Facts, not feelings, determine how old you are
It was inevitable. In the Netherlands, an ageing motivational speaker has filed a case demanding that the government allow him to change his legal age from 69 to 49 on the grounds that he feels like a “young god”.
Emile Ratelband hasn’t used the phrase “age dysphoria”, but his case clearly owes much to the transgender notion of “gender dysphoria” or “being stuck in the wrong body”. He argues that it is unfair for the state to label him one age when he (and, he claims, his doctors) feel he has the body of a much younger man. Not that his motives are entirely pure: “When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer,” he says. “When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”
I imagine that Mr Ratelband will lose his case, but it is surely only the start. Transgenderism has opened a conceptual can of worms. If I feel that I’m something, why should the law agree in some cases, but not in others? If British law now defines a hate crime based on the victim’s feelings and if the Government wants to allow someone to change their legal sex with no medical input, people are entitled to ask why they can’t also define their own race or age.
In response, a transgender activist might argue that gender dysphoria has a biological basis. Many trans people speak of being “born” feeling different and claim that their brain or identity is biologically a different sex from the one Emile Ratelband wants to change his age from 69 to 49 they appear. You can’t tell a person’s sex purely by their chromosomes, they might argue. There are many syndromes (Swyer or Klinefelter), for example, in which the chromosomes don’t “match” a person’s sexual appearance.
As a result, the argument goes, the only “true” determinant of gender is how a person feels about themselves. In other words, a person can make a claim to biological fact based purely on their subjective experience. This “fact” trumps all other “facts”.
It might be that science isn’t yet advanced enough to detect the biological basis for transgenderism. When it comes to interpersonal relations, it is polite to allow for this possibility. But Mr Ratelband’s case shows the problem with basing a legal system on this assumption. It allows individuals to redefine facts to suit their Tinder profile.
The law should not leap so far ahead of the science that judges or bureaucrats, rather than medical researchers, find themselves defining the correct threshold for scientific facts. It must choose between biology, as defined by the scientific method, or individual subjective experience, with all the consequences that would bring for women’s refuges, gay saunas, prisons and so on. No one should be given the legal right to define scientific facts.