Emile Ratelband’s legal crusade to shave 20 years off his life has raised questions about whether we are now pushing the factual pillars on which modern societies are built. The Dutch citizen recently made international headlines after he went to court seeking to legally change his age.
“We live in a time when you can change your name and change your gender. Why can’t I decide my own age?” declared Ratelband. He told that court that although he was technically 69 years old, he identified as a much younger man (a 49-year-old, to be exact). He wanted his new identity to be legally recognized.
According to Ratelband, his age was limiting his ability to enjoy life and lacked the privileges which come with being young. “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. If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work,” he explained.
Rejected in Court
The Dutch court agreed to hear Ratelband’s case, but ultimately ruled against him. The judge pointed out that many legal rights are based on age – the right to vote, to marry, to drive a car – and that changing all this to reflect an individual’s feelings of identity was simply too problematic.
“Mr. Ratelband is at liberty to feel 20 years younger than his real age and to act accordingly,” the court said in a press statement. “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.”
For one, it would open the door for people to identify as older than they actually are – which could obviously create some problems. The court also rejected Ratelband’s claims of discrimination and downplayed his gender-change comparisons as over simplistic, insisting those had occurred after worldwide debate. Undeterred, Ratelband says he plans to appeal the decision.
Can You Change Your Identity?
This is not the first case of someone seeking to capitalize on transgender acceptance by changing another aspect of their identity once thought to be immutable.
If one can simply decide to switch genders, the argument goes, why can’t they change other things, too? For Ratelband, it was age. But what about race? You might remember the name Rachel Dolezal, a white woman who decided to present herself as black – and was so successful doing so that she got elected to head her local NAACP chapter.
When her secret finally came to light, she employed transgender terminology to argue her case. Dolezal insisted she was a white woman living in a black woman’s body, and although her “birth race” was white, she had come to identify as black. Despite her best efforts, however, the public was unconvinced; Dolezal was forced to resign her position and step away from the spotlight.
Nevertheless, the story inspired others to pursue their transracial identities. Following in Dolezal’s footsteps was a transracial woman from Florida named Ja Du. Born a biological white male named Adam Wheeler, Ja Du insists her true racial identity is Filipino. So strong is the cultural resonance that she currently drives a Tuk Tuk (a three-wheeler taxi popular in Southeast Asia) around the streets of Tampa.
Drawing a Line
These various cases (and degrees of absurdity) relating to identity illustrate that it’s probably necessary to set some boundaries when it comes to changing our inherent characteristics.
Emile Ratelband may believe he has the body of a 49-year-old and that his trans-age identity is just as valid as that of a person who identifies as the opposite sex, but does that make it so? At what point do biological facts outweigh personal convictions?