I want to preface my critique by reassuring readers that, as a libertarian, I defend the right of an individual deciding for her or himself what gender identity he or she wishes to express or, if preferable, to identify with no gender at all. Gender, while rooted in sex, is also a psychosocial phenomenon that is manifestly variable across time and space. Nothing I say in this essay should be construed as the projection of a desire that men or boys and women or girls be prevented from identifying as the opposite gender (transgender) or consenting adults prevented from altering their bodies to appear as the opposite sex (transsexual). Freedom of appearance and expression are in my system of ethics inalienable rights. My critique concerns language and politics.
The Biden regime’s 2022 fiscal year budget is out and the policy document replaces the word “mothers” with “birthing people” in a section that, while admitting “[t]he United States “has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed nations, with an unacceptably high mortality rate for Black, American Indian/Alaska Native, and other women of color,” has been interpreted by many as erasing mothers by listing a range of measures designed to “help end this high rate of maternal mortality and race-based disparities in outcomes among birthing people.”
The term “birthing people” is newspeak from the realm of trans-rights activism. The rationale from this camp for changing words in this way is about making language less rigid in terms of gender and more inclusive of those who claim to exist on the side of the gender binary opposite of their sex or lie entirely beyond the gender binary. One hears alongside “birthing people” such constructs as “chest-feeding” instead of “breastfeeding” and “people who menstruate” to refer to women. (Ancient warriors wore breastplates, for the record.)
You may recall that the “people who menstruate” construct famously upset author J.K. Rowling who, in responding to a story in Devex (a media platform and business recruiter for the globalist development apparatus) titled “Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” quipped “‘People who menstruate.’ I’m sure there used to be a word for those people.” (I discuss the attempted cancelling of Rowling in the essay “Witch Finder Boylan: Free Speech and Mass Hysteria.” A longer analysis of the problem with attention to the Biden administration is found in the essay “Mao Zedong Thought and the New Left Corruption of Emancipatory Politics.”)
Biden’s budget has become another moment in what is typically referred to as the “culture war,” a struggle mostly blamed on the intolerance of conservatives towards human diversity. A story in the Indian Express, “Explained: History of, and row around, US budget using ‘birthing people’ instead of ‘mothers’,” accuses conservatives of using the “‘woke bogey’ to derail important, long overdue conversations.” It singles out Rowling (who is not a conservative) for having been offended by the constructs of “menstruating people” and “menstruators” replacing “menstruating women.” However, “menstruating women” would be a redundant construction, which was the point of Rowling’s objection to a story about “people who menstruate.” Poor reporting here.
Why would we need to say “birthing people”? Because it is not just women who give birth, according to the Indian Express. “Transmen—a person assigned the female gender at birth but who identifies as a man—and genderqueer people—who identify as neither man nor women—also give birth.” Newspeak is confusing to many people. The construct “female” refers to a biological truth. A person may, very rarely, be mistakenly assigned female at birth if there are congenital anomalies. There is a conditions, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, where excessive androgen production (male steroid hormone) produces ambiguous or masculinized genitalia and alters brain circuitry so that a genetic female will behave in a more traditionally masculine manner. Androgen insensitivity syndrome, another rare condition, can lead to a genotypic male having the external genitalia of a female. In the Dominican Republic, there are boys known as “Guevedoces” who appear as girls at birth but become boys at the onset of puberty (see “The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces”). However, a female may wish to reject her gender or sex assignment and identify as a boy or a man as defined by the gender binary (Buck Angel, a transsexual, speaks about the various issues surrounding all of this) or identify as a person beyond the gender binary.
The Indian Express notes the case of Freddy McConnell, a writer for The Guardian, who gave birth in the UK in 2018 while identifying as a man. McConnell opted against a hysterectomy because he was interested in having a baby. McConnell lost a legal battle to be officially recognized as the father of his baby. English common law requires those who give birth to be identified as the mother on the child’s birth certificate, a decision upheld at the Court of Appeal in April 2020. The Indian Express reports that “[p]eople argue that since the language of pre- and post-natal care is entirely built around a female mother, it erases such parents.” (The paper assumes language that suggests the possibility of a “male mother.” Other constructs may be imagined, but for any of them one must change the way one talks and thinks about things. Healthline’s article “Can Men Get Pregnant?” is illustrative.) Moreover, the paper notes, a surrogate may give birth to a child but not be the mother of that child. If there is no genetic relation between the woman and the child, I have been told by one person that the surrogate is not a mother at all. She is a “birthing person.” But why not just say surrogate?
The birthing person could be used in the future to incubate embryos created in the lab using a technique where the DNA of a man would be substituted for the DNA inside the woman’s egg. The sperm from the other man would be used to fertilize thst egg and a surrogate would carry the child to term. This is how it was reported by ABCNews in 2006: “The technique, which scientists agree still lies far in the future, would use the egg of a woman. Genetic material inside the woman’s egg would be removed and replaced by the DNA of one of the men. That ‘male egg’ would then be fertilized by the sperm of the other man and a surrogate mother would carry the child to term.” Newspeak would demand an updating of the language used by ABCNews. Indeed, changing language means that the hoops scientists would have to jump through to make this possible would be needlessly pursued, since the egg of a transman, who is by definition a man, could be used instead of an egg from a woman. And, if like in McConnell’s case, the uterus is retained, there is no need for a surrogate.
Working with standard and common sense definitions, a mother is a woman in relation to her child or children. To clarify, a woman is an adult female human being. Traditionally, society has distinguished between birth mothers and adoptive mothers. Women who have given up their child for adoption are still mothers. The birthing was not an imagined event. If the report wanted to be inclusive and express acceptance that there are women who carry babies who don’t identify as mothers (some surrogates and other women who do not identify as such), then the report could have been more inclusive by writing “birthing mothers or persons.” (The construct “birthing females” was suggested to me in a conversation but quickly withdrawn as soon the redundancy was obvious.) As it is, the report is so deliberately politically correct that it concerns maternal mortality rates while, in Orwellian euphemism, eschewed the facts of life. After all, “maternal” refers to mothers, especially during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth. Doesn’t the report therefore need new language for everything related to persons formerly known as mothers and women—while continuing to include mothers in the language? You know, to be inclusive?
This is such a half-assed attempt at newspeak that it’s embarrassing. But this is my government attempting to change the way citizens speak about basic and everyday truths. The implications of such an Orwellian practice are wide ranging if society is to take it seriously. Consider the practice of determining relations by reckoning matrilineal lines of descent, i.e., kinship with a mother. Is this basic anthropological truth to be rendered nonsensical for the sake of a political agenda?
I want to close by make sure readers know that I do recognize the role that surrogates play in allowing parents to have children and that one may not wish to describe that role as “mother.” I can understand why one would distance himself from such a profound emotional relation as that between mother and child by using technical language. Humans rationalize actions in all sorts of ways. The medicalization of social reality in words and practice is carried in the logic of corporate bureaucratic and technocratic relations. As we know, while language reflects reality, it also shapes perception of reality. As Orwell warned us, those who wish to change mass perception of reality are particularly interested in this function of language. Degendering language is colonizing the lifeworld in the same way that racialization is, pushed by corporate state power.
I try to not to be offended by the things others say. However, in this case, I find very troubling my government describing my mother—or women in general—in cold instrumentalist (and postmodernist) language. My mother is a mother and my government should refer to her as such, especially in policy language concerning maternal mortality. It is women who die in childbirth, even surrogates.
To pretend as if there is not a grand attempt to diminish the significance of women in the present epoch is delusional or dishonest. So, if it were just some person saying we should talk this way, I would most likely dismiss it. It is a ridiculous way of speaking and there are plenty of ridiculous people in the world. People believe in a myriad of non-things and use language and formulas to manufacture them and stand them over real things. It’s when they have power that it gets concerning. This is my government doing this. It affects my mother, my sister, and my wife.
At least we are not yet where Canada is. In 2013, in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott, the supreme court ruled that truthful speech can nonetheless be restricted if it runs afoul of state-approved language surrounding, among other things, the new norms expressed by prescribed language on gender and sex. In that case, which has become the basis of law and policy in Canada, the judges write, “Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.” In other words, truth is neither a defense nor an exception.
I want to close with good news from Great Britain. The BBC today carried the following headline: Maya Forstater: Woman wins tribunal appeal over transgender tweets. Forstater did not have her contract renewed at the think tank Center for Global Development in March 2019 after posting a series of tweets questioning government plans to let people declare their own gender. She claimed she was discriminated against because of her beliefs, which include the opinion “that sex is immutable and not to be conflated with gender identity.” In the initial tribunal, employment Judge James Tayler ruled, in language aligned with the Canadian high court, that Forstater’s approach was “not worthy of respect in a democratic society.” He concluded that she was not entitled to ignore the rights of a transgender person and the “enormous pain that can be caused by misgendering.” In other words, her truth claim was hate speech and therefore discrimination was justified.
In a higher court, Justice Choudhury said Forstater’s gender-critical beliefs “did not seek to destroy the rights of trans persons.” How could they? Thankfully the course corrected the error. But it is terrifying that Forstater was let go and that a lower court upheld that decision because she stated that sex is an immutable characteristic. Have we now the technology to turn the XX genotype into XY? Even if we did, why should a person be punished for words? But let’s not get overconfident about matters. Yes, a higher court has recognized Forstater’s right to express her opinion (the human right of cognitive liberty) and emphasized the truth that saying that a person cannot change her or his sex does not violate that person’s rights. And this is a very important moment. However, it is but one victory in the struggle for liberty. The outcome of that struggle is anything but clear.