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Gender Title Laws: Good or Bad?

Are Gender Title Laws A Good or Bad Thing?
C-16, an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Code and the Criminal Code, is now being discussed by the Canadian government which will make it a crime to address transgender individuals by anything other than their chosen set of personal pronouns. This is causing great controversy in Canada, and is highly contentious on a world-wide level.

Dr Jordan Peterson, Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, and Peter Tatchell, a human rights activist and founder of the Peter Tatchell Foundation in the UK, participate in this program.

Some see C-16 to be a clear example of the over extension of the powers of the State, and others see it to be long overdue legislation to protect the rights of transgender people.

Peter Tatchell starts the program by describing the need for legislation such as C-16. “We have had anti-discrimination laws to protect people from discrimination based on gender identity and expression in Britain for several years. …It has worked perfectly, well, there have been no problems and it has given transgender people the legal protection they need in terms of housing, jobs, legal services, and that I think is the right and proper thing to do in a civilized society.” Dr Jordan Peterson criticizes C-16 because he sees it as being more than simply an anti-discrimination policy. It is, according to Dr Peterson, to do with supporting a group activity or a fashion, not based on the behaviour of individuals. He also says that the new act will enable prosecution under hate crime laws, which takes things a lot further than the legislation in the UK. “What has happened in Canada is that we have written up a social constructivist view of human identity into the law, and that is having all sorts of consequences not least for elementary and junior high school education where children are being taught very rigorously and very dogmatically that all of those elements of human identity are merely a consequence of socialization, and that is palpably untrue.”

Peter Tatchell maintains the view that people should have a right of self-definition and self-determination, and they should have a right to freedom of expression. Dr Peterson, however, argues that the new legislation takes a rather extreme position, and that when he tried to protest about the way that the legislation enables prosecution, his job was threatened by the university he works for. “I have been accused constantly on university campuses of promoting hate and being a bigot, and none of these things are remotely true, despite the fact there is no evidence whatsoever to say that the majority of people who are transsexual will support this legislation.” Dr Peterson’s main point is that we have no right to decide our own identity because we are social creatures, and thus our identity is based upon society as a whole, not just our individual decisions.

Peter Tatchell doubts that the C-16 bill, if passed, would include any tangible legislative penalties, and points out that Dr Peterson has not actually been prosecuted. Dr Peterson says that the only reason that he has not been prosecuted is because he has been so outright in his protest that tens of thousands of people have come out in support and that has made it difficult for his university; his employers, to sack him. He says that the Canadian Department of Justice will be building ways to prosecute based on criteria enshrined in the C-16 act.

In the second part of the program, the debate is opened up to discuss whether acceptance of transgender peoples’ rights is something that is an irreversible international process, or whether this is a fashion that can be stopped and a reverse process will follow. Peter Tatchell suggests that if we take an anthropological and historical point of view, we find that throughout very many diverse human societies, very many different cultures in different historical epochs, “we will see that male and female identities have been very  varied. …In some of the native American societies, people who we might now call ‘third gender,’ ‘transgender,’ or ‘two spirit people in native American culture’ these are just people who don’t fit into the neat boxes of male and female.  …you can go to every other culture and find similar gender diversities.” Dr Peterson debates that we can talk about American Indian culture in this way, “as soon as we start to talk about native American culture we are on very, very shaky ground. Because there is no native American culture. There were hundreds of native American cultures, which populated North America… we actually know very little about most of those societies because the native Americans were depopulated by about 95% because of smallpox and other diseases which were brought over by the Spanish in the 15th century. Any theory about transgender people which uses the Native American Two Spirit people as an example has to be viewed with extreme scepticism.” He warns that we are in danger of adversely influencing young people, including influencing them to make irreversible hormonal and surgical alterations when they are far too young to understand the consequences. “There is a sub class of people who in Freud’s terms would have been described ‘hysterical or dissociable,’ maybe that’s about 2-3% of the population. These people are very prone to modifying their identity according to whatever is most fashionable in this society at the present time.”

Peter Tatchell counteracts this argument by saying that “the vast majority of people who are gender fluid are very, very happy when they make that transition and they find acceptance. The idea that they are being conned and are being led into making these steps is offensive but also factually inaccurate. There is no reason to show that anything other than a tiny minority have later regrets. Many transgender people do not have surgery or hormonal treatment at all. …Looking at the research in in Britain, it is very clear that levels of self-esteem and self-worth, happiness, mental health and so on have dramatically improved for transgender people since we became more accepting, since we gave them a legal right to change their gender in law…” Dr Peterson counters this by describing how the John Hopkins sexual reassignment clinic was shut down because “the outcome showed that surgical reassignment was absolutely catastrophic. …the suicide rates amongst people who suffered from gender reassignment surgery were astronomic.”

The last few minutes of the program are taken up with a discussion of whether this issue has been politicized, and there seems to be a major difference in what is happening in the UK where the conservative government is planning to extend gender protection and the US in this respect. Dr Peterson counters that by saying that there “is a broader cultural war going on, this is a manifestation of it. I think that the reason why this issue is getting so much attention is because of this broader political turmoil…”.

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