Sexuality and Gender

Embracing the Absurd

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Author Amy K. Hall Published on 03/06/2013

About a year ago, the Journal of Medical Ethics published an article arguing that “what we call ‘after-birth abortion’ (killing a newborn) should be permissible in all the cases where abortion is, including cases where the newborn is not disabled.”

Instead of reasoning, “A) It’s wrong to kill a newborn, B) there are no significant differences between a newborn and a preborn, C) therefore it’s wrong to kill a preborn,” they followed the logic in the opposite direction: “A) It isn’t wrong to kill a preborn, B) there are no significant differences between a newborn and a preborn, C) therefore it isn’t wrong to kill a newborn.”

When their view that it’s okay to kill a preborn child forced them into the absurd (the nicest word I can put to it) conclusion that it’s okay to kill a newborn, instead of recognizing the mistake that led them there, they merely embraced the absurdity in order to consistently maintain their first premise.

Now I’m seeing this kind of opposite-direction logic play out in the area of same-sex marriage. I’ve often used the fact that our society has separate bathrooms for men and women to illustrate the idea that it’s appropriate to discriminate on the basis of sex when sex is relevant to the situation.

But now it seems that may not be a useful illustration for long:

British Council Rules Toilets Gender Neutral

LONDON: The council in Brighton, England, is scrapping male and female public toilets in favour of "gender neutral" facilities so as not to "alienate the transgender community".

Facilities are to be built that are designed to be shared by adults and children and that do not feature the words "Men" or "Ladies" but instead will show symbols indicating they can be used by people of any sex or age….

Brighton and Hove city council disclosed in emails that it wished to promote the term "gender neutral" and build facilities that were open to all, regardless of sex. It believes such facilities will be more accessible for those who do not identify with the "male-female binary".

And there are other recent stories of gender-neutral bathrooms from the University of Central Florida, from Massachusetts, and from Coloradowhere the parents of a six-year-old boy (who feels he is a girl) are suing the school for discrimination because he’s being denied the use of the girls’ bathroom:

"For many transgender people, discrimination is a daily part of life. Unfortunately for Coy, it has started very early," lawyer Michael Silverman said.

"The world is going to be looking at the school [to] send a message to the world and teach tolerance, fair play and equal rights."

In other words, in order to be non-discriminatory, we should no longer separate people into bathrooms according to sex. Instead, our choice of bathroom ought to depend on what we feel—or better yet, we should move to gender-neutral bathrooms altogether.

As in the case of “after-birth abortions,” people are following the logic of the arguments in the wrong direction. Instead of saying, “A) It’s okay to discriminate on the basis of sex when sex is relevant to the situation (as is the case with bathrooms), no matter what a person feels, B) sex is relevant to marriage, C) therefore it’s okay to discriminate on the basis of sex when it comes to marriage,” they follow the logic this way: “A) It’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of sex, including in the case of marriage B) sex-specific bathrooms discriminate against people—excluding and including them—on the basis of sex, C) therefore it’s wrong to have sex-specific bathrooms.

Both lines of reasoning follow logical paths to internally consistent positions. Unfortunately, a growing number of people can no longer recognize which of these paths leads to an absurd conclusion.