Blog by Tom Gilson,Senior Editor and Ministry Coordinator for the Christian/conservative web magazine "The Stream".Thinking Christianity for Home,Church and Community.His credo "Christians do not hold the truth, we are held by it."
I’ve been reading the competition, so to speak — not that there really is any competition with Ed Feser. I don’t agree with him on all he writes, naturally, but still he’s untouchable as a top-notch thinker/blogger.
Anyway, I want to pick up and run with something he wrote on sex and teleology just before Thanksgiving. His point overall was that sex and sexuality have clearly discernible purposes. In other words they’re teleological, meaning, it is of their essence that they are directed toward ends or goals. Alex Byrne, a secular philosopher whose article on the two sexes Feser analyzes, admits as much without admitting it.
Feser concentrates mostly on the metaphysics of the matter, yet he gets down to motivation as well, which is what interests me here today:
So, the skittishness of some progressives about acknowledging that sex is binary is understandable. The messier sex can be made naturally to seem, the easier it will be to resist natural law conclusions. But again, Byrne holds that to acknowledge that sex is binary should give the progressive nothing to worry about. Is he right?
and near the end,
If sex is not binary, then the teleology is messier, and if the teleology is messier, then the dreaded conservative moral conclusions are easier to resist.
These “natural law conclusions” include (a) the essential nature of marriage: a man with a woman, (b) the purpose of sex being (not exclusively, but most uniquely and characteristically) procreation; (c) the intrinsic wrongness of non-marital sex; and of course (d) the natural existence of exactly two sexes.
Progressives pretty much line up with (e) none of the above.
Teleology or Not?
Now, the question of teleology in nature runs parallel to the question of design: Were we made for a purpose or not? Feser rejects capital-I, capital-D Intelligent Design in the form promulgated primarily by the Discovery Institute. But for him it’s a methodological issue (roughly, the manner in which DI tends to reach its conclusions). He absolutely agrees that life is designed.
I line up with the Discovery Institute on this; in fact I’ve been editing ID the Future for DI for several months now. So this is one of the points on which Feser and I disagree.
Nevertheless we stand on one side together in opposition to those who say there is no design in nature; that is, those who preach that life arose through mindless natural processes; that it’s the product of just time, chance (random genetic variation) and necessity (the outworking of natural law), plus nothing else.
Natural selection enters the picture as a shorthand term for the multiple massively interacting, necessary, natural-law processes and conditions determining which individuals and populations survive and leave offspring. There’s nothing intentional or purposeful in it, any more than there is in time or chance.
This naturalistic take on evolution is therefore completely a-teleological.
A Stake in Sex, Not Just Science
Meanwhile I’ve also been involved in Edgar Andrews’ excellent What Is Man? Adam, Alien or Ape?. Andrews notes how thoroughly subject to interpretation the science of origins is, and how untestable many of those interpretations are. Thus, “Different experts offer different interpretations. … Debates often grow heated. Personal reputations are at stake.”
He’s absolutely right. Following Feser here, though, there’s more at stake than personal reputations. There’s an entire world of moral belief and disbelief.
Now, I want to be careful not to over-generalize here. Not everyone who denies teleology in nature believes in or practices progressive (im)morality. Or in Christian terms, not every one of them thinks rejecting biblical/traditional morality is a good idea.
Still, with biology being one of the most atheistic fields in academia, and with the generally progressive stance found among university faculty, it stands to reason that a goodly number of biologists do hold to progressive beliefs in moral matters.
And if so, they have a stake in a-teleology, and it’s not for strictly scientific reasons. It’s at least partly for moral reasons. Okay, enough pussy-footing around: For a lot of them, it’s that they want sex the way they want it.
Richard Dawkins wrote, “Even if it were true that evolution, or the teaching of evolution, encouraged immorality that would not imply that the theory of evolution was false.” He’s right, of course, but what he fails to see is that person’s bent toward immorality could bias them quite irrationally against belief in design.
Bias and Belief: An Asymmetrical Situation
Of course it’s us design-oriented people who take all the accusations: “You’re only trying to prove the Bible!” “You’re only trying to proselytize!” “You won’t look far enough past your Bible to see the world the way it really is!” But if bias counts against our credibility, why should bias count against theirs, too?
But we have an asymmetrical situation here. How many naturalistic evolutionists are there like Lawrence Krauss (who has now been exposed), hiding a nasty lifestyle of sexual immorality, How might that be biasing them? The best answer I can offer is, I don’t know; probably a lot of them, and they’re certainly subject to bias.
But that “I don’t know” is a real sticking point. Believers have a bias, no doubt about it. It’s out in the open for all to see. A-teleologists have biases, too, but they’re hidden. It’s easy for them to make rhetorical points against believers’ bias, and nearly impossible to make a similar charge stick on them in return — even though, the charge has got to be true, to at least some extent.
Not Just Scientific or Philosophical — It’s a Spiritual Battle
What to do about that? The first, best advice I can offer may not seem like much, but it’s essential: Stay the course. We won’t score points in debate by saying some people on the other side are likely to be biased so they can live immoral lives. It’s too vague, too indirect, too judgmental. It is what it is (however extensive that “is” may be), but there’s hardly anything we can do with it rhetorically.
My second piece of advice might seem to contradict the first, but not really: Realize that not all the cards are on the table. We who believe in a designed universe are showing pretty much all of ours, but don’t think for a moment the other side is showing all of theirs — especially the morally-related reasons they choose to believe what they believe.
So if it looks like the deck is stacked against us, you can count on it. It is. No whine, just fact.
Which leads to my third and final piece of advice: Never think this is merely a matter of science or philosophy. There’s spiritual battle going on here. If you’re in this fight, pray as if it mattered. It does.
Is there any figure in all Western history more ironic than Friedrich Nietzsche, he who proclaimed the death of God? In mock tragic voice, his Madman even pretended to mourn it:
God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?
The Death of Man
Grant him credit for recognizing — as hardly any atheist does today — that God matters. But be not fooled. Nietzsche’s Madman was fine with this deicide, for he went on to say, “There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us – for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”
All his horror over the death of God was mere dramatic irony. Nietzsche wanted God dead. It made room for his Übermensch, his ethic of the “will to power,” his sneering dismissal of the Christian “slave ethic.” But his intentional irony was nothing compared to the unintended form that flowed out of his philosophy over the years: In killing God, we have killed ourselves.
I’ve written it before: Humanity is dead, and we are its murderers. With the death of God we’ve lost our selves; we’ve lost humanness itself. We don’t know who or what we are.
The Descent of Man
Indeed, if there is any work in Western literature more ironic than Nietzsche’s, it’s Darwin’s The Descent of Man. He meant “descent” in its genealogical sense: We are the descendants of some ape or ape-like creature. But the word also means the downfall, the drooping, the lowering; and in Darwin, man was lowered from the nobility of God’s image to the ignominy of undifferentiated animal. I do not mean the embarrassment of having apes as our grandparents; I’m talking about our becoming (in Darwin’s terms) one with all of nature, without distinction or difference.
When I was a child I was taught evolution’s “progress” from single-celled creatures to tiny proto-plants and animals, on up to the vertebrates, the mammals, the primates, and finally the highest of all, humans. That’s all myth, on a Darwinian accounting. Evolution knows nothing of progress. If it “knew” anything at all, it would be that success means nothing more than having offspring that have offspring. Some offspring do that better than others, but the new Darwinian synthesis explains that all as the purposeless result of mere mindless chance. Which is literally where we came from, on this viewpoint.
If you still want to use “higher” for certain evolved species, just remember how they got that way: Their ancestors’ offspring had more offspring. They conquered a niche. For humans, that niche may be defined as the tool- and language-using domain where cooperation and invention serve to preserve offspring to have more offspring. On Darwinian terms, though, our niche is no higher than that of the one animal whose numbers (and biomass) far outweigh all others: termites.
The Death of Dignity
But aren’t we higher, more dignified for being the self-aware, thinking, planning, intentional beings we are? One might think so, given that every person knows this is so, based on the most direct evidence of all: our own constant experience. Today’s atheists, however, intellectually descended (in both senses of the term) from Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx, have wiped all that away.
Free will is an illusion, say Coyne and Harris. Daniel Dennett allows for it only the sense that something is free; but it isn’t you or I making free choices, it’s just chance, which from time to time escapes the shackles of physical determinism.
Atheist philosophers Alex Rosenborg, Paul and Patricia Churchland, and others deny human consciousness. Rosenberg denies rationality, even human thought. Thomas Nagel agrees atheism ought to lead to the same conclusions, so he hopes someday we’ll find a better answer than that (as long as it isn’t God).
All of them (except the ever optimistic Nagel) deny that humanness is what humanness seems to be. It has no substance, only illusion. So forget about human uniqueness signifying any kind of superiority over the rest of nature. We’re only more confused by the delusions that deceive us.
God is dead, said Nietzsche. His Übermensch translates to “super-man;” and in a sense he thought this new superman would soar, almost like the fictional man we know of from Krypton. In reality his philosophy ended up chaining us hard to the ground instead. And now we see the fruit of it as we live out this death.
Living in the Death
Of course we still want to soar. We know — not from philosophy or theology, but from our own undeniable self-awareness and experience — that we’re meant for something greater. Yet constantly we’re barraged with the Darwinian, Nietzschean message that we’re not meant for anything at all.
Is it any wonder we’re confused? Is it any wonder we no longer even know man from woman? Is it any surprise we’re more focused on sex and pleasure than purpose and meaning — not to mention procreation? As for marriage and family, how can one who doesn’t know who or what he is commit a lifetime to another person whose meaning and identity is as inscrutable as his own? Why would such a confused couple want children? Why would a woman hesitate to kill the child in her womb, when even her own place in the world is so much in doubt?
Why do scientists seek to edit human genes? Why do transhumanists speak of “singularity”? Is it because we want to invent a new übermensch? In a way, yes; but that’s only because we don’t know who we are, as we already are, and we place so little value on what we do.
Flailing for Meaning
Why are so many turning into social justice warriors? To create meaning where otherwise there is none. Why has an MSNBC anchorwoman proclaimed her life “pointless” if global warming is not averted? Because it’s pointless anyway, and the imminent collapse of everything (in her mind) only brings that fact to the fore. What explains the new intersectionality movement? The one who doesn’t know who she is as a human can at least hope to find identity as a disabled atheist lesbian Hispanic daughter of immigrant parents.
I have no beef with her for that, except when this identity surmounts her identity as a human being living among other human beings, and when it dims her knowledge that we’re all human beings. But again, why would it be any surprise if this happens? We no longer know what it is to be human. Where there is ignorance, there is flailing; intersectionality is exactly that sort of flailing.
Or Finding Life Again
So here we are. Nietzsche sang the death of God, unaware it was the death of humanity. Darwin lectured on the descent of man, ignorant of how far it would mean we would descend. Meanwhile all our social movements are in reality movements of rebellion against this descent and death, desperate attempts to find and re-define our place in the world. For we know we do have a place, and it’s not merely as another species of animal.
We know it because it’s true. But then one wants to know, how is it true? To that question, only the Abrahamic religions of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam can provide an answer; it’s found in Genesis, where we learn we are indeed different: we’re specially created in God’s image. And only Christianity can show how God came among us to prove our worth beyond all mistake; and to remedy our own mistakes.
Christianity is known above all for preaching a resurrected Savior. Christ is alive, and gives life out of death to those who trust in him. Yet there is another death he alone can cure, this same death of humanity I’ve been lamenting. Without him the flailing for meaning and identity will continue. In Christ, however, being human makes sense. In him, humanness has true worth. In him it is real. In him, humanness can live again.
Should apologists concern ourselves with today’s hot moral issues, or should we focus on Christianity’s timeless, core truths instead? Someone raised that question on Facebook, or one a lot like it. I’ve taken my own liberties with the wording; it gives me a chance to beat a drum I need to sound every once in a while.
The short answer is yes, we must be involved in these issues. Very involved.
I’m writing a book on the most timeless truth of them all — the character and person of Jesus Christ — but even there I’m including sections on moral questions. I have to. I’m making a case that Jesus lived the greatest moral life ever, yet skeptics have told me he was a moral failure for not abolishing slavery, not making women equal with men, and not explicitly supporting homosexuality.
Those kinds of questions are rattling around out there, and if I don’t answer them, I’m simply not doing my job.
Scholars have their specialties, and that’s as it should be. The one who’s defending the truth of the resurrection need not explain Jesus’ view on slavery. But that’s in context of the apologetics discipline as a whole. And on the whole, I’d be so bold as to suggest that moral apologetics is our first task today.
They’re Asking; We Need to Listen
It’s first because these are the questions people are asking. The problem of evil always rises to the top of everyone’s list, and it’s part of moral apologetics: Does God have a morally sufficient reason to allow evil? In Barna’s study of younger non-Christians a few years back, unChristian, Christians’ view of homosexuality topped the list of reasons people reject the faith.
It’s first because it shows we’re listening. If we approach people with the resurrection, they very well might respond, “Who’s asking about that?” Of course we want to bring them to the point where they are asking about it. To start there, though, is to show we’re not paying attention.
I rush to point out I was intentionally vague with my pronoun “it” in the last paragraph. Just because Barna said homosexuality is the top issue on people’s minds, that doesn’t mean it’s the top issue bothering the person you’re talking with. The way to find out is by listening.
Who knows? You might even run into someone who’s really wondering about the cosmological argument, or the resurrection, or some other classical apologetics topic. I’m just saying that’s going to be a small minority of cases.
Clearing the Underbrush
It’s also first because it’s underbrush we have to clear away in order to advance. Truth takes the hindmost in most people’s minds these days; social and moral issues come first. So suppose we’re making our case for fulfilled prophecy. They’re not primarily hearing us say, “This is true, so since it’s true you should believe.” They’re hearing, “I want you to be part of this Christian group, and here’s how I’m justifying that invitation in my own mind.”
Which for many leads straight to asking, “Why on earth would I want to join this crowd of homophobic anti-science bigots?” Showing them Christianity is true isn’t enough. We have to show them it’s desirable; that it’s good. We’ve got to clear out the weeds, the false conceptions they have of Christianity on the one hand, and moral truth on the other.
Obviously that demonstration starts with being good: genuinely loving, caring, and giving; and practicing what we preach. But it also includes explanation. We need to explain, for example, why our stance on sexuality is both morally true and humanly good. We have to give them intellectual grounds for believing Christianity is morally good.
The Missiological Connection
I’d be grateful if churches would make a point of studying how missions is done. The field is called missiology, and it ought to be part of every church leader’s curriculum. I highly recommend the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, which I had the privilege of taking years ago, under some of its initial developers: Ralph Winter, Stephen Hawthorne, and other pioneers. I learned a lot about missions around the world — and I’ve discovered almost all of it applies here at home, too.
Every missionary knows his or her first job is to learn the language, culture, customs, stories, and questions of the local people. Every missionary knows the gospel answers every pressing human question. And every missionary knows those answers are typically the keys that unlock hearts to Jesus.
That’s a decent start at a missionary job description. It’s also a good description of the apologist’s job — and the whole church’s job, for that matter. (Hey, church! Do you think you know your local culture’s language and questions? Probably not, I’m afraid to say.)
The church must practice good missions strategy; apologists can be the specialists who lead the way. As long as the people we seek to reach are asking tough moral questions, it’s our job to develop good answers.
Scientists typically claim they must rely on methodological naturalism to do their science. It’s the principle that treats everything as if it were strictly natural, as if there is no supernatural reality.
Several years ago I wrote on this blog about how that was no need at all, and in fact it brings a host of non-scientific assumptions into science with it. Two years ago my theory was formally published in this volume of conference proceedings.
> So am I actually proposing everyone adopt methodological theism as their scientific operating guideline? Obviously not. It could be the stronger theory in all kinds of ways, and in fact I think it is. But in a pluralistic world it would certainly never fly — much less in a secular-slanted world like academia today. No, I’ve brought it up here for a completely different reason: to expose the fact that there’s no scientific reason to reject it; nothing but that thorny issue of metaphysical bias. At the same time, though, it highlights the reality that there’s no scientific reason to insist on methodological naturalism; only the same problem of bias. Neither principle is fully scientific. Both principles are saturated with philosophical assumptions.
> But I need to say that one more time. With emphasis — emphasis, that is, on the principle that’s held sway all these years. Methodological naturalism is saturated with non-scientific, philosophical assumptions. Therefore it has no business masquerading as a necessary principle for doing science. There’s no rational cause to think science benefits from that kind of needless bias imported into it.
The answer? Methodological regularism. But if you want to know about methodological theism — and how it really does make sense — you’ll need to read the links.
The Spiritual Readiness Project is asking apologetics-interested lay people, students, professors, writers and speakers to join in our Apologetics Interest survey. If you haven’t filled it out already, please do so as soon as possible.
But you might wonder why, and where this is heading. It’s a good question; thanks for asking!
Our main purpose is to discover what has sparked people’s interest in apologetics, so we can help create or collate ways to spread that around, and see more apologetics in the local church.
Apologetics in the Church: Understanding the Problem So We Can Solve It
Sometimes I fear we approach the question of apologetics in the church like other apologetics questions: How can we build a case for it? That’s valid, except the very people we’re trying to reach are the ones who aren’t into case-making the way we are! For them it’s not an apologetics problem. It’s a motivation issue.
We’ve gathered a working list of potential motivational hindrances to research, things that may keep churches from investing time and resources in apologetics. Yet it makes sense to start with what’s worked for those of us who really do care about apologetics. We expect that will help us develop better ways to overcome those motivational barriers.
The Loneliness of the Lay Apologist
In this research we’re also exploring the apologist’s loneliness. Informally I’ve seen evidence of its being a widespread concern: thinking Christians feel isolated in their churches. We want to understand this better, so we can explain it to church leaders more compellingly.
We know it’s a real issue that’s causing real harm in the body of Christ, but we won’t get far with just telling church leaders, “Your thinking people feel isolated here.” They’ll file that low on their list of priorities. We’ve got to explain it more compellingly.
That leads to another layer of information we’re gathering along with the survey, by the way: Would you share your story? What’s it like for you?
Long-Term Qualified Research Project
You’ve done lots of surveys and polls on the web. Usually there’s a quick, “Hey, what do you all think about this?” feel to them. This one is different. Our team members all have formal training and experience in survey research. One member of our team, Allen Shoemaker, has both taught research methods at the college level and practiced it around the world. The rest of us have formal training and experience as well.
And this research is part of a focused, long-term, ongoing effort to understand the question of apologetics in the Church. Like you, we believe Christians have always needed reasons for confidence, but like you we also see its importance rising quickly. I for one am making it high priority, and I intend to lead this project through to real answers that we’ll make freely available to you and to the Church — starting with this research, which we’ll report on to you early in 2019.
Please contact us if you’re interested in being involved in the project.
What do you think can be said of the claim that race is socially constructed, and that just as we typically identify someone’s race by looking at their outer appearance instead of DNA, we do the same when determining who is allowed in a particular restroom ? For example, someone might point out that some transgender “women” are indistinguishable from “biological women” and so we would have no qualms about them entering the women’s room because we wouldn’t be able to notice the difference.
It’s a fair question.
To Start With: What’s Definitely Socially Constructed
Let’s start with what race and sex or gender have in common in this context. Both of them have to do with a person’s bodily attributes, clothing choice, behaviors, and the social context in which they live. Persons observing others rely on all these cues to assess others’ race and sex (historically) or gender (in today’s language, see below).
Fashion choices (clothing, jewelry, and hair style) for men and women as well as for members of various races range across a wide spectrum, albeit wider in the case of sex than race. The same is true of typical behaviors. There’s also considerable overlap in both fashions and behaviors among the two sexes and among all the races. And what constitutes typically male or female clothing can vary over cultures and times. An individual may present himself or herself socially as a member of a different race or sex, and others may interpret race and sex differently as they observe the cues that person presents.
So there is some social construction involved in how persons present themselves sexually and racially. To that extent both race and sex (gender) are socially constructed. Press it further, though, and the analogies fail pretty quickly.
Not Socially Constructed: Sex Is Binary
First, sex is normatively binary, with sharp distinctions between male and female. (Of course now I’m speaking of biological sex.) Race is only culturally/socially divided, and intermarriage can make it harder for even the most bigoted person to decide whether someone is black, Asian, south Mediterranean, Caucasian, Amerindian, or any of the other possible variations.
I said sex is normatively binary. Transgender activists commonly make a big deal over intersex conditions, like XXY or androgen insensitivity. These are extremely rare, so that for virtually all of history, until the past eye-blink, they’ve been regarded as unfortunate exceptions to an otherwise solid distinction. Medical science has enabled some understanding of these conditions’ etiology, and nothing about that knowledge has done anything to undermined the common-sense view that they’re hereditary or congenital disorders. It’s disingenuous to define normality that way.
So sex and race differ from each other in the variety of their distributions among the healthy, normal population.
Sexual Differences Are Firmly Physical
It’s been said that genetic differences between the races are nonexistent. Obviously that’s not 100 percent true, for children do resemble their parents; but the differences are minuscule. Not so with the sexes. Bodily shapes, especially reproductive functions, are sharply different, and the differences are decidedly genetic in nature: an entire chromosome differs considerably.
So to say that the difference between boys and girls is “socially constructed” is to overlook the obvious in the first place, or to beg the question in the second place. That is, sexual differences are so pronounced, no one could conceivably conclude that they’re socially constructed without first being committed to that as their conclusion.
Some Behavioral Differences Between the Sexes Are Not Socially Produced
The above has to do with physical differences, but behavioral differences between the sexes appear to be just as hard-wired. Of course there’s considerable overlap between the sexes’ behavioral patterns, and a range across which persons adopt their same-sex or opposite-sex expected behaviors. My mom loved football, my dad does needle work, and I’ve got bread baking even as I write.
But statistically there are real, easily observable differences, and they are stable. Unlike racially-associated behavioral differences, some of them exist uniformly across cultures, and they strongly resist manipulation, even manipulation from the moment of birth.
Male and female brain structures definitely differ, a distinction which no credible person has tried to claim about the various races for a hundred years. (Yes, sadly, there was a time when scientists made such claims.) Male and female hormones, which certainly influence behavior, are called “male” and “female” for a reason: They’re not the same, and neither are the behaviors they tend to induce and/or support.
Male and female clothing styles vary: Women wear pants in most of the West, men wore skirts in the Roman armies and in Scotland. Except they are always very careful not to call them skirts, or any typically feminine name; and in any case, the fact men dress different from women remains constant in any culture I’m aware of.
Not Like Race in This Case
This differs sharply from racially-associated behaviors. Think of persons’ accents, for example: Is there a typical white English accent? Check around America, Britain, Australia, South Africa, India, New Zealand, Canada, and so on. No such thing exists. Is there a typical Black accent? In Britain, accents are often indistinguishable by race, more so by class instead. So the idea (where it exists) of a “Black accent” is certainly socially produced. Not so for the more constant male and female behavioral traits.
Therefore, while still recognizing there is overlap, we can safely conclude that men’s and women’s distinctively different sexual behaviors are not socially produced. They’re not socially interpreted, either, for the same reasons. Granted, we learn these differences in behaviors by observing persons in social contexts, but the fact of these patterns is so stable from one culture to another, one society to another, that it’s question-begging to say they are “merely” a matter of social construction.
What About When We Don’t Notice the Difference?
Someone might point out that some transgender “women” are indistinguishable from “biological women” and so we would have no qualms about them entering the women’s room because we wouldn’t be able to notice the difference.
Granted. If a man who looked completely like a woman used the women’s room, no one would know. That doesn’t make sex socially constructed, it makes it alterable in appearance. Sometimes. With varying degrees of success.
How Does This Affect Bathroom-Use Law?
I could get into the implied question about how we handle the differences in law, but first I need to recognize my Facebook friend’s follow-up question:
I also worry that some of the reasons we provide for segregating bathrooms by sex (i.e., privacy from people of the other sex due to natural sexual attraction between people of opposite sexes) might be critiqued in such a way that we would have to exclude people who are same-sex-attracted from the locker room that matches their sex. To state the reason explicitly, same-sex-attracted people would have to be excluded from the bathroom or locker room that matches their sex because we are concerned about them ogling other people of the same sex when they’re in a state of undress.
He does well to note that sexual attraction is just one of the reasons we segregate bathrooms. It is worth noting, now, that segregating bathrooms is a socially constructed idea. In some parts of the world, men urinate against walls, outdoors. A woman came in to clean the men’s room I was using in Korea — in fact several men were using it at the time — and no one thought twice about it.
But here in the West we have a strong, persistent, and I think well-justified preference to segregate bathrooms. I note that bathroom laws also apply in many cases to hotel rooms; that is, where schools are expected to grant transgender access to rest rooms, they’re also expected to allow trans persons to share hotel rooms with persons of opposite biological sex. In that case the segregation preference is even more well justified, for obvious reasons.
Why Segregation is Justified
In the case of both bathrooms and hotels, it’s justified because the great majority men and women prefer to save their physical nakedness for members of the same sex, and for members of the opposite sex only in moments of mutually agreed close physical intimacy. That’s a preference that’s worth honoring in law and policy; for there is no other place to make sure it does get honored.
Of course there are exceptions as mentioned, but to rewrite laws and policies for them would be to dishonor the strong preferences of the great majority. That’s not to mention the real possibility of predatory males using transgender access as cover to permit their entry into women’s rooms.
Going back to the question about the biological male who really looks and sounds and acts like a woman (or vice versa), there’s no way practical way to write a law preventing such a person from entering the opposite-sex rest room and using it as if he or she were the opposite sex. And since others using that bathroom are not aware that their preference is being violated, there’s no strong need to write such an impossible law. So practically speaking it’s sensible not to try.
Note, however, that’s not because “male” and “female” are socially constructed. It’s because people can alter their appearance to match opposite-sex norms.
Finally: Is “Gender” Socially Constructed?
So far I’ve been careful to speak mostly in terms of “sex,” not “gender.” Gender is a relatively new term in our culture, borrowed (as I understand it) from linguistics. Usually it refers to the social expressions associated with the two sexes; but remember: that’s a socially constructed definition.
To the extent that a society can define a term like gender, and limit its meaning to the social expressions of sex, to that extent it’s socially constructed. But that’s question-begging again. “Gender” has been socially created and fashioned specifically in service of a sexually revisionist agenda, to mean that persons’ gender choices are self-created and self-fashioned. The fact that this definition supports that agenda should hardly surprise anyone. The fact that they had to make it up to do so should lead us all to treat it with great caution.
For when a term is socially constructed, that doesn’t mean the reality it refers to (tangentially, in this case) is also socially constructed.