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Do-it-Yourself Sex Change and other Machinations of Identity Politics

The legal debate surrounding “sex-at-birth” indicates a much deeper conflict

Yet again, one is taken over by a strange feeling. As if we were once again debating issues that must be self-explanatory. Take the polemics around the adoption of “sex-at-birth” into the Hungarian legal framework. If this postmodern world (aka Western civilization) wasn’t inspired by liberalism and its rather elastic moral attitudes – if we in fact lived in a normal world – there would be little need to spend so much time philosophizing round the question whether there are created sexes or nor no. Western progressive warriors, however, live such comfortable lives, that they have time for such nonsense. Idolizing a large variety of personal identities, including the sexual, has ingrained itself into the liberal project to such an extent, that they have started to label any attempt at defining oneself as “created to be man or woman” as an attack against modernity itself. The European Parliament was quick to condemn what they called “an attack on the rights of transsexual and intersexual people in Hungary”. It is a problem, you see, that there is a bill being debated in the Hungarian parliament that, barbaric and backward as that may sound, only “sex-at-birth”, either male or female, would be recorded in the birth certificates, and this fact cannot be changed in the future. Scandalous.

But before looking into the question of why this hasn’t been the case so far, let us spot the “Hungarian miracle”. If the “Magic Magyars” of football history should come to mind, let us wave away those fond memories. What we have here is much more supernatural: while, according to some western media, Viktor Orbán used the declaration of the state of emergency to single-handedly shut down the National Assembly, it nevertheless manages to debate a bill! To be honest, we should be grateful to the critics of the proposed law for completely ignoring the almost airborne spread of fake news, as it would be difficult indeed to use “legislative tools” to squash the “rights of the LGBTQETC+ communities if the parliament wasn’t in session to make laws!

Let us put aside our more generous nature, though, and take a look at the matter at hand. Behind the legalistic debate, the contours of a much deeper clash of worldviews are clearly evident (as for the liberals, they have always enjoyed telling us what rules to follow in our lives and have always tried to depict these rules as neutral). The legal dimension is quite clear. In Hungary – and this actually shows that there was a time in the not too distant past when things were normal – to this date, the concept of “sex” has not been defined in any piece of legislation. This should come as no surprise: self-evident things and phenomena are usually left normatively undefined. The legislator assumes that such things as, for instance, breathing and saying “hello” are based on a common understanding that everybody accepts. And this is where postmodern inter-contextualization, triple meanings, bitter secrets come into the picture, things that do not leave legal practice untouched. European legal practice and (unfortunately) the legal interpretation of the Constitutional Court (“the right of changing their names is a fundamental right of transsexuals”) have clearly confused courts of the lower instances and authorities even in Hungary. More and more problems arose, especially when it comes to gender change related name changes, adjudication of such matters has essentially stopped since 2018. The gap in law had to be filled, and the Hungarian legislation does so unequivocally. As changing biological sex completely is out of the question, the state records the “sex-at-birth” (and only that) of a newborn in the birth certificate based on primary sexual characteristics and the chromosomes, naturally this fact at birth cannot be changed later. Beyond this, everybody can experience his or her personal (and sexual) identity as he or she chooses. However, the state cannot be forced to legislate with regard to “genderfluidity”, which runs counter to the constitutional framework.

This strange, grotesque self-parody of a term leads us to the wider and perhaps more consequential intellectual horizon of the current debate.  “Gender ideology” is a microcosm of what the liberal soul-mongers think of Man and of life itself. According to this approach, life – including whether someone is a man or a woman – is nothing but an accident. A human being, as a phenomenon perceived by others, is a social construct.  Social justice, imagined somewhere distant, but present in our world must be achieved through deconstructing the limits set by nature and ourselves: “binary gender coding” and its fixed nature is such a limit– its deconstruction can be achieved by freeing it from its ties to biological sex. And this can happen through the reinterpretation of certain terms and concepts. Hence, if being male or female is no longer a natural determination prescribed by the order of creation, but merely an interpretation of gender roles by society “developed over the course of history”, then, clearly this interpretation can be changed.  

This interpretation of “social justice” is utter, if skillfully constructed, hogwash, devised to hide liberal absurdity. One of its tools is the relativism described above – depicting as relative certain categories that were taken as eternal and absolute, like man and woman. According to them, these “roles” exist merely in a given cultural and social context and thus, if the context changes, they can become interchangeable. In order to justify the “changing of the context” to the wider audience, this fundamentalist approach deems it sufficient to demonstrate a single deviation from the “principal rule”. The real genius of this argumentation lies in the process of sensitization: they generalize from special, even abnormal cases and this generalization is then presented as equal in standing to the dominant interpretation, as a common cause of mankind, which now clearly deserves the sympathy of all. Another tool of social engineering designed to upend our sense of proportionality is advocating for the moral properness of satisfying desires. This manufactures an interpretation of freedom that is based not on the self-restraint necessary for social tranquility, but one that encourages the boundless fulfillment of needs, wishes and personal – even sexual – desires. An oft repeated argument used to convince those on the fence is “does it hurt anybody?” What harm is there if certain Bills legally become Bellas, if some of the Joannes become Johns or if some men or women register themselves as “nonbinary agenders” or “queers”? 

However, this often seemingly genuinely confusing question is a clear example of why the averaging tendencies that lie at the foundation of liberal individualism are problematic. What this argument does is to say that if this is better for him on a personal level and touches me not at all on a personal level, then that must be true on the societal level as well, and must lead to a more morally justifiable state of affairs. The problem here is that the public good of a society is not a mathematical sum of the personal good. It is much more than that: it is the unique sanctity of shared traditions, habits and memory. If, grounded in sensitized neutrality, we abandon ultimate truth for “better averages”; if we agree to question the created nature of Man and Woman, then we sacrifice general principle. For the benefit of asexual genderfluids and gunosexuals we leave the obsolete “gender roles” behind, for the benefit of homosexual marriage, marriage itself loses its meaning, at the behest of activists for “animal dignity” we abandon eating meat, in order to please the drug users and the abortion lobby we abandon the sanctity of life – or in order to create an inclusive environment for migrants we abandon national identity. Those connections aren’t all that difficult to make, are they?    

The author of this article is Miklós Szánthó, the director of the Center for Fundamental Rights.

The article was originally published in Magyar Nemzet on 29 April, 2020.