Why non-binary gender identification is impractical in Canada

The practical application of such identification creates consequences that make the idea illogical

In 1955, psychologist John Money introduced the concept of sex and gender as being distinct from each other. Since then, a progressive shift in the ideology
of self-identity has led to an interesting discussion about gender roles and the interchangeability of sex
and gender.

In my opinion, sex and gender are inherently distinguishable insofar as the former refers to the biological function of an individual, while gender refers to people’s social roles in society. However, I don’t see the
concept of non-binary gender identification (NBGI),
as valuable.

Gender identification is a modern-day issue that divides the population of Canada fairly evenly. This is generally split between two sides: one believes in traditional gender
identification (male and female) and the other believes in NBGI (identities which aren’t exclusively male or female). According to a study conducted by the National Post in July of 2017, roughly 49 per cent of Canadians think that allowing NBGI is a good thing, while the other 51
per cent disagree.

Often, when people argue about gender identification they rely on two propositions. First, they believe there is or isn’t a difference between sex and gender. Second, there is or isn’t something inherently right about limiting gender identification to male and female.

For example, one may argue in favour of NBGI by explaining that while one’s sex is a result of biological functions, people’s gender is a product of one’s social roles, relationships and feelings. This means one should be able to socially identify in ways that aren’t restricted to biology. This is a coherent argument; certainly it makes sense that one should be allowed to self-identify in whichever manner they see fit.

However, this argument is theoretical. It’s reasonable to allow individuals to self-identify, but the practical application of such identification creates consequences that make the idea illogical.

In Canadian politics, conservatives and liberals see the state as the chief authority in defining “identity” and how it may be classified. Optimally, the state wouldn’t be concerned with matters of self-identification and allow people to personally conceptualize their own ideas of identity. This would allow individuals to assess their identity — and that of
others — in a way that makes them feel comfortable and included.

However, the role of society isn’t to make people feel comfortable and included; it’s to maintain peace between citizens. If the state doesn’t define identity, it may not appropriately afford essential rights to its citizens. A
lack of essential rights — such as the right to the absence of prejudicial action — doesn’t promote harmonious living.

In Canada, it’s clear the state has chosen NBGI as the correct means of gender identification. NBGI has already begun a process of state legitimization through Bill C-16 — an act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code. Bill C-16 passed the legislative process in the House of Commons and the Senate and became law upon receiving Royal Assent on June 19, 2017.

The enactment adds gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination. This means that not using a person’s choice of preferred pronoun is now considered discrimination. Therefore, in accordance with the amendments to Section 718.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada — which add gender identity and expression to the list of punishable motivations for hate speech — one may lay criminal charges against anyone who doesn’t adhere to the personal pronoun which they demand to be addressed by.

This begs an important question: should people have the legal right to forcefully insist which pronouns they can be addressed by? The reasonable answer is no.

It’s nonsensical to be able to legally and forcefully demand someone to address you in a certain way, especially when that address isn’t derivative of some inherent quality. In Canada, every single other quality that requires legal and forceful demand is inherent in nature; with language, colour, religion, sex, age as just a few examples. By institutionalizing NBGI through state legitimization, we’re sending the message that it’s perfectly okay for people to tell others what they’re allowed to say and what they’re not.

Many proponents of NBGI purport it to be objective, even though they claim NBGI to be self-determining. This sense of objectivity is affirmed by the state through law. However, NBGI is really subjective — there’s no way to accurately define it. In Canada, there’s no agreed-upon language to recognize legitimate gender identities and thus the only thing stopping infinite multiplication of gender identity is whim.

This doesn’t make for a productive or efficient society; especially when one considers they must abide by discrimination law that enforces the use of limitless language.

NBGI can’t properly serve society’s interests. Identity is a tool that one uses to effectively navigate social interactions. Due to the limitless and subjective nature of NBGI, most people won’t be able to understand the social functions associated with one’s specific gender identity and social interaction will become more complicated than it already is.

NBGI also limits the concept of identity agreement. Identity agreement is a psychoanalytic concept which states that one’s identity is a constant negotiation between social interactions and other people’s perceptions of such interactions. Social interactions allow people to form a gender identity for others based on what they believe to be true. Just because you don’t want somebody to think something about you doesn’t mean they can’t or they won’t.

The assumption that one person’s subjective opinion about themselves completely defines who they are doesn’t make much sense. Consider reputation. Just because you want to be viewed in a certain light, it doesn’t mean that you will be. By forcing people to view you in a certain way, it’s limiting people’s ability to form their own conclusions about social interaction.

Dylan is a first-year student in the faculty of Arts and Science.


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