If what it is to be a woman, or Black, or Jewish, is just to publicly so self-identify, then all hell’s going to break loose. Some dirty ol’ man like me is going to saunter at will and unchallenged into the girl’s shower room. Affirmative action programs will go the way of phlogiston, since if anyone can be black, no one can be disentitled to any such program. And the Law of the Return, by which the State of Israel confines immigration to Jews, would cease to do any work. Mind you, that would put an end to the Palestinian diaspora.
But the alternative, if history is any judge, may be even worse. We’re classified as male or female at birth. Fair enough, even if, on occasion, not quite fair enough. But race classification boards would be a deafening echo of Nazi Germany and Apartheid South Africa.
Is there a way around this dilemma? No there is not. To accuse someone – as we would surely want to do – of merely dissimulating as a woman, or as Black, or as Jewish, is to suppose not only that there’s a mind-independent fact of the matter about whether she is or isn’t, but also that that fact is discoverable. That means we need independent criteria for being a this or a that. Self-identification can be taken as evidential. But evidence is defeasible. As are any of the determinations we make. But not if what it is for someone to be a woman or Black or Jewish is just for her to say she is.
Some of these damned-if-we-do-and-damned-if-we-don’ts can be circumvented by doing away with these problematic distinctions from the get go. Let’s get rid of boys’ and girls’ teams in sports. True, no girl can ever win the race. What of it? Neither can the fat boy. So what? Fewer Blacks than whites in universities. Well, fewer lower class whites than upper class whites. If there’s no injustice in the latter, why in the former? There is no longer Jew and Gentile. So no bulwark against another pogrom. And so on.
The problem, quite obviously, is that in the real world women need ablutionary privacy, that Blacks are treated less favourably than whites, that anti-Semitism doesn’t disappear because it makes no sense. The law draws distinctions between people because we draw distinctions between people. And more often than not we have good reasons for drawing the distinctions we do.
Is there a place where there are no men nor women, no Blacks nor whites, no Jews nor Gentiles? Yes there is. It’s the same place where the lion shall lie down with the lamb. And where is that place? In the imagination of a five year old.