The metaphysics of sex

… Or do I mean gender? It’s a minefield, this topic.

Some weeks back I wrote a perhaps rather grumpy post prompted by Chelsea Manning’s choice of gender. It attracted no more comment than it deserved until recently, when an old friend stumbled on it via Facebook and reacted with a level of froth and fury I would hardly have believed possible.

Every age, I suppose, has its wild flights of metaphysical fancy. The age of the great ecumenical councils gave us the glorious ontological extravagances of Christology — three persons, one God, identity of substance without confusion of person — now there, if you like, is the metaphysical faculty at full stretch. Later on we get the only slightly less imaginative speculations of the Schoolmen about the Real Presence.

Our age has set its sights a bit lower, and Dawkinsonian types who would scoff at the Athanasian Creed or the dogma of transubstantiation can nevertheless be heard maintaining that a person possessing one each of the X and Y chromosomes, and exhibiting the usual anatomical sequelae, is nevertheless, in some sense, ‘really’ a woman.

What heaven-stormers we modern secular folk are, eh? Earlier ages were okay with human finitude and particularity, but allowed quite a lot to divinity. We, on the other hand, believe that anything we don’t understand must be nonsense — unless it emanates from the faculty of physics, that is — and that attributes of ourselves once considered fairly fundamental are in fact matters of choice.

Personally, I would like to be taller. Perhaps, in some sense, I ‘really am’ a rangy, broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped six-two, rather than the stubby short-legged munchkin I appear to be.

Obligatory disclaimer: I may be puzzled by the metaphysics — and even, admittedly, a bit puzzled by the impulse; the recent popularity of gender-switching is a phenomenon for which it doesn’t seem entirely wrong-headed to seek an explanation. But that doesn’t mean I begrudge to anyone his or her quest for happiness, whatever form that takes.

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