June 12, 2023 - 1:00pm

California has taken two further steps forward in the push to institutionalise the primacy of human desire over human flesh and human relationships. 

California bill SB 729, passed in the Senate last month, redefines “infertility” not as a medical condition but a status that can be caused by an individual’s situation as much as by medical issues. Meanwhile another bill, AB 957, passed in May, has amended the state’s standard for what constitutes parental responsibility for child welfare. To be deemed fit for providing for “the health, safety, and welfare of the child,” in a court of law, parents must not merely “consider” but “affirm” a child’s chosen gender identity. 

What’s being institutionalised in both instances here is the primacy of desire over aspects of human physiology or relationships that have hitherto been treated as given and “natural”: the reproductive process, the normal development pathway of puberty, and the authority of parents over their children. 

In the case of SB 729, an individual or couple (or some other constellation) that desires a baby but doesn’t have male and female gametes and a woman to do the gestating is now defined as “infertile”, on a par with a heterosexual couple that would normally expect to be able to have a baby but for some medical reason cannot conceive. In turn, this legislation requires insurance companies to fund “infertility” treatments for individuals or couples that would never be able to conceive naturally, potentially including gestational surrogates.

Effectively, this legislation redefines normal features of the human reproductive process as medical problems in need of solution, should those normal features conflict with the desires of would-be lone parents or same-sex couples. It then provides for a whole new infrastructure of expensive medical technology and “gestational services” to “cure” biological impossibilities that have been redefined as mere obstacles.

In the case of AB 957, where parents are in a custody battle over a child and part of that custody battle concerns whether the child should be treated as “transgender”, California will presume the parent who resists transitioning their child to be failing in their parental duty of care. Here, the presumptive primacy of desire over organismic givens is asserted on several fronts. 

First, puberty is presumed to have already been redefined from a normal process to an expressive option. That is: puberty, once considered simply “natural”, is now understood as an option that may or may not “align” with the desires of a child. And that child, far from being understood as developmentally immature and in need of forming, is reimagined as already capable of expressing those desires consistently and coherently, and of consenting to the extreme medical interventions necessary to remodel “the wrong puberty” in accordance with these desires. 

Then, as well as entrenching this right to “cure” the normal human maturational process, premised on the assertion of a pre-existing and consistently felt “gender identity”, the legislation inverts the previous understanding of the relation between parents and children. Instead of taking for granted the parent’s loving authority to pursue their child’s best interests, over the (presumed immature) child’s desires if necessary, parental responsibility is now treated as conditional on adult willingness to obey the child’s desires. 

We should not underestimate how radical a transformation this emerging paradigm represents, nor how fundamental the political divisions it occasions already are. Expect this to get worse: the well-documented “Big Sort, in which Americans are increasingly relocating along political fault lines, implies that the gulf between US states on the proper relation between desire, nature, biotech, and politics grows starker over time. And as it’s generally the case that when America sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold, we can be sure the 51st State will become increasingly embroiled. 

Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.