Gender Identity, Human Dignity, and California’s “Gender-Affirming” Care Law

Based in part on the correct presupposition that all humans are valuable, even intrinsically so, California recently passed a law allowing minors to come there from states that prohibit sex reassignment procedures. They can become wards of the state and receive gender-affirming health care, regardless of their parents’ wishes.

The law’s rationale is grounded in critical theory (CT) and expressive individualism. On these, one’s “true self” is rooted in the individual’s feelings, which the person should be free to express. Humans also should autonomously define their “true selves” according to their own self-conceptions, or “identities,” to be free from oppressive ideologies, including from parents being the primary decisionmakers for their minor children’s welfare.

However, I am concerned that these theoretical rationales actually will undermine these children’s value and dignity. Since CT is rooted in antiessentialism, there is no intrinsic value. Human dignity, then, is a human construct, and if certain constructs meet the state’s criteria, those people are recognized as valuable. But, not all such self-concepts will meet the state’s approval. E.g., if someone self-identifies as a white supremacist, or perhaps a supporter of traditional families, then that person could be looked upon with disapproval.

Thus, this reasoning, and in particular this law, presupposes that people do not have value unless they self-identify as one of the state’s approved identities. That, however, is a dangerous position. The state arbitrarily determines who is worthy of protection. Moreover, it undermines what we know, that all humans are intrinsically valuable.