Recently in America there was a hearing for the nomination of Chief Justice-designate Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. During such a hearing 22 delegates of the Senate are allowed to put the Chief Justice-designate to the test. The Republican senator Marsha Blackburn asked the following question: “Can you define the word ‘woman’?”
Mrs Jackson replied: “Can I give a definition? No, I cannot. (…) I am not a biologist.” Whilst this is a disappointing response it at least suggests that the answer is to be found in the biological makeup of a person and not based on feelings.
Of course, the occasion for this question is the discussion about trans women (former men) who compete in women’s sports and beat all biological women. The more general discussion relates to whether trans women are really women and therefore have the same rights as biological women.
For example, are transwomen (basically men) allowed to use the women’s change rooms? May transwomen use the change rooms where little girls change? May transwomen use women’s toilets? And so on.
In short, the issue is: What is a man and what is a woman? Is your sexuality or gender innate or does a man who transitions during his life eventually become a real woman?
For the conservative Christian this discussion should be a non-issue; you are born a man or a woman and that’s it. But how is it possible that something which is evidently so obvious is questioned by a certain segment of the population?
This article is based on a piece by B G Bogaards, published recently in De Bazuin. [i] It is helpful in that it explains simply the philosophical and linguistic context of this issue.
IDENTIFYING THE WORLD
Bogaards says that the first point to note is that we’re confronted here with what is called ‘epistemology’, a branch of philosophy that concerns itself with, among other things, questions such as: How can we know the world? What makes for reliable knowledge? An enormous amount has been written about this but, says Bogaards, I will limit myself to sensory perceptions.
We humans know the world by looking, hearing, feeling, smelling and tasting. I see a human being, so it is a person. I see that you have a tan, so you’ve probably been on holidays. I see that you are wearing trousers, so you are evidently not wearing a skirt. But the other senses also give us information about the world. I hear a bird singing, so I detect there is a bird there. I smell smoke in the kitchen, so I know something burning.
In philosophy, seeing with the eyes has always occupied a central position in philosophy. And modern science too is primarily based on sight. All other sensory perceptions, such as hearing and smelling, are reduced to visible characteristics. Sound is not visible but can be made visible with an oscilloscope. Smell is not visible but can be specified in chemical formulas. And so we can make such phenomena visible, as it were. So if the question is: How can we learn about the world? The answer is: by the use of our senses, and primarily by looking.
PROBLEMS WITH DEFINITIONS
The second point in this discussion, says Bogaards, is the problem of definitions. If I ask you to define a chair, you will probably say something like: a chair is a seat with a backrest and four legs. But isn’t a seat with a back and three legs a chair? Yes, that is also a chair. But what if I take away the armrest? You might reply: then it is a stool because it has three legs and a surface on which one can sit. But if a table has three legs and a surface on which I can sit, is it also a stool? So you can see that it can be extremely difficult to give a conclusive definition of a chair or stool.
We can do the same with the definition of a human being. Suppose you say that a human being is a being with two arms, two legs, a head, brains and five fingers on each hand. Is someone who is born with six fingers on each hand not a human being?
The philosopher Plato thought about this. He wondered how it was possible that we can see immediately that a certain animal is a horse, whereas every horse is slightly different. The same applies to people and gender. We know at a glance whether someone is a human being and what gender someone has. Even if important characteristics such as fingers, legs or breasts are missing.
And yet it is extremely difficult to give a conclusive definition of a human being. Plato therefore suggested that we have a divinely given imprint of forms and ideas. That means that we have an absolute idea in our heads of what a human is, what a horse is, or a chair. We cannot define it exactly, but we just know what, for example, a woman is when we see one. We don’t need absolute definitions; it speaks for itself when we see one.
Plato was right because God created all people, animals, plants, etc., according to their kind. We do not need conclusive definitions to know the world around us.
So far it has been shown that sight is the primary sense for knowing the world and that, despite the inadequate definitions, we know very well what men, women and chairs are. Yet it is precisely here, says Bogaards, that transactivists have established the battleground. In the first place they shift the primary mode of knowing from the senses to feeling. Secondly, they play on the shortcomings of definitions.
As stated earlier, we use our senses to know the world. If I meet a person, I immediately see whether it is a man or a woman. But transactivists argue that this is not possible, since a person’s being cannot be known by sight but by his/her emotion/feeling.
So, adds Bogaards: if I meet a man who feels like a woman, then he is a woman. This is a big break with reality and tradition. Because where people used to know the world based on their senses, they are now not allowed to (according to them). For if I determine on the basis of my senses that someone is a man, but he feels like a woman then, according to trans logic, he is a woman.
This break with the norm creates fundamental problems. For if I am 34, but I feel twelve, how old am I? According to trans logic twelve because that is how I feel. But what if I point at a bus shelter and feel that it is a football? According to trans logic, it is then a football. The real logic is completely missing, but people who point this out are labelled ‘transphobic’. Consequently, for fear of personal attacks, many people just keep quiet.
To add to the confusion, says Bogaards, the proponents of gender ideology focus on the limitations of language. Since it is impossible to give a conclusive definition of a man or a woman, they argue that it is not possible to describe exactly what a man or a woman is. If someone were to object that, for example, a woman is a human being with a uterus, XX chromosomes, breasts and the ability to have children, then transactivists try to refute this by asking the counter-question: is a woman who cannot have children then not a woman? Or they argue: Suppose someone is born with double gender characteristics, what is then their gender?
However, these are exceptions that prove the rule. Just as some people are born with twelve fingers or no legs. There is a divine blueprint in our heads that tells us exactly what is normal.
In the Western, liberal society we have freedom to think differently. But, says Bogaards, this promotion of gender ideology is a very dangerous development because this way of thinking finds its way into education. Children get a wrong way of seeing reality. Gender activists try to impose their ideology on children from primary school onwards.
In the Netherlands, for example, an LGBT+ organisation actively interferes with sex education at primary school. It promotes a teaching package ‘Astra and me’ in which teachers ‘introduce children to the topics of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression’. An example is the following text for children in grades 3 and 4: “Sometimes you look different on the outside than you feel on the inside. For example, that child who feels like a boy one day and a girl the next. That is quite possible, not weird at all.”
Notice that what’s happening here, says Bogaards, is what I mentioned earlier. First, the LGBT+ shifts the knowledge of the world from sensory perceptions to feelings: ‘you are what you feel’. This is reminiscent of the fairy tale ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’. In that story everyone sees that the emperor has no clothes on. However, even though everyone else sees that he’s not wearing clothes, if he feels that he is wearing clothes, it is true for him. Second, the LGBT brigade goes against what God originally created as male and female with all their characteristics.
Clearly the LGBT driven education is wrong and very dangerous, especially for children at such a receptive age. It is our task to teach our children to see and recognise the world around them in the light of God’s Word. If certain institutions, based on their progressive, leftist ideology violate the truth by proclaiming lies, we are abusing our children if we let them receive that education.
In addition, this ideology unnecessarily confuses defenceless children. Illogical gender ideology goes against God’s Order of Creation as revealed to us in His Word and confuses children unnecessarily.
To be sure, there is much more that can and needs to be said about this subject. However, Bogaards has done us a service by pointing out how the promoters of this ideology focus on feelings and exploit the difficulty of defining meanings to promote this ideology.
Let us protect our children with Genesis 1:27 in our hand: “And God created man … male and female He created them”. The fall into sin brought about all sorts of difficulties, also sometimes in relation to feelings about one’s sexuality. But the answer is not to conform our sexual or gender identity to sinful thoughts or feelings but to conform our thoughts and feelings to the sexual identity God has given us.
[i] De Bazuin, Volume 16 No. 08, September 2022. De Bazuin is a magazine of De Gereformeerde Kerken (DGK). The FRCA deputies have discussions with the DGK aimed at establishing sister-church relations.