In a post yesterday I suggested that the proliferation of choices for “gender identity” (legend has it that there are now 57 varieties to choose from on facebook) will have the effect of deconstructing the very notion of gender differenceor rather, to use the old and proper terminology, the difference between the sexes, male and female. In using the philosophical term “deconstruction,” however, I didn’t mean to suggest that the process is controlled by anything like conscious logic or deliberate choice. On the contrary, the proliferation of choice is not something we choose, but is imposed on us and inculcated in us. What drives us here is not logic but consumerism.
Consumerism requires us to be choosers, whether we like it or not. When was it that it became impossible to walk into a chain drugstore and buy a box of bandaids without having to choose among three shelves’ worth of options?so I asked myself, the other day, standing in front of three shelves’ worth of bandaids. But it’s clear I don’t have a choice in the matter. I have to make a choice, no matter how annoying I find it, among a huge array of options that are largely meaningless to me (waterproof bandaids? extra elastic? transparent?).
If I were a good consumer, I would be less annoyed. I would revel in the proliferation of consumer choices, experience it as a kind of freedom, a liberation from sameness and monotony. And I would feel this way not just about products in the drugstore but about the variety of possibilities on offer in the marketplace of personal transformation and spirituality. So many ways I can choose to be me!
But what if I find my choices about identity to be as meaningless as the ones in the drugstore? The meaningless of the many choices imposed on us is the great secret of consumerism, the secret lying in plain sight that we are not supposed to notice if we are good consumers. The point applies to our choices about gender identityespecially the choices our children will have to make as they grow up, unlike us, having no choice but to choose in this particular marketplace. They are supposed to feel protective of their freedom to choose, to be outraged at any effort by state or church to curtail it. They are supposed to feel like good consumers.
A key task of the church in the next generation will be to provide a lived alternative to feeling like a good consumer in this regard. This will be particularly important as the LGBT debate advances from the issues that concern L and G, such as samesex marriage, to those which concern T, such as gender identity. The task will include educating the affectionslearning to desire to be the good that God made, when in the beginning he made us male and femaleand to see that this is far better than the proliferation of meaningless choices about gender identity that is likely to be imposed on us in the near future.