Checking Boxes

Members of the next incoming freshman class at Brown  University will enjoy a new option when it comes to on-campus housing: what the school calls a “gender-neutral option.” Students selecting that option will live in a dorm with “lockable bathrooms for use by one person.” While we all like our privacy, just what kind of student requires these special accommodations? The answer: The newest fashionable minority on colleges campuses, “transgender students.” Fifty years ago, George Jorgensen stunned the world when he checked into a Copenhagen hospital and left as Christine Jorgensen after the world’s first sex-change surgery. Until recently, claims that someone was “a man trapped in a woman’s body,” or vice versa, were regarded with skepticism. The reason is clear: Many of the people making these claims suffer from some kind of mental illness, and what they really need is treatment, not radical surgery. Even more importantly, there was a well-founded reluctance to believe that nature had somehow made a “mistake.” Now, as events at Brown demonstrate, we don’t hesitate to think that nature might have made a mistake. In fact, we deny that nature has anything to do with a person’s sex. That’s because of the influence that feminism and “queer theory,” as it is called, have on college campuses. For both of these philosophies, the idea that there is such a thing as fixed human nature, or one biologically determined, especially with regard to sexuality, is the enemy. If we are, as the Scriptures say, created male and female, then this limits our personal autonomy—which is, after all, the summum bonum of modern American life. And so postmodern academics replaced the word sex with gender, a word historically associated with classification and description. This enabled feminists to claim that the qualities normally associated with the sexes were socially constructed, that is, imposed from without as opposed to being inherent. “Queer theorists” depict human sexuality as a continuum as opposed to being “either/or.” So a man, biologically, can choose to be feminine, and vice versa—just another life choice. While these ideas didn’t hold much sway among ordinary Americans, they’ve become articles of faith on college campuses and among elites. They’ve been added to another staple of postmodern thought, identity politics, which views membership in a particular group as the basis for all action. The result is separate dorms for “transgender students”—that is, men who choose to be feminine and women who choose to be masculine. If this sounds absurd to you, you’re not alone. Phillip Johnson tells a story in his great book The Right Questions about a fellow faculty member at Berkeley who taught his students the postmodern line. Then his son began crossdressing, and dad, despite his proclamations, was embarrassed to introduce him at a dinner party. All the young man was doing, of course, was following his father’s teaching. Even postmodern academics can be awakened when they see where their worldview leads. On some level they still understand that transgender, as it is called, is not only a violation of the moral order, but also a violation of the biological order. It takes a lot more to overcome “male and female He created them” than checking a box on a college housing form.
For Further Reading and Information
Jim Brown, “Another First for American Education: ‘Gender-Blind’ Dorms,” Catholic Exchange, 16 June 2003 . Phillip E. Johnson, The Right Questions: Truth, Meaning, and Public Debate (InterVarsity, 2002). John Colapinto, As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised As a Girl (HarperCollins, 2000).


Chuck Colson



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