My train of thought gets kind of complicated – when it’s not derailing.
Following on from my last post about boundaries, this leads to another set of thoughts about consent. There is a train of thought that has gained popularity lately that if two or more people consent to something, it’s none of anyone’s business.
Generally, I actually agree with this.
But it has its own set of difficulties.
So let’s take that idea and stretch it a little bit.
Starting with the basics of consent, you have two people “doing the nasty” in a way that I, as a third party, wouldn’t approve of. The two people have consented and I’m being left alone. Alright. Consent is a perfectly good benchmark in this situation. Stipulated.
Let’s stretch this a bit now. Let’s say that these two people are “doing the nasty” in that same way I wouldn’t approve of, but now they’re doing it in front of me. Let’s also say, for the sake of this discussion, that I have no reason to expect them to do that in this particular place or time, I’m just minding my own business, and there are two people being disgusting. Now my consent has become an issue, as I didn’t consent to participating in such an event, even if my participation is just limited to seeing it happen in front of me. Consent has just become much stickier (pardon the pun), because now there are three parties that should consent, and two of them have ignored the third. This is the situation that many people find themselves in in “Pride” or other similar events. We don’t care, but they’re insistent on shoving it down our throats, pardon the expression.
Am I harmed? Not really. I can walk away from the situation. It is, however, a violation, and I didn’t consent. This is the very reason that there are public decency laws, amongst other types.
Okay, let’s stretch it again. Let’s say that someone has modified their body in a way that makes it clear that they view themselves in a specific way. So far, so good. They consented to that, there’s no reason whatsoever to condemn that action. Let’s say they have added goat horns. Now, they walk up to someone else and demand that they be treated as if they were a goat.
Now consent gets very tricky. The person who is approached has no interest in treating the person as if they were a goat, as they aren’t one. The third party person did not consent to their worldview which specifically states that humans cannot be a goat being challenged. They still believe that humans cannot be a goat. But right in front of them is someone who is telling them that they identify as a goat, and that therefore they have a right to demand that someone else, without their consent, treat them as a goat.
And this is the problem – and the obvious problem – with self-identification. Many times the person who is self-identifying knows what they are. And just as often, they don’t.
So here’s the issue. The person who is standing in front of the person with goat horns does not see a goat. They see a mentally ill person who thinks they’re a goat. Why should that person be expected to treat mental illness as if it’s not?
So I’m sure you’ve already extrapolated what I’m saying to some modern social issues. Don’t. I was specifically avoiding those. My point is not to condemn any particular type of self-identification (except, perhaps, trans-goatism) but it’s instead to point out that demanding that your form of self-identification be respected without concern for what it actually is is a problem with consent. Others have not necessarily consented to how they view your self identification. And if you want them to do so, you have to negotiate.
Now, let’s apply that to a real world situation. Specifically, transgenderism. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how and when I would use the preferred pronouns, and this is what I’ve kind of come up with. If you’re making a good faith attempt to pass, I’ll go along with it. I won’t necessarily agree, but I’ll go along with it.
Caitlin Jenner, for example, I think I would call “she”. Not because she asked me to, but because she’s obviously making a good faith effort to pass, doing a reasonably decent job of it, and I’m good with that. Do I think of her as a “she” inside my head? My business, but I think it’s fair to say “maybe not”. That’s not your business.
Now there’s this person named Danielle Muscado who called himself a “she”, but has not transitioned (or at least hasn’t the last time I looked, which was a while ago). You would walk up to him on the street and never know unless he told you. That’s a “he”. He fails the negotiation. If he transitions at some point, then I will renegotiate, and maybe use the preferred pronouns.
Point being, I get to consent. It’s my choice.
Note that I used the name, though. In all cases will I use the preferred name. The legal name is not really something I consider something I need to consent to. I could. I could choose to “deadname” someone and there’s not a damn thing they could do about it. But I won’t. It’s not really respectful and while names can be gendered, they usually won’t. It’s still my choice, though. You get to ask. And I get to say yes. Or no.
Self identification is a wonderful thing. If someone wants to say they’re the opposite gender, or a goat, or a cheese sandwich, more power to them. But I don’t have to consent, and you can’t make me.
And that’s how we come full circle to boundaries. I don’t just get to choose what to let into my boundaries. I also get to choose which ideas. And this is why boundaries are so important.