Separating anatomy from what it means to be a man or a woman, New York City is moving forward with a plan to let people alter the sex on their birth certificate even if they have not had sex-change surgery.
Under the rule being considered by the city’s Board of Health, which is likely to be adopted soon, people born in the city would be able to change the documented sex on their birth certificates by providing affidavits from a doctor and a mental health professional laying out why their patients should be considered members of the opposite sex, and asserting that their proposed change would be permanent.
Applicants would have to have changed their name and shown that they had lived in their adopted gender for at least two years, but there would be no explicit medical requirements.
The meaning of these statements is that if you’re a man and want badly enough to be a woman, or if you’re a woman and want badly enough to be a man, in New York City you soon will be able to be so. In New York City, at least according to the city’s government, wishing to possess a different gender will actually make it so.
The Times confirms this judgment when it explains that “the proposed change … is an outgrowth of the transgender community’s push to recognize that some people may not have money to get a sex-change operation, while others may not feel the need to undergo the procedure and are simply defining themselves as members of the opposite sex.”
So, in New York City, starting soon if this rule is adopted, all you’ll have to do is define yourself as a member of the opposite sex and, according to the city’s government, you’ll be a member of the opposite sex. True, this isn’t strictly all that’s required. You’ll have to change your name appropriately, e.g., from Al to Alice, or from Samantha to Sam. And you’ll have to show that you’ve lived in your “adopted gender” for two years.
Please observe. This is not a matter of individuals being free to indulge in their sexual fantasies in their own bedrooms or in private clubs, or in any other private facility whose owner is willing to allow it to be used for such a purpose, whether it be a bar, a hotel, or an athletic stadium for that matter. No one who upholds private property rights can make objection to such a thing, irrespective of his personal evaluation of such behavior.
What is present in the rule being considered by New York City’s Board of Health is an attempt to forcibly impose the fantasy of some people on everyone else. It is an attempt to elevate fantasy to the level of actual reality and to compel everyone else to accept it as though it were reality.
The validity of this conclusion is demonstrated by The Times’ account of a young man who claims to be female and who said “she wanted a new birth certificate to prevent confusion, and to keep teachers, police officers and other authority figures from embarrassing her in public or accusing her of identity theft.” The Times recounts that when this individual recently visited a welfare office, “she included a note with her application for public assistance asking that she be referred to as Ms. when her turn for an interview came up. It did not work. The woman handling her case repeatedly addressed her as Mister.” The Times also states that “[t]he eight experts who addressed the birth certificate issue strongly recommended that the change be made, for the practical reasons [this individual] identified.”
What New York City’s Board of Health’s new rule would do would be to compel whoever handled such a case to refer to this young man as a woman, to call her “Ms.” and in every other respect treat her as a woman. Refusal to do so would necessarily constitute an actionable offense of some kind. For it would be refusing to comply with an official, governmental designation and doing so to the alleged hurt and humiliation of the person so designated. Refusal in such circumstances would have aspects of a “hate crime.”
Everyone who came into contact with an individual officially designated as a member of the opposite sex, and who refused to accept that designation, could potentially be accused of some form of hate crime. Supermarket checkers, cab drivers, waiters, repairmen, sales help of all kinds, and landlords and their employees, would all be at risk, along with doctors and nurses, policemen and firemen, and numerous other categories of people.
To comply with the law and avoid possible prosecution, people would be put in a position in which they would have to deny the evidence of their senses. Confronted with someone obviously belonging to one sex but claiming to be a member of the opposite sex and officially so designated, they would be compelled by the law to deny what they saw with their own eyes and to affirm as true what they knew to be false. Thus, what the New York City Board of Health is setting the stage for is the forcible violation of the human mind. In spirit, but on a far more mundane scale that can show up in the everyday lives of ordinary people, it is the heir to those who threatened Galileo because of his loyalty to the facts.
In its vicious treatment of Galileo, the Catholic Church claimed that it was acting to defend the foundations of theology and morality, which it believed required the anthropocentric view of the solar system that Galileo overthrew. What the New York City Board of Health is acting to defend is nothing nearly so grand. What it is acting to defend is a mere species of literal insanity: the insanity of fantasy indulged not now and then for a few minutes or a few hours, in the knowledge that it is fantasy, but raised to the level of a day-in, day-out way of life and regarded as reality. It wants to impose on everyone who may come into contact with those suffering from such delusion an obligation to participate in the delusion and to affirm that it is not delusion but reality.
A classic illustration of insanity is someone believing that he is Napoleon Bonaparte. The same logic that is present in its proposed new rule on gender identity would require the New York City Board of Health to certify such an individual not as insane, but as Napoleon. If someone changed his name to Napoleon Bonaparte, walked around in replicas of Napoleon’s uniforms, with his right hand always tucked into his tunic, and called his wife “Josephine,” and did such things for two years, he would have to be certified as being Napoleon by New York City’s Board of Health and the New York City government, if they were logically consistent.
If the New York City Board of Health does in fact enact its proposed rule on gender identity, its members who vote for the rule will have demonstrated a major loss of their own capacity to distinguish between fantasy and reality. They will deserve not only to be thrown out of office but also, it could reasonably be argued, to be committed to a psychiatric hospital.
Of course, it is next to impossible that they would be committed, because the source of the rule they are considering is none other than New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In New York City, the inmates, or those who arguably should be inmates, are literally running the asylum.
So long as they do not initiate the use of force, they should be free to come and go as they please. But by the same token, no one should ever be threatened with the use of physical force merely for refusing to support their delusions or for contradicting them. That threat of physical force is what is coming out of New York City’s Board of Health.
This article is copyright © 2006, by George Reisman. Permission is hereby granted to reproduce and distribute it electronically and in print, other than as part of a book and provided that mention of the author’s web site www.capitalism.net is included. (Email notification is requested.) All other rights reserved. George Reisman is the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics (Ottawa, Illinois: Jameson Books, 1996) and is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics.