Gender identity and the plastic nature of self-definition


One school in Brighton (Brighton College) has decided to allow its students to decide for themselves whether they wish to dress as a boy or as a girl, irrespective of their natural (dare one say ‘God-given’?) biological designation. Gender identity is fluid. From reception to sixth form, students will be able to choose between wearing a traditional blazer, tie and trousers or skirt and bolero jacket. The school said it was “reacting to a changing society which recognises that some children have gender dysphoria and do not wish to lose their emotional gender identities at school”.

Headteacher Richard Cairns explains: “The college’s approach is different from most other schools that have tended to give transgender children personal leeway with uniform. Brighton College has instead decided to abolish the notion of boys’ and girl’ schools altogether,” he said. “It ties in with my strong personal belief that youngsters should be respected for who they are. If some boys and girls are happier identifying with a different gender from that in which they were born, then my job is to make sure that we accommodate that. My only interest as headmaster is their welfare and happiness.”

Another school in Brighton (Blatchingham Mill) has sent out a survey to its student population, asking them how they define their gender. In addition to the binary option of ‘girl’ and ‘boy’, children may opt to self-identify as ‘male’ or ‘female’ (isn’t that sex rather than gender?), ‘non-binary’, ‘demi-boy’ and ‘gender fluid’, whatever these terms might mean to your average hormonally-confused 13-year-old.

Headteacher Ashley Harrold said: “We’re incredibly passionate about ensuring that every student feels safe and welcome at our school. When it comes to gender identity it is a real and valid concern for a number of students. For us, anything that prevents students feeling happy, from feeling confident in themselves and from feeling accepted by their peers is something we feel the curriculum should address.”

It is interesting that both headteachers prioritise children’s self-identity as the radical route to happiness, as though the natural world were designed so that the personal fulfilment of subjective feelings must be the optimal expression of good. What must their RE lessons inculcate? That God’s goodness is contingent on His capacity to ensure our good? That His beneficence is contiguous with our happiness?

Of course, God loves His creation, and, of course, that includes (without exception) the spectrum of hormonal beings who, whether by nature or nurture, are ‘fluid’ in their sexuality, or ‘non-binary’ in their identity. But in these schools, God (and/or nature) seems to have become subordinate to ‘welfare’ and ‘happiness’, which is defined not in terms of any transcendental or altruistic pursuit, but in purely selfish terms of sexual self-identity. Happiness is not to be found in personal sacrifice, selflessness, moral virtue or seeking the beatific truths of God: it is found in the hedonistic attainment of personal pleasure and natural desire, which resides most supremely in contemplating and then realising the act of sexual union with whomever, whenever and however one pleases.

We might leave autonomous, mature adults to decide these ethical matters for themselves: it is not for the Christian to impose his conception of holiness or orthodox morality upon the unbelieving world. But schoolchildren? Are they not to be taught to distinguish left and right (moral neutrality) from right and wrong (moral responsibility)? If they are to be taught that God’s goodness and their happiness consists in the self-contained indulgence of assertions of gender self-identity, then we are not only ordering the natural world of biology to suit the political agenda of a tiny minority, but redefining what it means to be humanly fulfilled and ultimately ‘happy’.

The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath‘ (Mk 2:27). By the same repudiation of pharisaic orthodoxy, it follows that sex was made for man, and not man for expressions of sex. If boys may walk around in skirts, are they to be free to use the girls’ toilets? May they wear tampons in cyclical empathy? Are the girls free to play rugby with the boys? May they sing bass in the school choir in an assertion of testosterone-infused self-identity? Why limit the institutional accommodation to blazers, ties, trousers and skirts? Is not human nature deeper than hats and coats?

Look round our world; behold the chain of love
Combining all below and all above.
See plastic Nature working to this end,
The single atoms each to other tend,
Attract, attracted to, the next in place
Formed and impelled its neighbour to embrace.
(Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle III).

There is mutual attraction and a natural mesh to the Divine order: it is not perfect or without blemish, for nature is variegated, diverse, fallen and in conflict with itself. But when our striving for coherence is based upon the few imperfections, and when our longing for harmony is established upon the transient chaos of pubescent hormones liberated to stake their claim on fractured society, then does plastic nature, in the pursuit plastic bliss, supplant the God of nature for the gods of self-realisation, self-fulfulment, self-identity and self-righteous happiness. Thus does Man make God in his image: the deist orthodoxy is being established in and inculcated by the priestly guardians of education. God help those who favour the concord and beneficence of the old social order.