One of the seminal clarion calls of modern American conservatism is that it exists to “It stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.” To a great extent that is the value of a conservative disposition. Rather than “why not,” one is forced to ask “why”? I am prompted to consider this when reflecting on a peculiar piece in The New York Times, Generation LGBTQIA. Consider:
…But even these measures cannot keep pace with the demands of incoming students, who are challenging the curriculum much as gay activists did in the ’80s and ’90s. Rather than protest the lack of gay studies classes, they are critiquing existing ones for being too narrow.
Several members of Penn Non-Cis had been complaining among themselves about a writing seminar they were taking called “Beyond ‘Will & Grace,’ ” which examined gay characters on shows like “Ellen,” “Glee” and “Modern Family.” The professor, Gail Shister, who is a lesbian, had criticized several students for using “L.G.B.T.Q.” in their essays, saying it was clunky, and proposed using “queer” instead. Some students found the suggestion offensive, including Britt Gilbert, who described Ms. Shister as “unaccepting of things that she doesn’t understand.”
The reality is that many cultural liberals, including gay ones, find the excess elaborations on gender identity somewhat silly in the grand scheme of things. And they are silly. This is after all a piece which derives much of its source material from elite liberal arts colleges, which are hotbeds of all sorts of heterodox experimental norms which don’t reflect society as a whole (and can be subsidized by upper middle class to upper class affluence indulgence). But one must admit that values which were incubated at these institutions often do spread to the rest of society.
Though many on the cultural Left may find the excesses of identity politics bothersome, by the nature of their presuppositions they seem loath to make a concerted effort to shout “stop!” This is not necessarily the case for economic Leftists who are focused on class analysis, but their organized power in modern West is minimal now. It is left then to self-conscious conservatives to assert that some innovations are silly, and perhaps even destructive.
It would be one thing if these new “gender identities” were only personal lifestyle choices, but as this article notes these individuals are demanding policy accommodations. How far shall we go in this direction? The reality is that there will never arrive the day when we will be able to assume a dozen bathrooms for the dozen most common gender identities in all public buildings. The conceit that all personal preferences and predilections occupy the same moral space does not change the economic realities of how many diversities can be accommodated. There may be no scarcity of imagination in identity construction, there is scarcity in funds to indulge these whims.
Granted, I am in favor of allowing for state solemnization of monogamous gay relationships. Why draw the line there? Because lines have to be drawn somewhere. Identified gays account for 2-5% of the population. A small minority, but not trivial. More importantly, for most male homosexuals, and many obligate female homosexuals, their orientation probably is in some fashion innate. In contrast, the protean aspect of gender identity construction on display in the article seems strongly conditional on cultural acceptance, tolerance, and perhaps even encouragement! (obviously this does not pertain to biologically intersex individuals)
So long as society has the economic excess to indulge these arguments they will continue. But under circumstances of stronger constraint only a few ‘identities’ will remain. Of sexual minorities the homosexuals, bisexuals, and intersex will persist. They are who they are.