It has taken mankind less than one hundred years to make the journey from an embrace of contraception to an embrace of “gender fluidity,” but the link between the two is not always obvious. To make their connection more apparent, let us consider the following analogy.
John is snuggled up on his sofa watching television. In front of him he can see moving pictures accompanied by matching sound. The presence of the pictures and sound explains why the TV is made of the materials it is, why it is the size it is, why there is a volume button, and so on. Everything about the TV makes sense. Now, let us suppose John places a layer of insulating material between plug and socket. With the flow of electricity thwarted, no pictures can be seen and no sound can be heard.
If John curls up on his sofa again and regards this picture-less version of watching TV to be valid, then we can confront him with some questions: why is the TV constructed from those materials rather than, say, sugar? why is the TV that size rather than the size of a sugar cube? and why is there a volume button?
Will John be able to supply credible answers to our questions? No. Having accepted that the flow of electricity is irrelevant to the television’s nature, he will be powerless to defend the TV’s substance, size, and so on. In short, absent the flow of electricity, nothing about the TV makes sense. John may as well snuggle up in front of a cushion from the sofa.
To transfer the analogy to contraception, we first need to recognize that the human body points in two directions. Firstly, at the level of the individual, each of us as male or female points toward another sex. (That is: independent of what we are thinking or doing, the body itself is being heterosexual.) Secondly, at the level of a sexual union, male and female point through each other, not toward another sex but toward another time: the future. Sexual difference points toward the possibility of new life. When we add in the fact that “sex” is the word by which we signify the nature of the whole of the body rather than a part or parts of it, we can say everything about being male or female makes sense.
But what happens when a layer of insulating material is placed between John and his wife, Joan? Well, if John regards this baby-less version of sexual union to be valid, then we have a couple of questions for him. Why does his wife need to be female? And why does he need to be male? Through a combination of time and the sheer weight of logic, John’s understanding of himself starts to disintegrate. If he thinks his body has nothing to do with the future, he will eventually need to accept that it has nothing to do with the other sex either.
This acceptance comes at an extortionate price. If John believes that his own sex is irrelevant to the sexual act he is performing, then he must embrace a second belief: namely, that his sex is irrelevant in all contexts. If a thing is deemed meaningless within the very context that defines its purpose, then that thing cannot be said to have any purpose at all. We are made of sex, so if the maleness of John has no meaning, then John has no meaning. This is the only logical conclusion available to him. Absent the flow of life, nothing about the body makes sense.
In placing a barrier between male and female, we also place a barrier between body and mind, with the mind no longer able to see that it is the mind of somebody who has meaning. Contraception starves the mind of ontology.
To be clear, the claim here is not that rendering the body meaningless is what makes contraception wrong. Rather, the point is that the deleterious nature of this logical effect is proof positive that the effect’s cause is also deleterious. But this is only the beginning of our journey.
From Contraception to Abortion
Upon losing sight of the fact that our embodiedness is inextricably tied both to relational identity and generations past and future, we must proceed to lose sight of two more things. Firstly, John needs to turn his back on the idea that there exists any objective reference point for sexual morality. Why? Because, in truth, marriage is the sexual right by which sexual wrongs can be known. If the use of contraception is not wrong, then an openness to new life is not right, and if marriage is not the right context for sex, then there is no right context—and, therefore, no wrong one. (Hence today’s insistence that the presence of consent is the only criterion for making a sexual act morally valid. The desire to do X justifies doing X.)
Secondly, John must abandon all possibility of locating meaningfulness in anything that flows out of the nature of the body. Meaninglessness cannot give birth to meaningfulness any more than starvation can give birth to a full stomach. If we have inwardly hidden the truth about our body, we must then destroy all external evidence of that truth. Our embrace of contraception compels us to hide the consequences of being made male and female. We must hide our babies.
The Legalization of Abortion and the End of Legal Sex
It is obvious to some, if not to all, that the legalization of abortion played a prominent part in unleashing many of the social ills prevalent today—cohabitation, a rise in sexual violence, and so forth. But just as a physical act brings about a physical effect, so too a legal act—an act of law—brings about a legal effect. Running parallel to the all-too-obvious effect of a physical act of abortion is a less obvious legal effect caused by its decriminalization. What is this legal effect?
This can be tricky terrain to negotiate, so let us break down the answer into three stages. The first stage is to remind ourselves of the relationship between personhood and sex. While it is not true that every human person is, say, male, it is true that every human male is a person—as is every human female. It follows that while there are two ways of being sexed, we can be a human person in only one way, which is to be embodied. Sex and human personhood are inseparable.
Now stage two. The state cannot suppose some persons (those in the womb) not to be persons and continue to recognize natural personhood in law. Here is why. If the state supposes that the child who is presently in the womb is not a natural person, then it also needs to suppose that I was not a natural person when, years ago, I too was a child in the womb. Either the child in the womb is a natural person and I am too, or the child in the womb is not and I am not either. Certainly, I cannot have become a natural person at some point during my own lifetime! Expressed another way, it is not possible to legally deny the natural personhood of the child in the womb only, as each of us once was that child. The state needs to come down on the side of either everybody or nobody, and through abortion laws the state decides not to pledge allegiance to everybody.
Stage three brings together stages one and two, thereby revealing the not-so-obvious legal effect of abortion. If abortion cannot be legalized while leaving intact a legal recognition of natural personhood, then a legal recognition of sex cannot survive abortion laws either, since to deny natural human personhood is to deny natural embodied personhood. The two are the same thing.
Where does this leave us? It leaves us realizing that the devil is in the detail. Signing up for legal permission to be free from the natural consequences of being sexed translates to signing away any access to legal recognition of who we naturally are. When abortion entered law, sex exited.
Thus, we arrive at our final stop: gender identity.
Gender Identity and Tyranny
If we limit the number of components in play to two—contraception and sexual morality—we can say the link between the components has been enunciated many times, perhaps most famously by Elizabeth Anscombe. Anscombe joined the dots from contraception to “gay marriage” quick as a flash—too quickly for some to follow her line of reasoning. More recently, Charles Rice added two more components: law and tyranny. In what sadly proved to be his final book, Contraception & Persecution, Rice perceptively draws attention to what we might call “the ownership of law.” He asks, if God is no longer considered to be in the business of making laws, then who is? From the state’s point of view, the answer is, well, the state.
Rice explains the link between contraception and tyranny in terms of the government filling a moral vacuum created by the acceptance of contraception. While I agree with his assessment, a second explanation is available to us if we add a fifth and final component to the mix, which is identity.
As is the case with law, the concept of human identity is a natural monopoly. It cannot have more than one owner, or else we human persons would have nothing in common with one another. If we suppose God no longer owns the patent for law, then—as Rice notes—ownership must have transferred fully to the state. The same must be true of the patent for human identity. Laws govern persons, and persons are subject to laws, so whoever owns either of the patents must in fact own both.
In requiring sex to vanish from law, abortion represents a paradigm shift in human identity: out with the old, given sexual identities of male and female, and in with the new, chosen “gender identities” of “male,” “female,” both, neither, and other. The problem with this claimed state takeover, of course, is that when we close our eyes, the world does not disappear. It just disappears from our view. The state cannot own human identity, since sexual difference is prior to the state—not to mention a precondition for the state’s existence. Yes, law can close its eyes to our embodiedness, but it cannot make our body disappear. The most the state can manage is to order us to mentally uninvent ourselves.
Without doubt, “transgender rights” are the manifestation of the tyranny produced by a claimed transfer of ownership of identity from God to the state; a deal, I submit, silently brokered by the legalization of abortion. The National Director of Priests for Life, Fr. Frank Pavone, famously stated that America will not reject abortion until America sees abortion. What I am trying to illuminate is that we are indeed seeing abortion but are doing so without realizing abortion is what is being seen. Within a legal atmosphere that denies the link between identity and givenness, we see the lawlessness of abortion at work whenever a girl is forced to shower alongside a male, whenever somebody is fined for using the right third-person pronoun, and whenever somebody is permitted to have his or her body mutilated to make it “fit” his or her mind.
Gender identity is a barrier placed between our natural identity and our legal identity. More accurately, it is a filter that prevents the truth of our body from entering law, allowing only our mind to pass through. What is that, if not the legal outworking of contraception?
So it is that the New Gnosticism is less a consciously chosen worldview and more a collective hallucination experienced by a society high on contraception. Unable to see our given identity, we become unable to fend off otherwise unbelievable ideas. Is it any wonder that a desire to be protected from the meaning of our body has led only to a need to be protected from the ravages of reality? “Safe spaces” are the offspring of “safe sex.”
The task of recovering and sustaining God-centric law will be difficult if the conversation is to take place in the presence of an affirmation of the thwarting of the flow of new life. If we truly wish to see our body again, shining bright both in our mind and in law, we must break free of the shackles of contraception. Men and women of the world, sexually unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains.