The Oregon Department of Education has laid out 15 pages of controversial suggestions for schools and teachers in the area of sexuality, gender and identification. In short, the linked article says they are calling for students to be able to use the bathrooms and locker rooms they want, and the names and gender pronouns they desire also. Please go ahead and read the linked article, the suggested guidelines are detailed there.
I am only going to put a few thoughts here, because there are three striking problems with this policy Oregon is creating. I am a theologically conservative evangelical Christian. I have well thought out ideas about gender, sexuality, identity, and Jesus. This quick blog is not a complete treatment of current issues, it is only 3 short remarks.
Here are the three observations I throw out on the internet, the best place on earth for well thought discussions about ideas.
1. Students in Oregon public schools will be able to self identify as a gender of choice and a name of choice, keeping legal names and genders confidential. If the sole requirement of this is self determination, it creates a problem of timing. A student could self-determine a new name each day or each hour of class, creating an unstable learning environment, and if the teacher doesn’t comply they would be liable in a lawsuit? Self determination of gender and identity, with no time limits or boundaries creates some real potential problems. Of course, if a time-limited change is instituted, that would be violating the spirit of this law. The same is true if self-determination was deemed insufficient for change in status.
2. The whole discussion of this seems to be limiting the conversation to a binary gender understanding – meaning there are two genders. What I believe is actually happening is a deconstruction of gender so that there is not a recognition of a binary system. If a person is able to self-determine gender, then a person is also able to contextualize that self-determination to their immediate context. For instance, a person who is able to self-determine as one or the other gender, will be allowed to be a particular gender in one context and another gender in a different context. Yet, this could still be binary. True gender deconstruction will allow for an individual to be somewhere in between the two genders or, and I find it remarkable that this conversation isn’t happening, self-determining a gender identity of a completely new classification as each individual would be able to create a novel gender for themselves, independent of male and/or female.
3. The linked article claims that the Oregon Department of Education, “also says transgender students should not be barred from participating in any activities, physical education or sports. If a student tells the principal that she identifies as female, she should be able to play female sports. ” This has issues for youth sports regardless of gender. Biologically, females tend to grow earlier and are taller in elementary grades, which gives them a sporting advantage. Biological males tend to have increased levels of testosterone, which creates larger muscles, and gives a sporting advantage to post-pubescent males. According to this quote a local high school would be able to field a team of high testosterone individuals (i.e. biological males) to a sporting competition which had previously been reserved to those with a low testosterone biological design (i.e. biological females). Of course, this argument is facetious (and similar to ones heard in the bathroom discussions), until my daughter is forced out of sports because all the spots are taken by those with biological advantages. Sports in our culture are very much expressions of capitalism and any advantage that aids winning is expected to be taken. If the only way of knowing gender is self-determination, then the officials in the sporting world have no standing regarding fair and competitive play at an amateur level. In this sense, this law becomes anti-feminist as it takes away opportunities for those who are female cisgender. This would also result in a Title IX lawsuit, in which the cisgender female students would seem to have a case against the department of education.
Again, my agenda in bringing up these three issues is to show the intricacies of the issues of gender, sexuality and identity. I do believe that my observations could become real challenges ahead and the solutions I am seeing (from both liberal and conservative sources) seem to favor the loud, rather than the wise. If we think that our only options in these areas are the extreme far right and/or the extreme far left we will not create progress, we will only exchange our current set of challenges and problems for new ones. Oregon Department of Education, and our culture in general, is making a quick (and reactionary) move in a particular direction, inferring that they have an understanding of the ramifications of their choices, but they have not developed strategies for dealing with increased complexities created by their own policies.