In 1486 Pico della Mirandola declared "We can become what we will."
This idea, that we can create ourselves in any direction by our own will and reason, has come to be enormously influential in Western societies.
Today the principle is even being applied to our sexual self-identity. It would seem obvious to most people that there are limits to "becoming what we will": one example being the fact that we are born either male or female and have no choice in the matter.
However, two recent news items from America show that for some people even the very fact of our own sex is to be included within the "sphere of will".
One news item concerns Wesleyan University, which previously had separate dormitories for men and women. According to the dean of student services, a third transgender dormitory is now to be established for students "who don't identify with their physical sex."
The second news item concerns "boy poseurs." According to an article in the Melbourne Age (22/05/03) it's now fashionable among New York lesbians to reject a female identity by, amongst other things, binding their breasts and referring to each other as "he".
What does the reporter think of the confused sexual identity of these women? She thinks it a positive thing - as something that furthers the idea that "we can become what we will".
For instance, she asks "Why should it be possible to buy at least six different kinds of bagel in New York city and yet be limited to a mere two choices of gender?" And she quotes approvingly a Vassar College academic, Jami Weinstein, who talks about women "performing" their gender differently, so that "You can see that 'woman' is a pretty arbitrary category." The article itself ends with the line that "The idea of identity flux, of being able to be whoever you want, is an essential part of the times we live in."
What do conservatives think of all this? Conservatives don't share Pico's belief that what is important in life is to be self-created. Therefore, conservatives don't mind the fact that "woman" is a fixed, rather than an arbitrary category, and that much of our self-identity is not in flux, but is constant. Nor would conservatives lament that there are only "a mere two choices of gender"; instead, conservatives are comfortable with the idea that, as individuals, we have no choice of gender at all.
The aim for a conservative is for our sexual identification to be strong and positive, so that a man is strongly connected to his higher masculine nature and a woman to her higher feminine nature. A culture should encourage this positive identification rather than celebrate its failure.
It is a personal strength, and a path to self-fulfilment, to have a straightforward identification with your own sex. Modern day liberals have a hard time accepting this basic truth as they are caught by first principles that were as wrong in Pico's time as they are today.
(First published at Conservative Central 25/04/03)