexual relationship. And that truth must not be excluded from the evidence pertaining to the trial.
Emasculated men are actually more of a threat to their female partners, than fully autonomous and interdependent self-respecting male partners. And men have permitted and participated in their individual and collective emasculation for too long.
*Barbara Kay: Canada’s new sexual assault law is a ‘catastrophic attack on the rights of the accused', National Post, July 6, 2017