It begins with the liberal idea that we are to be liberated from any constraints on ourselves as autonomous individuals. Our sexed bodies, however, do represent such a constraint, as they point to our "telos" - to aspects of what we are designed to be and to do. Milbank himself observes that,
Nothing more expresses the teleological nature of human existence than the fact of our sexed bodies — sex and reproduction are a constant drumbeat reminding us that we don’t exist for ourselves, but for the sake of our descendants.
And so the logic of liberalism is that we must somehow assert our own autonomous self over and against our own body. How do we do this? Milbank believes that the gentler means of achieving this include "such new cultural practices as tattoos, piercings, non-natural hair colours, and of course gender non-conforming grooming and fashion". At a more extreme level there are:
“gender affirming” surgeries which remove or reshape healthy tissue and organs, transhumanist “body modification” in which people seek to permanently mould their bodies to integrate technology or imitate animals, reproductive surrogacy with “rented wombs”, genetic modification, and voluntary sterilisation.
The key passage in which Milbank sets out the ideological background to these developments is this:
If you want to understand the insanity of the past 20 years over sexuality and gender, you have to first get to grips with what liberalism is. At its heart is the concept of individual autonomy — the idea that the single highest principle of our society should be the absolute power and ownership of a person over their own body and being, and a no less absolute taboo on any outside force that seeks to compromise that autonomy.
Having stripped back many prior norms about male and female roles, sexual ethics and family life in the name of a broadly conceived “freedom” for the individual, liberalism has now taken a more introspective turn. After removing most of the outward and formal demands of law and society on the individual and their body, the individual must now be absolutely freed by purging themselves of the interior restraints they may still possess, and at the same time claim absolute possession of their own physical and psychic self.
In this interior battle, it is biology itself that has become the enemy. Nothing more expresses the teleological nature of human existence than fact of our sexed bodies — sex and reproduction are a constant drumbeat reminding us that we don’t exist for ourselves, but for the sake of our descendants. Severing sex and reproduction have long been a liberal project, and technological progress has certainly helped accelerate that process.
However the ideological project must go still further — even when sex is fully contracepted and bodies safely sterilised, our sexed nature is still stubbornly pointing and gesturing towards reproduction, reciprocity and the renunciation of the self in the embrace of the other.