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Play ‘self-identity’, make yourself up as you go

Until recently only children were expected to play and pretend they were someone else — a scary lion, Alexander the Great or Superman. Now adults, too, can join in and get to decide how they want to be seen and identified.

Britain’s Universities and Colleges Union has published a report that contends anyone should be able to identify as black regardless of the colour of their skin.

That means a university teacher with ginger hair and freckles can now — in all seriousness — assert their black identity and gain the validation of colleagues. And any-one who refuses to go along with this performance of blackness risks being accused of a hate crime.

The UCU’s report aims to resolve the current controversy about whether biological males should be able to self-identify as women and be treated as female.The report concludes with are sounding yes — you don’t need to have a uterus and female reproductive organs to identify as a woman. It also went a step further so you can decide if you are white,black or, presumably, Chinese

It notes that “our rules commit us to ending all forms of discrimination, bigotry and stereotyping”and declares that the “UCU has along history of enabling members to self-identify whether that is being black, disabled, LGBT+ or women”. The UCU’s argument about the right to self-identify is another way of saying it is up to everyone to decide how others are obligated to see them.

From this standpoint, your sex chromosomes, biology, physical features or cultural origins are more or less irrelevant when comes to self-identity. Self-identification renders identity a form of role play. It works as a make-it-up-as-you-go-along performance and you can adopt whatever role takes your fancy.

Once upon a time the UCU’s report would have provoked the response of “they must be joking”. Some sensible commentators may still react in astonishment at its preposterous sentiments. However, with the proliferation of a bewildering variety of new identities, the public has gradually got used to the unannounced arrival of yet another freshly invented identity.

Not so long ago most people were genuinely shocked and surprised when it was announced Facebook now had 71 gender identities to choose from. Then came the appearance of an endless number of newly minted trans pronouns. In some circles the use of he or she was condemned as a cultural crime of mis-gendering. Instead zie, sie, ey, ve,tey or e were proposed as enlightened alternatives to the far too restrictive binary pronouns of he and she. Now with the non-stop attention sections of the media devote to the cultivation of new identities,more and`more people intuit that the obsession with identity is here to stay. The right to self-identify and choose your race or gender enjoys widespread cultural affirmation.

The readiness with which public and private organisations have changed the language used in official forms to include new categories of gender suggests self-identification is fast becoming institutionalised. Society’s preoccupation with identity and self-identification has acquired an explosive dynamic to the point it is rapidly changing the way we think and the words we use. The recently invented term “sex assigned at birth”, used by numerous institutions and media outlets, conveys the view that one’s biological sex is arbitrary and irrelevant.

Biological sex, determined at the moment of conception, is rendered invisible and meaningless through the administrative fiat of rendering it transitory. The trans-formation of a birth certificate into a statement of identity preference implies the description of a baby is a provisional one that is likely to alter. The premise of the phrase“sex assigned at birth” is that it is the developing child and teenager who will eventually choose an identity — preferably a gender-neutral one — for themselves.

A significant cohort of “up-to-date” parents have embraced the ideology of gender neutrality and adopted a style of child-rearing that avoids assigning a biological gender to their child. Such parents assume they are providing their offspring with the freedom to decide for themselves who they want to be.

In reality the embrace of gender-neutral parenting constitutes an act of adult irresponsibility. In-stead of guiding their child to help understand their biological attributes and taking responsibility fort he development of the child’s identity, they place the burden of character formation on the child.

"Leaving it up to the child” may sound open-minded but its effect is to allow the confusing influences and pressures of popular and peer culture to monopolise the identity formation of young people.

Instead of providing direction and guidance, children are left to deal with a chaotic world dominated by social media, consumer culture and identity politics. In places of work and in institutions of higher education, people face strong pressure and sanctions should they refuse to embrace a gender-neutral vocabulary.

It is increasingly common to provide people with a list of words they can or cannot use at their workplace. One of the most disturbing targets of linguistic policing are daycare centres and primary schools, which are exhorted to socialise children by preempting them from adopting the language and values of the generations that preceded them. As far back as 1995 the daycare centre at La Trobe University in Melbourne banned the use of about 20 words, including the gender-related terms girl and boy, to promote its mission of altering traditional sex roles. Those who violated the code were forced to pay a fine and treated as if they had used a dirty word.

The focus on altering children’s vocabulary is not accidental. The project of purifying of language is motivated by the objective of alteting people’s behaviour.

Language serves as a medium through which human relations are ordered and people’s reality is shaped. Thus, socialising children into a gender-neutral culture and vocabulary aims to alter the meaning youngsters attach to their identity and existence.

Such irresponsible behaviour can mess up and confuse the generations to come, which is why we need to embrace the role of the young boy who exposed the pretensions of the naked emperor with the words “he has no clothes”.

Instead of allowing promoters of self-identification to embarrass us into silence, we have to speak out and insist that playing an identity game does not alter the hard facts of biological sex.

Published by The Australian


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