Winding back the clock

This is not an appropriate venue for a discussion of my age, but I think that most readers will sympathise with my occasional interest in winding the clock back a few years. Wouldn't it be great if the hoary adage, "you're only as old as you feel", could have the force of law?

You might recall the case of Emile Ratelband, a 69-year-old Dutch “positivity guru”, who applied to a court last year to slash 20 years off his age because he felt 49. He argued that the three essential elements of legal identity are our name, our sex and our age. Since it is possible nowadays to change both our name and our sex, why not our age? His request made headlines around the world.

Understandably so. Winding back the clock would be liberating. Winding it forward would have its own advantages. American 18-year-olds living in states where the drinking age is 21 could advance their age by three years. Or over-worked 55-year-olds dreaming of a round-the-world cruise trip on Symphony of the Seas could become 65 and claim a pension.

Sadly, Mr Ratelband has lost his case. "Mr Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly," a court ruled recently. "But amending his date of birth would cause 20 years of records to vanish from the register of births, deaths, marriages and registered partnerships. This would have a variety of undesirable legal and societal implications."

Was the court’s decision correct? Let’s run through some of the contrary arguments.

Writing in an article just posted at the Journal of Medical Ethics, Joona Räsänen, a Finnish bioethicist working at the University of Oslo, supports Mr Ratalband. He contends that “at least on some occasions it is possible to give a moral justification for legal age change,” because it prevents discrimination. Being able to change one’s age would be a way to prevent, stop or reduce ageism. 

This startling claim immediately attracts objections. Isn’t age a biological fact which cannot be changed? What about workplace safety? What if people became older rather than younger – wouldn’t that be psychologically dangerous? Isn’t this a slippery slope to height fluidity? What if people abused this facility to claim old age pensions?

If you are campaigning for age fluid legislation, Räsänen’s article is well worth reading. He rebuts all of these objections:

I have argued that in some cases people should be allowed to change their legal age. Such cases would be when the person genuinely feels his felt age differs significantly from his chronological age and the person’s biological age is recognised to be significantly different from his chronological age and age change would prevent, reduce or stop ageism, the discrimination due to age, he would otherwise confront.  

In any case, there is a precedent, as Mr Ratelband pointed out.

Transgenders believe that gender dysphoria, an intense feeling that one is in the wrong body, justifies changing your gender socially, medically and legally. In some jurisdictions, mere affirmation is sufficient for a legal change. For instance, in the United Kingdom, a Gender Recognition Panel will give you a Gender Recognition Certificate if you have gender dysphoria, if you have lived as your chosen gender for two years, and if you intend to live in the new gender until your death.

Age dysphoria is similar, with a persistent self-image which is younger than your chronological age, an intense dissatisfaction with adult characteristics, fantasies of being younger, and behaving like a younger person. The pain of feeling yourself ageing – with wrinkles, infirmity, hair loss, social marginalisation and whatnot – can be intense. In some cases, it could be relieved with an age recognition certificate. What could be more humane? Or simpler? I think that most people would be very happy to live with their new age until they die.

A recognised age-fluid community already exists. Adult baby diaper lovers (ABDL) are interested behaving like or pretending to be children. They have their own websites, magazines, shops and organisations. The ability to make their legal age congruent with their emotional age would undoubtedly remove some of the stigma that they experience.

Given the precedent of transgenderism, a solid case for self-definition is forming for every aspect of our identity – race, gender, name or age. In the leading feminist philosophy journal Hypatia, Rebecca Tuvel, of Rhodes College, in Memphis, set down two conditions for claiming a change of racial identity:

for a successful self-identification to receive uptake from members of one’s society, at least two components are necessary. First, one has to self-identify as a member of the relevant category. Second, members of a society have to be willing to accept one’s entry into the relevant identity category.

She was defending the controversial possibility of trans-racialism – identifying as a member of a different racial group, like Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who became president of a chapter of the NAACP. But Mr Ratelband’s claim meets those conditions. He identified as 49 and doctors agreed that he appears to be 49.

Another feminist who defends trans-racialism, Canadian philosopher Christine Overall, speaks of “life-changing and life-enhancing aspirations for personal transformation and self-realization”. For many people, what could be more personally transformative, more life-enhancing, more deeply satisfying than winding back the clock?

Enough already with this hokum. The court's ruling was correct. We can all agree that Mr Ratelband’s stunt was ridiculous -- because it's not aligned with reality. What’s not obvious is why the transgender ideology that a person with XY chromosomes should be legally recognised as a woman, or that a person with XX chromosomes should be legally recognised as a man, isn’t equally ridiculous.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet


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