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Freed Gender Identity as a Libertarian Issue

Tuesday, June 16, 2015 15:10
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(Before It's News)

There is no doubt that the last twelve months have been a watershed period concerning the greater visibility of transgender, genderqueer, and other gender‑diverse people in both mainstream and social media.

Two examples from recent times most readily spring ready to the mind.

The actress Laverne Cox graced the front cover of the iconic Time magazine in June 2014, with her interview movingly describing her struggles with gender identity issues since an early age.

Cox referred to incidents of childhood bullying and harassment in her native Alabama, and her eventual move to New York to pursue a successful acting career, mostly prominently for the Netflix drama series “Orange is the New Black,” and to transition gender.

About twelve months later, Caitlyn Jenner, the former Olympic athletic champion and, now, reality television star and parent to the “famous‑for‑being‑famous” Kardashian children, announced her gender transition in a high‑rating television interview followed by a front cover shoot for Vanity Fair magazine.

In some senses, the differences between Cox and Jenner could not be more extreme.

The former is a young trans woman of colour, from an underprivileged background, but using her inherent creative flair and insatiable work ethic to today became a forthright and influential spokeswoman for transgender dignity and respect.

The latter is an older white woman who drew upon her immense physical talents, once upon a gender, to build a larger‑than‑life public profile of global reach, and whose lived example of success has an equal capacity to inspire others.

Unquestionably, the example presented by these two prominent women have encouraged many thousands of other transgender and gender‑diverse people globally to, themselves, become more visible throughout our communities.

Social media, which enables each and every person with Internet access to report about the great and small events affecting their daily lives, has democratised the gender diversity visibility project like no other.

Witness, for instance, Huffington Postʼs #WhatTransLooksLike campaign encouraging trans people to share photos of themselves on twitter or, on a much more sober note in the wake of Leelah Alcornʼs tragic late‑2014 suicide, the #RealLiveTransAdult Twitter campaign encouraging role models to portray their stories.

Some have perceived the application of privilege by Laverne Cox and, especially, Caitlyn Jenner to promulgate their life stories for potential economic advantage, but those accounts discount what they, and the thousands of now‑visible transgender and gender‑diverse people , all share together.

And that is each and every single person dedicating themselves to promote the visibility of gender diversity within society are an equal part of the broader push that is described, in some circles, as no less than “the next civil rights movement” of greater rights and liberties for transgender, genderqueer, and other gender‑diverse people.

This bottom‑up, new wave movement of advocacy, care, and concern for gender diversity is undoubtedly a significant one, with potentially important economic, social, cultural, and political implications.

But what should libertarians (or in the European and Antipodean contexts, classical liberals) make of all this?

As I argue in Gender Identity and Libertarianism, presented by the Center for a Stateless Society, libertarians should champ at the bit to be at the forefront of efforts to emancipate gender identify from the stifling strictures of coercive statism and social traditionalism alike.

This is because libertarians believe in the primacy of individual freedoms, of extensive scale and scope, wherein people are free to choose, to act, and to be, for as long as they observe the equal rights of others to do the same.

Variance in gender identity has been a feature of humankind since its inception but, tragically, the freedom of transgender and other gender‑diverse people to identify, and express themselves in accordance, with their preferred gender identity continues to be stifled in numerous, and profoundly illiberal, ways.

Gender Identity and Libertarianism refers to the litany of restrictive policies and punitive enforcement regimes maintained by governments which inhibit gender diversity.

Some of these include: the systemic abuses and harassment by police forces, especially trans women of colour; the ill‑treatment meted out to transgender prisoners; and, the regulatory cabal between the medical professions and the state inflating the costs, and limiting the accessibility, of appropriate treatments for transgender people should they want, or need, them.

A longstanding problem of state interventionism affecting the economic and social interests of transgender people in particular, but also genderqueer and gender nonconforming people, concerns the significant legal and financial obstacles imposed upon people seeking to alter their ʻgender markersʼ on official identification documents.

As many gender‑diverse people can readily testify, difficulties in changing gender markers risks a situation in which the gender status of birth certificates, drivers licenses, passports, and the like, are incompatible with the lived gender of a person, potentially leading to discrimination in employment and access to services.

If circumstances in the Western world are difficult enough for most transgender, genderqueer, and other gender‑diverse people, spare a thought (or better still, show some solidarity) for the those individuals living in developing countries whose lives are, in many instances, in direct jeopardy should they express themselves in their preferred gender.

The hallmark of modern libertarian theory is its rigorous defence against statist encroachments upon the liberties and rights of individuals, and so the enervation of freedoms of gender‑diverse people at the hands of the state should be of great concern.

But, curiously enough, some adherents of libertarianism tend to turn a blind eye towards acts of discrimination, hatred and even violence waged primarily by cisgender people against transgender people, and others who do not wish to lead their lives conforming with a fixed, binary ʻmale or femaleʼ set of gendered norms.

It is well known that gender‑diverse people suffer greatly at the hands of violent vigilantes who leave no stone unturned in enforcing their own gender‑policing codes against those who are deemed, quite arbitrarily, to be deviating from conventional strictures about gender identity.

Studies of violence against transgender people in the United States, for example, indicate that people are at risk of multiple types and incidences of violence, ranging from verbal abuse and street harassment through to physical assault including sexual violence, and that trans women and young people are disproportionately affected.

Non‑state victimisation of gender‑diverse people often extends to employment discrimination, with studies showing relatively higher unemployment rates for transgender people, as well as the perpetuation of economically precarious working situations and significant pay gaps for those fortunate enough to retain their jobs post‑transition.

With a pressing need to secure incomes for basic necessities, and not to mention surgeries in the cases of transgender people, gender‑diverse individuals are often forced to find work in the ʻshadow economyʼ of sex work or illicit drug trading.

Such involvement in the shadows of the formal economy, which is a far cry from the heroic, anti‑statist acts of many a libertarian narrative, in turn risks multiple compromising situations with cisgender clientele and the police.

It is unfortunate that libertarians have tended to convey an impression that non‑governmental restrictions of a freed gender identity ought to be of no concern, since discrimination, exclusion, harassment and violence propagated mainly (but not exclusively) by cisgender people are not conducted with the imprimatur of formal state fiscal or regulatory interventions.

This view, while seemingly prevalent among many in libertarian circles, is a mistake.

Non-state coercion powerfully limits freedom of expression, identity, movement, and speech for people in diverse gender communities, and places severe constraints upon peopleʼs freedom to peaceably accumulate incomes and properties and to build social networks.

In practical terms, and libertarians should be as practical as other people when it comes to economic and social problems, non-state actions promoting cisgender supremacy are just as debilitating in their effect as statist actions, and exert similar outcomes by way of an expunging of individual freedoms, liberties, and rights.

To be certain, this plea for a libertarian concern about non‑state inhibitions against freedom of gender identity does not entail the cruel and cynical hand of government to resolve the very real problems posed by transphobia and other expressions of hatred toward gender diversity.

Politicians have sold transgender and gender‑diverse groups down the raging river of forlorn hope in the form of anti‑discrimination and hate‑crime legislation, for example, which has done precious little to repel the scourges of discrimination, hate, and violence from the lives of gender‑diverse people.

As explained in Gender Identity and Libertarianism, the most effective way against transphobic sentiments against the expression and identification of diverse gender identities is to counter the bottom‑up actions and sentiments exuding hate and ignorance with bottom‑up actions and sentiments exuding peace and reason.

Libertarians should be most supportive of the longstanding efforts of gender activists and support groups to help transgender and other gender‑diverse people navigate the perverse effects of statist policies, and to raise awareness about the cultural and social circumstances fostering the entrenchment of cisgender privileges.

There is more to be done to quell transphobia in a decentralised, community‑centred manner, including the promotion of transgender visibility, in which Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner have played their part, throughout the community.

In no small part does the continuation of such campaigns to promote acceptance, respect, and toleration for gender diversity come from the playbook of previous civil rights movements, which have sought to dispel ignorance and prejudice about minorities.

Indeed, libertarians has always played a central role in promotion freedom throughout history, from religious toleration to bourgeois dignity to anti‑slavery to feminism to gay rights, and there is no reason why libertarianism could not be fruitfully applied to the opportunities and challenges of freeing up gender identity norms for all.

It is important to stress the libertarian ethical precept that the most vulnerable minority, deserving of our attention and concern, is the individual, and that support for transgender, genderqueer, and gender‑diverse people, therefore, should not be circumstantial.

Specifically, it matters not if the basis for gender identity is biological (genetic) or environmental (cultural/social), and it matters not if the numbers of gender‑diverse people in society are very small (according to some surveys, only about one per cent of the US population).

What matters is that people are able to freely express their own sense of gender identity, no matter how changeable it might be over time or what it ends up being, and that state controls and civil societal oppressions inhibiting gender diversities be swept away.

Gender Identity and Libertarianism is certainly not the first word on gender identity issues from a libertarian perspective, and does not profess to be the last word on the matter.

It is a personal attempt to make a modest contribution toward a libertarian understanding about the circumstances and conditions facing transgender, genderqueer, and other gender‑diverse people, both enriching and trying as they may be.

This pamphlet is also written in the hope of aiding others active in libertarian advocacy, intellectual and philosophical spaces to redress some blind spots in thinking about the freedoms and rights of minority groupings, in particular how complex governmental and civil societal interactions can, more often than not, hamper the progress of some people often not at the forefront of populist concern.

In the final analysis, libertarianism is meant to animate the spirit of freedom beating truly within the hearts of each and every human being ‑ and that includes gender‑diverse people whose freedoms to choose, to act, and to be have been tragically trampled on for much of history.

If Gender Identity and Libertarianism succeeds in ushering more freedom‑loving libertarians to call on behalf of the cause of a freed gender identity, and at the same time appeals to the liberty‑curious among transgender and other gender‑diverse communities, then it surely will have exceeded even its modest objectives.

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