On the assumption that the staff at The Onion have not hacked into Slate, it would seem that this article is not a clever parody but simply the latest example of what passes for thoughtful commentary on the ethics of sexual identity in today’s America.

The argument is simple, based upon an analogy between an unnecessary post-partum surgical procedure and the identification of a new born child as a girl or a boy.  For the doctor to tell the mother that the new born baby is a boy or a girl is an act of prejudice and bigotry.  Here is how the author of the article expresses the idea:

“You can be anything you want to be.” We say, “A girl can be a doctor, a boy can be a nurse,” but why in the first place must this person be a boy and that person be a girl? Your infant is an infant. Your baby knows nothing of dresses and ties, of makeup and aftershave, of the contemporary social implications of pink and blue. As a newborn, your child’s potential is limitless. The world is full of possibilities that every person deserves to be able to explore freely, receiving equal respect and human dignity while maximizing happiness through individual expression.

With infant gender assignment, in a single moment your baby’s life is instantly and brutally reduced from such infinite potentials down to one concrete set of expectations and stereotypes, and any behavioral deviation from that will be severely punished—both intentionally through bigotry, and unintentionally through ignorance. That doctor (and the power structure behind him) plays a pivotal role in imposing those limits on helpless infants, without their consent, and without your informed consent as a parent. This issue deserves serious consideration by every parent, because no matter what gender identity your child ultimately adopts, infant gender assignment has effects that will last through their whole life.

There is so much one could challenge in this article, from the legitimacy of the analogy between a medical procedure and the statement “It’s a boy/girl,” to the closing paragraphs’ comparisons between such ‘gender assignment’ and  children dying in hot cars on summer days or Russian roulette.  Perhaps strangest of all, however, is the arbitrary game with categories which is being played by the writer him/her/itself (pardon the expression, I am just trying to be sensitive to the author’s right of self-determination).   

If we detach gender from chromosomes and physiology, why not detach our notions of personhood and species from genetics?   On the author’s account of reality, would the doctor who declares a child to be human be engaging in any less an act of bigoted, authoritarian imperialism than one who assigns it a gender?   “You can be anything you want to be” we tell our children, but why in the first place must this person be a human being, or this ‘thing’ even a person?

But, then, what should we expect from someone who is described in their own byline as a human rights activist and who talks about ‘human dignity’ to justify her/his/its argument, and who is thus someone with a vested interest in perpetuating the notion of the human as a valid, stable category which has its own integrity? All categories are equal, it seems, but some are undoubtedly more equal than others.

Articles by Carl R. Trueman

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