Big strides are rolling out again, as characteristic of contemporary times. Big ideas, big changes. Yesterday Facebook decided to give you 50 more gender possibilities. In other words apart from the customary male/female choice, you can now choose to be known as transgender, intersex, cisgender, and 45 other options. Yea, I know. I said the same thing too: interesting.
There is no doubt that this is a relief to people who are having some problems with gender identity. And in as much as they are not many, it is a real problem for those few, and they are real individuals too. The greater majority of humanity which does not suffer this distress would find it difficult to imagine this whole confusion in our otherwise defined globe of males and females. But one only needs to appraise scientific findings and statistics to cast away an ignorant view that this is merely a work of the devil, usually characteristic of a narrow spiritual mindset. One does understand that angle of the story.
The concern which sprouts out of this whole contemporary march towards change however lies in the description which Facebook gave in making the 50 gender-options available. It says, “We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way.” It is precisely this last phrase that spells out the moral concern of this whole process of progress or change. What is it that determines authenticity? That is a one-million dollar question. Would my expressing myself authentically be dependent on what I choose my gender to be? The physiological-anthropological considerations aside, what of my vast choice of being able to choose to be a male today, female tomorrow and sexless the next day? I mean, without prejudice to people with gender difficulties, how could the meaning of authenticity be seriously applied in the ambience of choice of gender which, in any case, I am either sure of or not sure of (for the few having such problem)? It would appear the use of authenticity has again suffered what Charles Taylor would call a flat definition, rendering it lacking of meaning and certitude of value.
Coming on the same day on which Belgium passed the controversial law which gives children of any age the possibility of dying when faced with terminal sickness, a blatant use of the word authenticity does indeed call for concern. Even if these are unrelated events, what is certain is that the moral landscape of man is going through so much turmoil and at an alarmingly quick rate too, that man does not have enough time to think through his actions and their consequences tomorrow.
However, one cannot but note that with Facebook entering the gender race, a new aperture has been made in the whole discourse of sexual identity and rights. With its over 1.2 billion active users (which by the way is about the population of Africa and South America put together) Facebook conveniently amplifies the already garish call for sexual inclusivity.
But you know what, nothing is actually new. History continues to repeat itself, following after Heraclitus’ popular dictum, “no one steps into the same water twice.” Indeed today is but a refraction of some yesterday or day before. These strides in contemporary times may leave you mouth agape because, while they are meant to be progresses yet they keep begging you for another consideration, for another deliberation on whether the word progress now has a new definition.
But it is not new, I reiterate, this whole frenzy and change. The introductory section of the II Vatican Council’s document on the Church in the modern world (Lumen Gentium) speaks to us again of “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age”, reflecting on the ambivalent, contradictory dual-movement of what we call progress, but which oftentimes constitutes a deep retrogress.
Indeed not all that can be changed necessary need to be changed; not all that is humanly possible need to be effected. Not all that is conceivable does bring forth good.