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The man who wants to change his age needs to grow up (opinion)

CNN logo CNN 11/15/2018 By Holly Thomas
a man wearing glasses talking on a cell phone © AP Images

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

"I've been hearing from people a lot about this story. They are saying, 'I am upset, this is hurting me.' It is people's lives, and it is upsetting that people are having their lives attacked just so this man can exercise his latest obsession."

So said Jane Fae, writer and campaigner for the rights of LGBT people and women, when I spoke to her on Tuesday about Emile Ratelband, the 69-year-old Dutchman who has embarked on a new venture to have his age legally changed to 49. Ratelband -- who describes himself as a "positivity guru" -- has heavily referenced the trans movement in his arguments, protesting: "We live in a time when you can change your name and change your gender. Why can't I decide my own age?"

Well, lots of reasons. But when Fae, who is a trans woman, met Ratelband on the BBC morning news program "Victoria Derbyshire" to discuss them on Monday, Ratelband interrupted her so much that she was unable to finish many of her sentences. So I called her up to hear the rest of what she had to say.

"Emile talks of trans being a feeling, which it is, in the sense I describe," explained Fae during our chat. "But underpinning that 'feeling' is a well-documented and defined phenomenon, recognized and researched by medical professionals for decades, affecting hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people.

"That is very different to a feeling expressed by a lone individual with a track record of pursuing one fad after another for a few months at a time, and piggybacking issues in an apparent attempt to raise his media profile."

This is indeed not the first time Ratelband, whose bid for youth has garnered worldwide coverage, has made a swift -- and shallow -- dive into a new venture. In 2003, Ratelband started his own political party, The Ratelband List, which was based on the model of the Islamophobic Dutch politician, Pim Fortuyn. The Ratelband List took part in the elections for the Dutch House of Representatives on January 22, 2003, but failed to win a single seat.

Since then, nothing has been heard of the party. During the BBC interview, and in many others, he has consistently framed his urge to change his age as a choice, referring to his "free will," and complaining that his chronological age of 69 was damaging his chances on the dating app Tinder.

"I am not an old man, I am a wise man," he told Fae at the BBC. "Always I have to defend myself, I have to lie about my age." Perhaps he is unaware of -- or unwilling to pay up for -- the upgraded version of Tinder, on which you can conceal your vintage.

It is incredibly obvious that Ratelband has given no serious thought to his proposal that people be designated a "biological," rather than a chronological age. Reverse engineer his idea a second -- are 45-year-olds who aren't in great shape to be declared "actually 65?" And while he claims he would be happy to give up his pension if he legally became 49, would he be happy for those "new" 65-year-olds to claim one?

All of the prejudice Ratelband has complained of is theoretical, rather than born of lived personal experience. He has bemoaned the fact that it is harder for old people to get a mortgage (he has one), and a job (he has one of those too). He has seven children already and is expecting an eighth with a surrogate. "For me, the following applies: not the burden of the woman, but the lusts of the children," he told the AD.

It is strange, also, that as someone so apparently exercised about the stigma older people face, he has made no effort whatsoever to tackle it so that others may benefit. Mortgage companies, for example, are most interested in the number of years you are likely yet to live, which would not change if one was assigned a new number. And the people who are stigmatized by age are mostly women. But Ratelband's solution to the problems of age, it seems, is simply not to be old. And his advocacy is focused exclusively on himself.

"He was someone I thought I might sympathize with," Fae told me. "But (during the BBC interview) he very quickly moved into my space, effectively erasing me and Victoria, the whole studio thing was all about him. Every time I made a point, he reverted to his. That's his whole politics, it's about moving into someone's space and erasing them."

Ratelband's insistence on comparing his own situation with the trans movement is not just offensive. It highlights the inadequacies of his argument. It is not necessary to say that trans discrimination is "like" other forms of discrimination, because it has a nuance and well-documented history in and of itself. Furthermore, while changing his age would apparently lessen the prejudice Ratelband feels he faces, transitioning can have the exact opposite effect. People who transition are likely to face at the very least prejudice, and at worst physical violence. But the urge to do so is so strong, that people proceed despite this. "I would have done anything and everything to transition, once I knew I could," Fae explained. "It was overwhelmingly impossible not to."

This distinction seems utterly lost on Ratelband, who for all his protestations that he is a "wise man," exhibits a depth of thought comparable to one of his political heroes: Donald Trump. He claims that Trump is a "new" kind of person, unrestricted by the limitations placed on previous Presidents.

Ratelband has conveniently ignored the administration's attacks on transgender people, instead gushing in an interview with the Washington Post that POTUS "is just himself." "Trump is the first one who is honest. He shows his emotion on Twitter, saying to everyone 'shut up.' He's a new kind of person."

Trump isn't "new," though. And neither is Ratelband. Both represent a very old, tedious form of white male privilege whose response to not getting precisely what they want, no matter how inane, is to stomp their feet and talk over everyone else. Neither exhibits any shame as they claim victimhood for things which they are not victims of, and neither has any regard for the consequences of their actions for other people. An Arnhem court is expected to rule on Ratelband's case within a few weeks. Let us hope it tells him to start behaving like an adult and leaves his age unchanged.

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