When Self-Description Trumps Reality

We owe Andrej Pejić a debt of gratitude. He has expressed perhaps as succinctly as possible the political end game in the battle over sexual identity.

Pejić, who was born in Bosnia-Herzegovina and later emigrated to Australia, first made a name for himself as an androgynous male model. Describing himself as “living between genders,” he has at times appeared on the runway in both men’s and women’s clothing in the same show. In 2014, he underwent “sex reassignment surgery” and changed his name from Andrej to Andreja.

In a public statement following his surgery, he said, “To be perceived as what you say you are is a basic human right.” This concise statement is a perfect summary of the goal of the “transgender” movement. But it’s a troubling statement for several reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is the business of governments to protect and defend basic human rights.[1] If Pejić has a right to be perceived as a woman, what legal obligations does this impose on his perceivers (i.e., the rest of us)? What if some of them do not perceive him to be a woman, but only as a man pretending to be a woman? Will they be punished for their refusal to go along with the pretense? Apparently, in New York they will. And other jurisdictions are likely to follow suit.

There was a time when a man passing himself off as a woman or a woman as a man might have been thought quirky at best, sexually deviant at worst, but at least it was left up to the observer as to what to make of it. That time is no more.

Other questions arise, too. Is this basic human right to be perceived as what you say you are limited only to “transgenders”? If so, on what grounds? Why might the principle not also apply to race? Rachel Dolezal thinks it should. She’s the white woman who for years passed herself off as black, even becoming president of the Spokane chapter of the NAACP. She admits that she was “biologically born white” but says that she identifies as black. Does she also have a basic human right to be perceived as what she says she is? Many have said no, she is illicitly transferring to race what only properly applies to “gender.” But if one person’s self-description must govern another person’s perception in the matter of gender, why should it not do the same with respect to race?

And then there is the issue of age. A 52 year-old Canadian man identifies as a six-year-old girl, making him—according to the current vernacular—both “transgender” and “trans-age.” If he has a basic human right to be perceived by others as a female (à la Pejić) does he also have a basic human right to be perceived as a child? If not, why not? If so, does this right to be perceived as a child impose an obligation upon the rest of us—his perceivers—to treat him as one? And how consistently does he want us to do so? Must local officials in his case enforce compulsory school attendance laws and age restrictions for working, driving, smoking, and drinking alcohol? If he has sex, would his partner be charged with statutory rape? If he has a right to be perceived as what he says he is, it seems that logical consistency requires us to treat him as a child in all these ways and more.

On the other hand, what if a thirty-year-old identifies as seventy? Does this impose an obligation on the federal government to treat him as a senior, so that he could draw social security and use Medicare? Would restaurants and hotels be required to give him a senior discount or be threatened with a lawsuit for discrimination if they offer the discount to seniors who really are seniors but not to him?

And what about a man who identifies as a dog? Does he have a right to be perceived and treated as such by the rest of us? And if so, we have to ask again about the matter of consistency. Would local leash laws apply? Must he be neutered? Would the law require him to be vaccinated like a dog? If he has sex with a human being would his partner be prosecuted for violating anti-bestiality laws? May he use the fire-hydrant like a dog, or would he be charged with public urination like a man?

What about an able-bodied person who identifies as disabled? Does such a person have a basic human right to be perceived as disabled? And would he be eligible for disability pay?

Perhaps Pejić would say I am taking matters too far. Perhaps he would say that his comments should only be understood with regard to the perception of “gender” and that applying them to race, age, species, and disability is unreasonable. But why is it any more unreasonable than applying them to “gender”?

[1] We can think of the Declaration of Independence:  “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”


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