Sometimes large social and cultural changes roll out slowly, often at the expense of individual rights. Other times they roll out quickly, to the discomfort of those of us who are set in our ways. Gender identity seems to be taking the latter course.
The ability to physically reshape our gender appearance and genitalia has been around for decades, popping up now and again as a controversial news topic, from Christine Jorgenson in the 1950s to Deirdre McCloskey in the 1990s. But in this second decade of the 21st century, it's become a topic of daily interest, from Chaz Bono to Laverne Cox to Caitlyn Jenner to Fallon Fox.
Look, I get it: I'm nearly 50 years old. I can remember when overt racism was considered normal and tolerable, even if it was on its way out. When I was a teen, homosexuality was widely considered immoral and a social stigma. Those two things are passing into history. I think — at least I hope — that a decade from now, or even sooner, transsexuals will find themselves well down that same path to social acceptance.
But right now, some people remain uncomfortable with the whole thing. There's going to be a period over which old ways of doing things only grudgingly give way to more comfortably and lovingly seeing ourselves and others.
That should not be the case where the state is concerned, though. The use of legal force to impede — or advance — social change is always a bad idea. Transgender people should not be forced to march through Selma in order to claim equal treatment under the law.
As always, the libertarian approach is most fit for getting us through this transition period. Libertarianism is the only political philosophy which allows everyone to answer "yes" to the question "can we all get along?"
If you want to believe that Caitlyn Jenner is still Bruce Jenner, and insist on referring to her as him, well, you're entitled to your opinion ... right up to the point where you claim a right to impose that opinion by force.
And the same applies to me.
I can't force you call her Caitlyn, and I wouldn't want to if I could. Nor should you be able to get a politician to tell her which restroom she can use, who she can marry, or what box she has to check next to "sex" on a form.
The last thing any of us needs is another multi-decade round of identity politics, complete with legally enforced discrimination, de facto ghettoization and vexatious litigation. All we need to do is not aggress against others. Time and mutual respect will take care of everything else.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).