Back in September of 2016, I released three videos, expressing my concern about Bill C-16, which was then under consideration by the federal government, following the passage of similar legislation in a number of provinces. C-16 purported to merely add “gender identity” and “gender expression” to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. However, it was embedded in a web of policy, much of it created by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which indicated that the bill comprised the tip of a very large iceberg. I was particularly upset with the insistence that failure to use the “preferred pronouns” chosen by individuals whose gender-related identity did not fit neatly, according to their personal judgement, into the standard categories of boy and girl or man and woman would now become an offence punishable by law.
Worse is the insistence characteristic of the bill, the policies associated with it, and the tenth-rate academic dogmas driving the entire charade, that “identity” is something solely determined by the individual in question (whatever that identity might be). Even sociologists (neither the older, classical, occasionally useful type, nor the modern, appalling, and positively counterproductive type) don’t believe this. They understand that identity is a social role, which means that it is by necessity socially negotiated. And there’s a reason for this. An identity — a role — is not merely what you think you are, moment to moment, or year by year, but, as the Encyclopedia Britannica has it (specifically within its sociology section), “a comprehensive pattern of behavior that is socially recognized, providing a means of identifying and placing an individual in society,” also serving “as a strategy for coping with recurrent situations and dealing with the roles of others (e.g., parent-child roles).”
Your identity is not the clothes you wear, or the fashionable sexual preference or behaviour you adopt and flaunt, or the causes driving your activism, or your moral outrage at ideas that differ from yours: properly understood, it’s a set of complex compromises between the individual and society as to how the former and the latter might mutually support one another in a sustainable, long-term manner. It’s nothing to alter lightly, as such compromise is very difficult to attain, constituting as it does the essence of civilization itself, which took eons to establish, and understanding, as we should, that the alternative to the adoption of socially-acceptable roles is conflict — plain, simple and continual, as well as simultaneously psychological and social.
To the degree that identity is not biological (and much, but not all of it is), then it’s a drama enacted in the world of other people. An identity provides rules for social interactions that everyone understands; it provides generic but vitally necessary direction and purpose in life. If you’re a child, and you’re playing a pretend game with your friends, you negotiate your identity, so the game can be properly played. You do the same in the real world, whether you are a child, an adolescent, or an adult. To refuse to engage in the social aspect of identity negotiation — to insist that what you say you are is what everyone must accept — is simply to confuse yourself and everyone else (as no one at all understands the rules of your game, not least because they have not yet been formulated).
The continually expanded plethora of “identities” recently constructed and provided with legal status thus consist of empty terms which (1) do not provide those who claim them with any real social role or direction; (2) confuse all who must deal with the narcissism of the claimant, as the only rule that can exist in the absence of painstakingly, voluntarily and mutually negotiated social role is “it’s morally wrong to say or do anything that hurts my feelings”; (3) risks generating psychological chaos among the vast majority of individuals exposed to the doctrines that insist that identity is essentially fluid and self-generating (and here I’m primarily concerned about children and adolescents whose standard or normative identity has now merely become one personal choice among a near-infinite array of ideologically and legally defined modes of being), and (4) poses a further and unacceptably dangerous threat to the stability of the nuclear family, which consists, at minimum, of a dyad, male and female, coming together primarily for the purposes of raising children in what appears to be the minimal viable social unit (given the vast and incontrovertible body of evidence that fatherlessness, in particular, is associated with heightened risk for criminality, substance abuse, and poorly regulated sexual behaviour among children, adolescents and the adults that they eventually become).
So why bring all this up again? This week, journalist Barbara Kay released a story on The Post Millennial website about an application filed before the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario by the parents of a six year girl, “N,” who was made subject to the new tenets of gender identity theory by her hypothetically well-meaning elementary school teacher at Devonshire Community Public School (Ottawa-Carleton District School Board). According to Kay’s account, the teacher insisted to the children that “there is no such thing as girls and boys,” and “girls are not real and boys are not real.” In consequence, “N” began to manifest substantial confusion about her identity. She asked her parents why her existence as a girl was not real. She asked to see a doctor for an opinion. She became unsettled about the reality of her biological existence. Her concern persisted over a three-month period — a long time in the life of a young person.
Consider this: At the tender age of six, “N” was being required, first, to question an identity she had spent continual and effortful time developing since (at minimum) the age of two — learning the rules she understood to be generically appropriate for her role, so that she knew how to fit in, play her part, get along, refrain from violating the expectations of her peers and the adults she interacted with, and planning, as best as she could, her course through life as a female. Second, she was being required to question what constitutes “real” — because if you are six, and you’re a girl, and you know it (and so does everyone else), and you are now being told that none of that is “real,” then the whole idea of reality becomes shaky and unstable. The seriousness of the philosophical and psychological confusion that such demands are capable of generating should not be underestimated.
I can barely envision a pedagogical strategy less conducive to stable early childhood development, particularly for a thoughtful child, which is exactly what “N” seems to be — much to her detriment, in this situation. Trusting her teacher, as she apparently did, “N” listened to her lessons and tried to think through what the complicated and internally contradictory mess of information she was presented with might actually signify — and failing, as was inevitable, because there is nothing that it signifies that is reasonable, logical, practical, or true. No matter: “gender fluidity” is school board policy, even for six-year olds, and the distress of a perfectly normal child at the lessons is a price well worth paying to ensure that ideological purity, no matter how counterproductive and absurd, is stringently maintained. Better the child suffers than the teacher thinks. Better the entire educational system reformulates itself around the new dogma (and to hell with the possibility that the experiment might go wrong) than the ideologues governing its structure question their absurd and fundamentally resentful presumptions.
Despite discussing their concerns with the school principal, the superintendent of the school board, and the curriculum superintendent, the parents allege that all these authorities refused to agree to “communicate with parents when sensitive discussions took place” (remember, these are six year olds) and would not issue any directive or take any corrective action “to ensure that children of female gender identity were positively affirmed.” “N’s” parents have since moved their child to another school where the same absolutely inexcusable foolishness has not yet repeated itself. And now we’re going to find out — courtesy of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal (an organization in which I could hardly have less faith and which should be abolished as soon as possible) — whether little girls have the right to maintain their normative, common, practical and realistic world-view and opinion of their own bodies, or whether that is trumped administratively and legally by the existence of the incoherent set of rights inexcusably and forcibly granted to the tiny minority of people who insist that their “identities” are entirely self-generated and absolutely inviolate socially and legally. I would place a strong bet on the latter, and I think the fact that it’s come to that is to our great collective shame and danger.
The silence of the majority on such issues — driven, I think, by fear of the purposeful and genuinely dangerous social alienation likely to be generated in the wake of any given individual’s objections (regardless of how representative of the majority those objections happen to be) — will, in my opinion, generate a state of affairs among our children and adolescents that we will come in the decades to follow to deeply and profoundly regret.
Jordan Peterson is a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, a clinical psychologist and the author of the multi-million copy bestseller 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. His blog and podcasts can be found at jordanbpeterson.com.