More on ‘sexual identity’

Wittgenstein notoriously argued that a private language is impossible. The problem is that if I am the sole authority for the meaning of a word there is no way to distinguish a case in which I am using it correctly from one in which I am not. If that’s so, though, the word can’t be of any use to anyone.

Whatever the validity and scope of the argument, something like it seems to apply to the current notion of “sexual identity.” That notion implies that what I feel (e.g., certain sorts of sexual desire) makes me what I am, so that saying there is something wrong with those feelings is the same as saying I am essentially bad.

I thus become the only real authority for what I am, because only I know how I feel. The consequence, though, is that “what I am” becomes meaningless. It becomes an assertion the grounds and significance of which can’t be known by others, so it can’t convey anything. And that indeed seems to be the consequence some are drawing with regard to sexual identity. People are losing the ability to apply the concept, even to themselves: Wesleyan establishes non-gendered dormitory for students who don’t want to be categorized as one sex or another. (Also see the entry on The abolition of woman at Smith College.)

“Without God, man is nothing” is true in a quite exact sense: unless the world has meaning, a condition that seems to require something very like the existence of God, any statement that has meaning will falsify reality. In particular, a statement that we are anything that matters becomes groundless. Purely private meanings are nonsensical, and we can’t bootstrap ourselves into any meaning that others must recognize simply by willing it. Meaning must precede our choices and desires if it is to mean anything. The claim that it is our desires that define what we are, a claim implicit in the notion of “sexual identity,” is thus not only wrong, it’s incomprehensible.

1 thought on “More on ‘sexual identity’”

  1. Interesting insight. I think

    Interesting insight. I think that most of us who are intellectually uncomfortable with the concept of “transgender” have this vague feeling that we are being made the victims of a farcical game where the rules keep getting changed on us. There are conventions in the way in which the two sexes relate between and among themselves. Whether these conventions are good or necessary is a different question, but they do exist. A “transgendered” person like Renee Richards is simply gaming the system. Yesterday, he was a man; today he gets to play in the womans tennis circuit. All because of his subjective decision. I know of one case where a woman used the men’s restrooms because of her “transgender” claims. The men working in the plant took it in stride, but you could see them thinking what would cause this lady to change her mind tomorrow. I know of cases where women are being cited for sexual harassment for talking girl talk with other women, and men for telling baudy jokes to men.

    Brave new world, indeed.

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