A man in the Netherlands named Emile Ratelband is 69 years old, but he feels like he is 49. His feeling isn’t a particularly remarkable one—I think it’s safe to say that most of us don’t “feel” our ages depending on the day. But the problem is, Mr. Ratelband (pictured above) has filed a court claim seeking to have the Dutch government officially recognize his feelings of being young by changing his birth certificate to reflect the age that he feels himself to be.
“Because nowadays, in Europe and in the United States, we are free people,” Ratelband said in an interview. “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.”
Mr. Ratelband’s demand is the latest example of a remarkable trend that has taken hold in Western countries over the last decade. It is the insistence that the state give legal recognition to all lifestyle choices, a movement that I will call the “identity rights” movement. This modern movement arguably began in earnest around 2003 when homosexual activists demanded that the state give them marriage rights (which was legalized in Massachusetts that year), even though there was no prohibition against two people of the same sex living together in a domestic partnership if they wished. This movement culminated in 2015 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that all states must recognize same-sex marriage.
The transgender movement steamrolled into the public consciousness soon after, with activists demanding that those who identify as the opposite sex from their biological sex at birth be given access to opposite sex public restrooms, changed birth certificates, and participation in opposite sex sports.
Also in 2015, a woman named Rachel Dolezal gained national attention when it was discovered that she had been posing as a black woman for years, even serving as the president of her local NAACP chapter, but in reality did not have any African ancestry. Even though her cause was not widely supported by the identity rights movement, Dolezal was simply following the same logic: if people can get state recognition to be the opposite sex from what they actually are, why can’t they also choose their ethnicity? Even U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) seems to think along these lines.
In an identity-obsessed world, Emile Ratelband’s demand for the state to publicly lie about his actual age doesn’t seem that unreasonable, which is why no one should be surprised if the Dutch court agrees to grant his request. But it raises the question: how far can this go? Where will society draw the line? Currently, it doesn’t seem far-fetched to foresee a day when people will be able to legally declare themselves to be taller than they actually are, or to be whatever animal they want to be. To follow this line of legal logic to its inevitable end is to grant people any conceivable identity that they can conjure up.
But what the identity rights movement doesn’t acknowledge is that when the state grants legal recognition to a person’s chosen identity, it affects the rights of others. Ask Jack Phillips, or Barronelle Stutzman, or Pascha Thomas. The list goes on and on.
At its root, the identity rights movement is a cry for the deepest human need: to be loved. When people publicly identify themselves as something they are not, they are crying out for what is tragically lacking in their lives through no fault of their own. As human beings, lovingly created in God’s image, it is our divine calling to love each other as best we possibly can, starting first and foremost with our own families. It is impossible for this kind of authentic love to be bestowed by the state. This is why the identity movement’s demand for state recognition of all identities is an ultimately futile endeavor—it’s never going to give them the affirmation that they are truly searching for.
In this age of an ascendant identity movement and the domination of identity politics, it is crucial for all believers to witness to this timeless truth: that God does not make mistakes. The way that we are created tells us something about who we are. We never have to seek the approval of others to know how much we matter. We have all been loved into being by the Creator of the universe—that is the only identity that truly matters.