The Fairfax County School Board recently approved a policy expanding punishment for students who misgender classmates. Pronouns that accord with reality now constitute “discriminatory harassment” and can result in weekslong suspension or even a referral to law enforcement.
This decision is a harbinger of things to come and precedes an impending Biden administration regulatory proposal expanding the definition of sex discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity. Such a change threatens to undo the integrity of girls’ sports and the necessary protections for their private spaces (such as locker rooms), leaving them vulnerable to sexual assault.
Perhaps to soften the policy, the school board included qualifying language that such punishments apply to “malicious” misgendering. This offers little consolation. Anything short of total allegiance to LGBTQ+ dogmas has long been considered hateful regardless of whether one’s position is animated by malice or not. Clinging to the possibility of being a hater without malice seems like an untenable and ultimately meaningless distinction.
Even if a teacher might sometimes spare the exacting of such punishments, the codifying of radical gender ideology into school policy sets a precedent that could lead to an enormous amount of shaming and psychological harm to children.
Psychological Damage Will Result
Imagine how this works. Your nine-year-old daughter goes to school and uses the male pronoun for her obviously male classmate (who has recently declared he is a she). A heavy silence follows the pronoun bomb and the teacher’s disapproving look bears down on your sheltered, pitiable child. In a moment of generosity, the teacher might determine that this infraction seems accidental and more a reflection of your daughter’s ignorant upbringing than anything else. Instead of punishment, the teacher decides to turn this into a “teachable moment” with an emphatic admonition in front of the class about your daughter “deadnaming” Jackie (formerly known as John). What she has done is harmful and hurtful.
Face flushed, this message penetrates your daughter’s mind and heart: “This was a damaging mistake. I have hurt people. I am bad.”
But she senses there is a way out. The embarrassment and vulnerability she feels can be rectified by apologizing and fiercely adhering to the correct gender ideology. Soon after, an opportunity arises to shame another classmate who stumbles similarly. She used to be like that child — ignorant, harmful. But the memory of that humiliation is now replaced with a sly, but irresistible, feeling of virtue and the approving face of her teacher.
Next, the natural progression is to discover in herself something that will increase her moral stature beyond merely being an ally. Surely some sort of queer identity lurks within her too! She might start by becoming a “they/them.” Later, she considers transitioning her clothing. Next, she is encouraged to consider transitioning her body.
This is hypothetical of course, but tragically reflects countless real-world experiences. Often the confusion stems from even deeper psychological distress stemming from abuse or neglect. Rather than addressing that and offering healing, their pain is exploited and projected onto their bodies. Truth itself becomes an affront, and the speaking of truth an assault.
With such eerily cult-like tactics, schools barely need to dole out punishments to effectively indoctrinate children. That such a demoralizing policy exists is enough to discourage and silence anyone left who preserves the belief that our bodies are meaningfully connected to our identity.
Model Citizens of a Totalitarian State
Once convinced that her body is essentially meaningless, the child will soon internalize on some level that she is essentially meaningless, for so integral are our bodies to ourselves. No wonder we have a rapidly increasing pandemic of youth despair and suicide.
Certainly, some kids might be less impressionable and more able to wade somewhat unscathed through such minefields. But there are still great costs. When a child learns to not voice the plain truths he perceives, he loses confidence in his ability to discern what is real and a willingness to think for himself. What replaces that confidence is compliance in the face of corruption and the making of a model citizen of a totalitarian state.
Loss of Language and Meaning
Corrupt governments are built on isolated individuals, and there are few things more isolating than the loss of our shared language. Once compromised, we lose not only the utility of words, which enable us to convey basic facts about the practical realities of daily life, but also any common and universal meaning toward which our daily lives and our interior lives might point.
A breakdown in our common understanding of words leads to a society in chaos and frustration, inevitably miscommunicating and plagued by distrust. We become suspicious, not only of each other, but of ourselves and our ability to grasp reality.
Nancy Pelosi recently stated, “Your freedom of expression, of yourselves in drag, is what America is all about.”
Unfortunately, she wasn’t entirely wrong. The ruling philosophy undergirding her statement (and queer theory more broadly) is that our reason for existence is expression: to acknowledge, reveal, and live out our authentic selves based on our personal desires, especially our sexual desires. The concept that there is a moral order that binds us and points us to our purpose must be rejected if personal flourishing depends on the revelation and expression of a core identity that is identical with our personal predilections. Any social norm that limits those predilections is an irrational means of repression in this framework. The more unconventional the sexual desire, the more potential a person has for fully living out his liberation.
From corporations to kindergarten, from politics to the playground, queer theory’s institutional capture is staggering, but the capture of the child is perhaps the most effective avenue to capturing the culture. A child is an unassailable signpost pointing to meaning and an objective good. Once our children are reeducated into a destabilizing gender ideology, our deepest protective instincts can work against us, causing confusion and cowardice. Many parents would rather go along with the grand lie than jeopardize a relationship with their own child (or challenge the status quo).
But the ones who refuse to just go along are the only remaining grownups in the room. If America is to be meaningful again — if our children are to see themselves as meaningful again — it’ll only be by way of grown-ups insisting at any cost that there is such a thing as meaning at all.
Noelle Mering is a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. She is author of
“Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology,” co-author of the “Theology of Home” book series, and editor at TheologyofHome.com. Noelle is a wife and a mother of six children.