The philosopher Voltaire famously observed, “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
In Voltaire’s day, it was dangerous to criticize the Catholic Church and its dogmas. In our era, it is dangerous to criticize the Church of Gender Identity and its dogmas.
In fact, in Oct 2017, Canada passed a law to protect this Church and its dogmas from criticism: Bill C-16, known as the Transgender Rights Bill, incorporates gender identity and its expression into Canadian Human Rights Law and in the Criminal Code of Canada.
I liken gender identity to a Church, because the concept it relies on – “gender fluidity”- is based entirely in the faith-based belief that subjective feelings of dysphoria are “proof” of objective reality in the same way that certain religions consider the Bible or the Quran “proof” of God’s existence and His will.
Like the Catholic Church back in its hegemonic day, and like Islam in many parts of the world today, dissenters are considered deserving of punishment.
Consider the other grounds for discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act: “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability or conviction for an offence for which a pardon has been granted or in respect of which a record suspension has been ordered.”
Every single one of these grounds is objectively certifiable.
Only gender identity is based entirely in an individual’s subjective feeling and an unproven theory: the concept that a person’s biological sex is in fact a phenomenon separate from his or her gender, and that moreover, our traditional understanding that sex is a binary phenomenon – male/female – is a mere social construct.
But the theory of gender fluidity is not backed up by any scientific evidence. On the contrary, all credible science points to a norm of sex-gender linkage.
And yet we now have enshrined in law a right to compel belief, or expressions of belief, in this faith-based dogma.
Many Canadians believe that the law now considers it an act of hate speech to “misgender” a trans person by insisting that a trans woman is, in fact, a biological male who identifies as female.
Or that refusal to use invented pronouns like “ze” or “zhir” indicating that a person is neither male nor female is a punishable act, even though your refusal stems from a “sincerely held belief” that biological identity is immutably binary (except for individuals born intersex).
Dysphoria is a real phenomenon.
Gender dysphorics absolutely believe they are in the “wrong body.” But objectively, there is no such thing as a “wrong” body. Yet Bill C-16 compels us to act as though “wrong bodies” were settled science. It is no different than being compelled to call gaunt anorexic people “Fatso,” because they believe they are overweight.
Such a response to psychologically distressed people from our governing bodies bespeaks a culture more concerned with giving comfort to dysfunctional minorities than with respecting basic rights and freedoms for everyone.
In a most interesting 2011 academic paper, John F. Furedy, now deceased, then a retired professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, likened institutions and governments that privilege individual comfort over individual rights to totalitarian regimes.
He wrote: “The most striking feature of totalitarian societies is that the comfort criterion takes precedence over considerations of truth in general and fairness to individuals in particular. Comfort is essentially conformity to institutional ideology. It is, in fact, the comfort of a particular ideology that is protected, rather than that of freedom of opinion of all individuals.”
Furedy called this tendency in democratic societies to privilege ideology over rights – most evident on campuses -a form of “velvet totalitarianism.”
Velvet totalitarianism is the hallmark of transgender activism (but not at all, it must be emphasized, the hallmark of ordinary trans people, most of whom freely acknowledge their biological reality and often volunteer their understanding that they suffer from a disorder).
Trans activists’ polemical aggression in forcing compliance with the nonsensical “truth” that a trans woman “is” a real woman not only does violence to our language, playing havoc with meanings universally understood to mean one thing, and now tortured to mean its opposite, is intimidating to most people, who find it easier to figuratively agree that “two plus two = five,” than to find themselves vilified on social media, or even, increasingly, victims of physical assault.
Bill C-16 is a terrible law.
It is a form of velvet totalitarianism enshrined in law, and every single Canadian’s freedom-of-speech rights are diminished by it.
On July 18 in Toronto, I will take part in a panel gathered to discuss Bill C-16’s implications for freedom of speech. My role is to speak about journalism and the effects of “who you are not allowed to criticize” on the media. D. Jared Brown, a lawyer who has been polemically active on the issue of “compelled speech” will speak to the implications for Canada’s legal networks raised by Bill C-16 and other forms of compelled speech.
Dr. Debra Soh, neuroscientist and columnist for the Globe and Mail, as well as co-host of the podcast Wrongspeak, will speak about the phenomenon of gender dysphoria and its political ramifications.
And Lindsay Shepherd, president of the Laurier Society for Open Inquiry, will speak about free speech on campus.
It was, of course, Shepherd’s recorded interrogation by her academic supervisor and equity officer at Wilfrid Laurier University that dramatically advanced the national (and international) debate on speech suppression in the academy. The Shepherd affair would undoubtedly have been described by John Furedy, had he been alive to witness it, a perfect – and perfectly appalling – example of velvet totalitarianism in action.
More information on this panel is available here.