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Musings From a Millennial: When Nobody Has No Body

Editor’s Note: The views stated here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors of this newspaper. We welcome supporting or opposing views on any published item.

 By Meghan Peterson

“Habeas Corpus – You shall have the body”

The Latin phrase “habeas corpus” legally means that a person is to appear in front of a judge in order for due process to occur (by which a determination of guilt will be made, as the concept of innocence is the a priori presumption or starting point within the American justice system). It seals a legal agreement that both the one being judged and the one doing the judging are to participate in a face-to-face process. At its core, the legal process requires – indeed, demands – standing before an arbiter of law (in this context, the judge and in some cases a jury as well).

Habeas corpus has roots within the 13th century English Magna Carta and is located within Article 1 of the United States Constitution (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2).

This is but a snapshot into the legal arc and application of the Latin phrase.

Why am I musing about a legal phrase for this column? Simple.

It dawned on me that this growing conversation centering on gender identity/fluidity (for example, we are told that biological boys may be girls trapped within the physical confines of males and vice versa; alternately, we are told that some individuals may not subscribe to a specific identity but rather may be any identity at any time) we are witnessing at the national, state, and local levels, has implications beyond the appeal of fleeting empowerment one may feel in substituting fiction for reality.

When you have individuals (voluntarily or involuntarily – in the case of minors/youth) yielding identity – physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually – to a series of categories in a name alone without basis – or when you have institutions erasing the uniqueness of female and male (for example, women’s sports or women’s pageant organizations) or when individuals cannot or refuse to define what a human life is – or when it begins, then the notion of “You shall have the body” in the sense of legal and constitutional recognition disappears.

Despite the temporary allure and stylistic pizzazz of claiming what one is not, one loses what one originally has – which is human agency and autonomy. Law is only as efficacious and protective as its authors take ownership about certain inalienable and immutable truths. A body that has no meaning other than a momentary societal construct assigned to it under a destructive concoction of pronoun soup (he/they; she/her) and mutilated bodies of youth (procedures hypocritically labeled “gender affirming care” in the U.S. yet labeled genital cutting when done in African or Middle Eastern regions) is without power and without value.

As we observe and/or participate in this conversation, may we rediscover that compass for basic truths so that we discern fact from fiction; so that we discern conditions of liberty from conditions of its absence. If we are unable to do that, then we cannot discern mechanisms by which our personhood, autonomy and liberty may be discarded altogether.

Then again, perhaps that is the point of all this.



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