Gender is a classification and identity is not a choice

Identity is not a choice.

Our physical attributes are a consequence of our identity – not the determinants of identity. Being tall or short or fat or black or slant-eyed are descriptors which can be used to distinguish between humans, but they all follow, or are consequences of, identity. Our names are identifiers, but are not identity. Our professions – lawyer, teacher, murderer, thief – are descriptors of identity, not determinants. Some physical characteristics can change and be changed, but identity remains inviolate. You can eat more and become fat, or have surgery to thin your lips, but your identity remains unchanged. Physical attributes can be disguised. A white girl in California (where else) can pretend to be black to gain some perceived privileges, but identity does not change. Our behaviour – within the constraints of what is physiologically possible – is a choice. Behaviour does not, however, determine identity.

Gender is a classification. It can be used as a descriptor, but it is not identity. Among humans, gender is a binodal classification, with overlap, in a continuum. There are only two classes – male and female. But being a classification, and since the two classes overlap to some extent, there can be masculine females and feminine males. (There are only two classes with overlap. There is no 3rd class). Surgery or hormone treatment can help change a classification but identity remains untouchable. You can change your name from Kyle to Courtney or from Elliott to Ellen or from Maxine to Max, but that does nothing to identity.

I observe that some sports are now applying common sense and not allowing men, pretending to be women, to compete against women. (I also observe that there are never any women, pretending to be men, competing against men).

Identity – of anything – is not a choice in our universe. It is a consequence of existence.

Where numbers come from

To be discrete and unique give substance to identity. Existence (a Great Mystery) comes first, of course. To have identity is to have some distinguishing characteristic which enables the quality of “oneness”. Note that the quality of being identical (similar) does not disturb identity. Two, or many, things may be identical, but the identity of each remains inviolate. An atom of hydrogen here may be identical to an atom of hydrogen elsewhere, but the identity of each remains undisturbed. It is estimated that there are between 1078 to 1082 atoms existing in the observable universe. Each one distinct from all the others. Each one having identity.

We use the word identity in many contexts. In the philosophical sense, which includes the context of counting, my definition of identity is then:

identity – oneness; the distinguishing character of a thing that constitutes the objective reality of that thing

It is the discreteness and uniqueness contained in identity which gives rise to the concept of oneness as a quality of a thing which makes that thing countable. It is having the concept of oneness which allows us to define a concept of number, label it as “one” and give it a symbol (1). How the concept of identity (oneness) emerged in the species is another one of the Great Mysteries of life and consciousness.

With living things, uniqueness is conferred at the time of conception. The identity of any life-form is fixed when the existence of that life is conceived. It could be an egg or a seed or a zygote. Once fixed that identity persists till the death of that life. For humans that identity may be remembered long after its death. The identity of any living thing is never a choice.

Does life start when the egg is laid?

In the case of humans a fertilised egg is called a “zygote” until it has implanted itself (about 6 -10 days after conception) in the wall of the womb. It is then called an “embryo”. It is called a “fetus” only from 8 weeks after conception and remains a “fetus” till the birth of a “child”. Just as a “chick” only emerges after egg hatching, a human “child” only emerges after birth. But in both cases life, life has begun much earlier. By the time a hen lays an egg, the genetic identity of the embryo in the egg has already been fixed. The unique genetic identity whether for chicken or for human is actually fixed when conception occurs. ………

The time when a unique identity is established and life begins is quite simply defined and the Great Abortion Debate is actually about the ethics of terminating that life at different times during its existence. It is trying to make an ethical distinction between breaking an egg for a breakfast omelette or killing a chicken for a roast dinner. (But note also that many vegetarians eat eggs but a chicken eater is never considered a vegetarian). Abortion, infanticide, murder or euthanasia are just labels for different times at which life is to be terminated. Abortion always kills a fetus (not a child) and infanticide always kills a child (not a fetus). But whether it is a zygote which fails to implant itself, or a fetus which is aborted, or a child killed for being the wrong gender, or an aged person being assisted to die, it is the same life, the same identity, which is terminated. …..

A unique genetic identity and life are established with conception.


Related: Immortality of identity

A unique identity is recognisable first when an egg is fertilised. That identity cannot be foretold but it may be remembered long after the individual dies. It may in due course be forgotten. But whether or not it is forgotten, the fact of the creation of that identity remains. Forever. It is identity, once created, which remains unique and immortal.


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