The next phase in transgender activism is being litigated in the Netherlands. Dutch motivational speaker Emile Ratelband, 69, is demanding his birth certificate and all official records of his birth date be retroactively reduced by 20 years to reflect the age he “feels.”
His case was heard before a court in Arnhem on Monday. Ratelband told The Washington Post that at first the judge laughed at him, but then became more receptive to his arguments after he spoke about how “we are a free people.” He compared his situation directly with those of people who desire that official records say they are the opposite sex.
The judge admitted that “a lot of years ago we thought that was impossible,” for someone to change his gender, The Guardian reported. Ratelband reiterated the sentiment in an interview with The Washington Post:
Because nowadays, in Europe and in the United States, we are free people. We can make our own decisions if we want to change our name, or if we want to change our gender. So I want to change my age. My feeling about my body and about my mind is that I’m about 40 or 45.
He has more than his feelings to go on, though. Ratelband maintains that his doctors have said “his body was that of a 45 year old man,” according to The Guardian.
His best argument, however, is that he is facing age discrimination. “When I’m 69, I am limited. If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car,” he told The Guardian. “I can take up more work. When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”
He said he’ll be able to obtain more work as a 49-year-old, saying potential clients are “skeptical” that at his current age he can “speak the language of the youth,” according to The Washington Post. He is also willing to give up his pension until he reaches retirement age again.
Ratelband has seven children. He tried to name his twins Rolls and Royce, but was denied by town hall officials. He says he plans to have more children by “surrogate mothers,” but it’s hard to find a mate when he lists his real age of 69. He doesn’t want to simply lie on the dating app Tinder. “If you lie, you have to remember everything you say.” Presumably if a lie is on an official document, then it is no longer a lie.
The self-help guru is no stranger to causing public commotion. In 2003, he started his own political party and crashed public forums of the top political candidates, acknowledging that the media painted him as “a clown” and that he “wanted to make a soap opera out of politics.” He showed up uninvited because the other political leaders were “boycotting” him.
This new evolution in the Dutch guru’s image comes from his “distinctly American” desire to “remake himself,” according to The Washington Post. In the 1980s, he traveled for six months with international “CEO whisperer” and self-help guru Tony Robbins. His belief that “you have to make your dreams come true from visualization,” derives from Robbins’ influence.
“This is American thinking,” Ratelband said. “Why can’t I change my age if I want to? You have to stretch yourself. If you think you can jump one meter, now I want to jump 20. If you earn 100 grand a month, now I want to earn 120 grand.”
You can find Robbins demonstrating “visualization” of this kind in this short video. I haven’t studied it in depth, but it seems a snake oil version of visualization, of the “as I think, so I am” that has been swallowed in large doses by people who identify as transgender and others who affirm their chosen identity. While many critics attribute this eager departure from reality by transgender-ists and trans-ageists to the influence of postmodernism (including myself), Ratelband’s origin story also makes sense.
We in the States can understand, to a degree, why he views his ambitious goals as American. In the American dream, neither poverty, race, country of origin, nor sex determine your fate. Nothing is set in stone. In the American dream, we are all “self-made.” As Ratelband said in court: “It is really a question of free will.”
It is unclear whether Ratelband’s wish to rewind the official clock will be granted. While conservative critics have used the idea of trans-ageism to illustrate the ludicrousness of transgender ideology, the arguments for rights for the so-called trans-aged seem stronger, in some cases, than those for the transgendered in almost any case. Age discrimination does happen, and allowing people who seem to suffer especially from it, and who really believe themselves to be younger than they are, would seem more reasonable (by today’s standards) than allowing someone to actually change the record of his or her sex, which is a more immutable concept than biological age.
Indeed, biological sex is a fundamental building block of our identity as individuals, far more fundamental than one or two decades of experience. Bodies “age” differently. We often speak of “turning back the clock” and “taking years off” our feeling and appearance. Some people who are 50 have the health and appearance of the average 70-year-old, and vice versa.
Along the same lines, a couple who marries at 18 and graduates college at 20, both employed, might be demonstrably more mature than a 24-year-old with no job who still lives with his parents. Why should they be denied the ability to purchase alcohol? Doesn’t mental and emotional maturity matter more than a date on a piece of paper?
Of course, what the date on a birth certificate represents is not biological or emotional age, but actual age. It represents a moment in time, and our temporal distance from that point can be objectively measured. Make no mistake: to tamper with this idea would lead to confusion, chaos, and even abuse (think of a pedophiles grooming a 13-year-old to self-identify as an 18-year-old).
Yet while this number is objective, our ideas about what age really means are much more fluid. Sometimes we feel young. Sometimes we feel old. We can look younger tomorrow than we look today. Indeed, it is easier to act 2o years younger than to act like a completely different sex. It is easier for an 18-year-old male to “pass” as a 21-year-old male than to pass for any length of time as a female (although obviously it is much harder for a middle-aged man to pass as a kindergartner). The fluidity and ambiguity of our conceptions of age in day to day life, the perceived closeness of fantasy and reality, are the grounds on which any tampering with objective age records would initially be justified — to the public, at least.
Even the so-called trans-racial (such as the much-ridiculed Rachel Dolezal) have stronger claim to their chosen identity than the transgendered, as conceptions of race actually are, to a significant extent, socially constructed. There’s significant “gray area,” whereas there is virtually zero ambiguity between male and female (intersex only accounts for about 1 in 2,000 births).
The gap between fantasy age and objective age is so small, at least in Ratelband’s case, that one might wonder how trans-ageism didn’t precede transgenderism as the first big societal step away from objective truth. Stella Morabito foresaw in 2015 that trans-ageism was just around the political corner. She discussed the case of a 52-year-old man who identified as not just the opposite sex, but as a six-year-old girl. As ridiculous as his fantasy was, it indicated “that transgender advocacy ultimately means that all self-defined identities must be enshrined in anti-discrimination law.”
Ratelband and his lawyer can argue biological age and having “the body of a 45 year old” ad nauseum, but in any trans field, proponents of accommodating delusions must eventually own up to the real reason they demand accommodation — that self-identity must be affirmed, period, because feelings always trump objective, physical reality. Western culture has, to a great extent, already accepted this as law. In the Netherlands, all one needs to file to change one’s official gender is to be older than 16 years of age and have a statement from an expert that affirms the individual’s “permanent conviction” about his chosen gender.
Where the physical mis-aligns with the emotional, now we say is the physical that must be bent, however awkwardly, to the “free will” of the individual. In both transgenderism and trans-ageism, official documents are the physical realities that are easiest to remedy. Attribute it to American hyper-individualism or postmodernism, but people all over the world are attempting to remake themselves in radical ways and expecting unconditional acceptance as the norm. Ratelband might seem like he has a few screws loose, but history may very well decide it was only natural that he demand to be made officially 20 years younger.