Family violence can take many forms,” says Madam Justice Marzari of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, including “unreasonable restrictions or preventions of a family member’s personal autonomy.” To be more specific, “family violence” can now take the form of refusing to accept a family member’s chosen gender identity. Such is the violence inflicted on a fourteen-year-old girl (referred to as AB) who is determined to be a boy, by her father (dubbed CD), who insists she is no such thing.
The court will not stand idly by, insists Justice Marzari, knowing that AB is “harmed by the fact that it is his own father, whom he loves, who appears to be publicly rejecting his identity, perpetuating stories that reject his identity, and exposing him to degrading and violent commentary in social media” (A.B. v. C.D. and E.F., 2019 BCSC 604, par. 72). Under Justice Bowden, it has “already determined that it is a form of family violence to AB for any of his family members to address him by his birth name, refer to him as a girl or with female pronouns (whether to him directly or to third parties), or to attempt to persuade him to abandon treatment for gender dysphoria” (par. 21). And now it means to enforce its embargo on such behavior by permitting the arrest without warrant of CD, should he give the least appearance of persisting in this violence.
We will return later to the matter of “degrading and violent” commentary. For the moment, please note that “treatment for gender dysphoria” means—at a minimum—the application of opposite-sex hormones, with their permanent effects on AB’s body. It certainly does not mean trying to get at the root causes in her soul—alienation from a parent, perhaps?—through any kind of cognitive therapy. That sort of thing qualifies these days as degrading and violent “conversion therapy,” a label applied in Orwellian fashion to any procedure that might call into question a sexual orientation or gender identity claim; any procedure, that is, which risks reversing a SOGI conversion. In a number of jurisdictions, approaches with that sort of risk have become illegal.
But back to A.B. v. C.D. Not being a family member, I will say in response to the court what AB’s father has been saying, but is now forbidden to say on pain of arrest: His daughter is a daughter not a son, a she not a he, and the court has no power by legal writ to change what is written in her chromosomes or to declare her chromosomes irrelevant. And I will add this: The court’s attempt to declare her chromosomes irrelevant is itself a form of violence against the family—this family and every family.
Don't get me wrong. AB’s gender dysphoria may well be a product of one or more of the many forms of violence that family violence can take, though other possibilities exist and I am in no position to make inferences or draw conclusions. It is not for me to defend the father or any other member of the family, or to pass any kind of judgment at all on root causes. But I will side with the father in the matter of the limitations of legal writ and of personal autonomy claims. Neither AB herself, nor Bowden and Marzari JJ, can make a boy of a girl. AB’s counselors and doctors can’t, either, however keen they may be to try.
Who entitled the court to invest all the power of law in AB’s reality-denying “personal autonomy” claim, a claim that likely began, however it began (she was eleven or twelve at the time), as a plea for help? What warrants this draconian gag order that both denies CD’s right to speak and tries to compels him, if he does speak, to say what he does not believe, using words he thinks wrong?
In the ruling, Justice Marzari attempts to reassure us that her commandeering even of CD’s pronouns is no serious violation of his liberty: “Neither is CD’s freedom of belief engaged by the orders sought. There is no requirement that CD change his views about what is best for AB. It is only how he expresses those views privately to AB and publicly to third parties that is affected” (par. 50).
So there you have it, CD. You are free to believe what you like. You can believe that neither individuals nor their doctors, nor even judges in courts of law, can make boys of girls or girls of boys. Just don’t tell anyone or we’ll have you up on fresh charges of violence or harassment or hate speech. We’ll have you behind bars. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
Far from protecting AB from violence through the exercise of its parens patriae power, the court itself is engaged in violence against AB, aiding and abetting those who have encouraged her to rebel against her own body in a vain attempt to find the peace her soul needs. This ruling attacks not merely one parent and one child, but every parent and every child. For the very idea of the family perforce disappears where personal autonomy is construed in such a fashion that the sexed body is of no account. If the sexed body is of no account, neither is reproduction or parenting or filiation. And if it is now “family violence” to refuse to accept a gender identity claim, violence of a sort the law can forbid and punish, it will follow soon enough that it is violence for anyone to refuse to accept that claim, and that this too can be punished. The court’s parens patriae power will extend to everyone (a point I made in Nation of Bastards). It will be universal in its reach.
It has been evident for some time that the gender mainstreaming activists have been pressing for just that, primarily through hate speech and discrimination legislation. Courts are increasingly listening, for they are now stocked by judges bred in the same stable. Justice Marzari even sees fit (hence her reference to “degrading and violent” commentary) to quote from comment-box trolls at The Federalist in justification of her decision. Nice touch, that. We’re all trolls now, apparently, if like CD we dare to question SOGI ideology, which Marzari has just declared to be her court’s own ideology.
Well, her gag order doesn’t apply to me (though I hail from Beautiful British Columbia). Not yet. If and when it does, it will be evident to all that the law has become an instrument of oppression rather than of justice. I hope I won’t have the slightest hesitation in defying it, and I hope I won’t be alone in doing so.
Douglas Farrow is professor of Theology and Christian Thought at McGill University in Montreal and the author, most recently, of Theological Negotiations, which in its seventh chapter traces the conflicted history (and fate) of modern “personal autonomy” claims.