Except that of course freedom isn’t always what it seems. Some freedoms lead straight into being trapped. Drugs is the easiest example. Freedom to take drugs becomes freedom to get hooked, which becomes freedom to be an addict, which is no longer freedom – but ‘trapped’.
It’s not just drugs that set off the law of unintended consequences.
Justine Greening, the Equalities Minister, has outlined a new government policy that intends to give people the ‘freedom’ to be able to pick their own gender and change their own birth certificate without any reference to a doctor or medical advice.
More ‘freedom’. Hooray. That can only be a kind and benign act from a caring progressive government. But what if it wasn’t freedom at all?
The estimated level of gender dysphoria, finding yourself trapped in a body where the biology you are born with is different from your mental perception of yourself, is something like 0.05 per cent of the population.
Well, that was before transgender issues came to the public attention. Personally, I know myself to be a bit of a hypochondriac. It’s not helped by having a vivid imagination. Once I read about a symptom, it develops a life of its own.
But I’m not alone in my imagination. Referrals to gender clinics have exploded in some cities by 20–30-fold.
We are not all as sane as we might be. We are not all at ease in our bodies or our personalities as we might be. But perhaps the freedom to have our mental and imaginative dis-ease examined by professionals is not as enabling as we might hope. The more sinister aspect to this is that it isn’t just a matter of a nice government trying to find percentages of the population who are suffering, to spend its funds on. 0.05 per cent are not very many people, though I know if it is your suffering, it’s not much comfort being told there aren’t many others.
Simone De Beauvoir in 1949 attacked the idea that biology meant gender. She drew a distinction between gender (society’s ideas about what a man and woman should be) and sex or biology. There is no reason, feminists from Beauvoir onward would argue, for sex to be destiny. This really was a question of mind over matter, or imagination over genitalia.
For feminists, women were constrained by their bodies and biology. So, real ‘freedom’ meant being able to imagine one’s way out of that constraint.
What might work for a fearsome feminist like Simone de Beauvoir might not work for 14-year-old Tracy from Tadcaster, understandably worried that her mind and her hormones are not in sync.
Be careful what you wish for. This dislocation of the mind from the body has started a revolution (revolutions are always about ‘freedom’!) But from this revolution there flows a river of confusion about extending marriage to same-sex couples, gendered pronouns, transgender issues and the use of public restrooms and locker rooms. Of course, the great debate about marriage also comes down to whether biology has a greater role to play than human sexual preference.
The clearest example of the revolution in process came from the Russian author and gay activist Masha Gessen, talking on ‘ABC’ Australian radio.
‘I don’t like taking part in creating fictions about my life. I have three kids who have five parents. Between those five parents we have two groups of three.’
I failed to follow the exact intricacies of which genders were intimate with what effect and related to which children. But I did understand that the freedom Masha was working for was to destroy biological marriage between a man and a woman who give birth to their own children.
What I do know, from having been being a child myself, and from having children, is that mental stability is helped by living within safe and stable structures. Sometimes we find that the choice we are faced with, is between
being ‘free’ … or being safe and slightly more sane.