Stop Saying ‘Gender’

"A strange game. The only winning move . . . is not to play."
— "War Games" (1983)

By now, it should be abundantly clear to anyone even halfway paying attention, that the singular term, “gender” has become the primary source of confusion, frustration, and consistent defeat for conservatives within the present transgender debate specifically, and the larger culture war generally. 

Here’s a novel idea; stop using the word “gender” altogether.

Indeed, by its own standards, the Left can’t even clearly define this term “gender” nor keep its own terms or definitions straight. Throughout various discourses, debates, and blatant propaganda campaigns, folks on the Left have repeatedly used this generic, canopy term “gender” to refer to everything from (socially constructed) gender, to (privately determined) gender identity, to (biological) sex, to instances of intersex such as Klinefelter’s Syndrome or Turner’s Syndrome, to sexual preference; and all with little to no regard for definitional or conceptual consistency whatsoever. 

For instance, Simone de Beauvior, and later, Judith Butler, made the distinction between sex, which referred to an objective/biological category and gender which referred to the socially constructed or culturally-determined norms, roles, and behaviors often associated with biological sex. The position they advanced, more or less, was the notion that just because one was of a particular sex, one was not ethically obligated to ascribe to the cultural norms, behaviors, and roles (i.e. gender) traditionally associated with their particular sex. Fair enough.

The cultural conversation went fully off the rails, however, once folks like Robin Dembroff, Daniel Wodak, Elizabeth Barnes, and now, the World Health Organization, made the recent and further distinction between culturally determined gender versus personally determined gender identity, while still often conflating this supposedly crucial distinction under the same generic, canopy term. 

This conflation between (socially constructed) gender and (individually-determined) gender identity, both often referred to as gender, has then led to transgenderists making a series of increasingly popular but blatantly contradictory claims. These include the claims such as:

Gender is socially constructed. Only individuals can determine their own gender. 

Individuals decide their own gender. Parents can decide their baby’s gender.

Gender is subjectively determined. Gender is (objectively) on a spectrum.

Gender is subjectively determined. Biological surgery and hormones can change gender.

Transgenderists then muddy the conceptual and linguistic waters even further by often conflating gender and gender identity with biological sex, making the further contradictory claims that that “sex and gender are distinct” but that “transgender men are men.”  

Astonishingly and with no sense of conceptual tension whatsoever, they often then politically align themselves with lesbians, gays, feminists, COVID alarmists, and even Muslims, whose ideological commitments presuppose the primacy of objective biological categories of men and women (hence same sex attraction or men oppressing women), and of objective biology in general (the COVID biomedical data, God-given male and female natures, etc.), objective categories which commitments to subjectively determined gender identity, by its very definition, must deny.   

Despite such radical definitional inconsistency, ambiguity, and compounding confusion, conservatives have nonetheless repeatedly taken the bait, choosing to grant further legitimacy to this incoherent term gender and to thereby opt in to playing yet another round of an infinitely confusing and clearly unwinnable language game. 

And while there have now been countless instances of conservatives “owning the libs” in various one-off exchanges over this issue, insofar as language is kind of a battlefield, and insofar as conservatives keep insisting on getting into exchanges and engagements over this specific term gender at all, the net result has nonetheless been a trading of tactical wins for strategic and positional defeats.

As philosopher John Searle once noted in his work The Construction of Social Reality, “social objects” like currency, banks, or governments tend to operate and behave in the total opposite fashion as physical objects, like buildings, clothing, and automobiles. The more times I use a physical object, like a garment, the weaker it gets. The more times I use a social object, like a dollar bill, the stronger it gets. Accordingly, every time conservatives enter into a debate about gender with members of the Left, whether they score points within that particular debate or not, they still lose insofar as they have granted further legitimacy to the presumed intelligibility and cogency of the term gender at all. 

For conservatives to achieve any sort of meaningful win in the present transgender debate, they must stop granting any further legitimacy to this Orwellian new-speak term while simultaneously seeking to aggressively remove its presence, and all its variants, from all official law, legislation, policy, and curricula. 

Rather than using, entertaining, or conceding to the term gender, they should both use and actively insist that others around them (personally, collectively, and institutionally) use the term sex instead. Indeed, within this debate, the Right must demand that the shared terms and concepts at issue are referring to the objective, biological categories of male and female, across the board, and not to subjectively determined linguistic items of a collective or individual variety. Indeed, only by actively disengaging from the conceptual and linguistic quagmire of gender altogether and reasserting the conceptual and linguistic primacy of objective, biological terms in word, thought, and law, do we stand any real chance of blunting the rainbow leviathan’s steady advance.

In order for one to think clearly, one must be able to speak clearly. This maxim holds true for both the flourishing individual as well as for the flourishing society.  We should therefore be supremely vigilant when it comes to identifying words which allow for and enhance such clarity and those words which seriously inhibit it. 

Accordingly, when it comes to the present debate on gender, conservatives should simply refuse to give any further oxygen to this clearly wrongheaded and incoherent term, and in so doing, refuse to engage in a game against an adversary who simultaneously operates as both player and rule-maker, opponent and referee, and where the referee himself can’t even keep track of the rules he has just stipulated. In short, the Right should “just say no” to gender

About Michael Robillard

Dr. Michael Robillard is an independent scholar, philosopher, and U.S. Army veteran. He has held prior academic posts at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Oxford, and the U.S. Naval Academy. His other writings can be found at www.michaelrobillard.com and on Twitter @RobillardDr.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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