Gender Identity and Libertarianism

Download a PDF copy of Mikayla Novak’s full C4SS StudyGender Identity and Libertarianism


People who do not identify with a gender status consistent with conventional fixed, binary gender stereotypes remain the target of a complex array of typically intertwining state policies and civil societal norms which greatly inhibit their liberties.

Transgender and other gender-diverse people are, for example, routinely subjected to discriminatory identity documentation and service access policies. In addition, they often confront episodes of abuse, ridicule, and violence by cisgender people seeking to enforce prevailing gender identity standards. The consequences of such practices are, in turn, reflected in a large amount of evidence pointing to a lack of economic and social participation on several fronts.

Several key issues affecting people within diverse gender communities are considered through a libertarian perspective, with its emphasis on the primacy of the individual and endorsement of mutually assenting and voluntary actions.

Identifying with and expressing one’s innately felt sense of gender identity is consistent with the free development and flourishing of the individual human being. Efforts by political institutions to suppress diverse gender identities, for example a refusal to enable individuals to easily alter gender markers on identity documents, thus violate the liberties and rights of transgender and gender-diverse individuals — just like many other regulatory and fiscal policies are prone to do.

Further, grassroots activism raising greater awareness of the diversity inherent within gender identity, and actions seeking the prevention of transphobia from state and non-state sources, is conformable with time-tested libertarian concerns of freedom of association and expression.

By the same token, assessing the circumstances affecting transgender and gender-diverse people also potentially recasts certain features of conventional libertarian thinking in a different light.

For example, libertarians overwhelmingly perceive emergent, or spontaneous, orders to be the beneficial by-products of decentralised human action. But a cultural and social pathogen such as transphobia may also be interpreted as a spontaneous order, to the extent that decentralised, but largely uncoordinated, harmful actions against exercising gender diversity induces perverse effects, such as a widespread delaying or suppression of procedures to assume non-cisgender identities.

Even if some conditions which prevail over the lives of people in diverse gender communities, both here and around the world, challenge some presumptions in modern libertarian circles, there remains a compelling case for a sympathetic libertarian reception to the need for transgender and gender-diverse liberation and social justice.

The desire to remove statist inhibitions upon freely identifying and expressing a diverse range of gender identities should be an obvious candidate for libertarian policy advocacy and concern. Liberalising gender marker policies pertaining to identification documents remains a pressing priority for transgender and gender-diverse people, not least because of discrimination often resulting from oneʼs lived gender being inconsistent with that proclaimed by the gender marker.

Libertarians should also take a much greater interest in gender identity issues because non-state vigilante acts of abuse, discrimination, and violence exert similar effects to that which would otherwise be seen in episodes of outright coercion by statist actors.

It is the profound deprivation of economic and social liberties experienced by transgender and gender-diverse people, from all sources, that should be the prime concern here, rather than furtively attempting to parse out which are the greater or lesser instances of coercion that ought to receive libertarian attention. Whilst libertarians tend to doctrinally bicker over whether state and/or non-state coercion constitute appropriate methodological concerns, the basic individual liberty to fully express one’s own gender identity continues to be annulled or diminished.

Transgender and other gender-diverse people desperately need allies in cisgender communities if they are to be afforded genuine equality, justice, and liberty which has been won by other minorities and groups previously oppressed throughout human history. Indeed, libertarians are well equipped to stand in favour of gender diversity, given their previously pivotal roles in calling for the end of domination and subjection of religious minorities, racial minorities, women, sexual minorities, and others.

In the final analysis, a faithful libertarian reading of the causes and consequences of diverse gender identity should lead its activists, intellectuals, philosophers, and scholars to join transgender and gender-diverse people in their struggle for a gender identity freed from the impersonal impositions of government and the stifling strictures of convention. …

Download a PDF copy of Mikayla Novak’s full C4SS StudyGender Identity and Libertarianism

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