LONDON, ONTARIO – In a recent email exchange with someone who finds me just a wee bit judgmental, I was asked why I refuse to discard my quaint allegiance to that primary doctrine of both theology and biology that there are only two sexes. You too may have noticed that this article of dogma which has enjoyed universal acceptance from time immemorial, began to encounter a coordinated squall of tetchy turbulence about ten minutes ago. My favourite formulation of what I still regard as one of the more foundational doctrines to live by – positing that which shapes and drives and bestows most of the charm and wonder which are to be found in human existence – hails from the King James version of the Bible and goes like this: “Male and female created He them.”
My correspondent wanted to know why I couldn’t see past this rigid male/female dichotomy and embrace what he regards as the more liberating paradigm of a gender spectrum where people get to choose and re-choose their sexual identity however many times they like from a whole range of forty-two different sexual orientations? Particularly in those instances when these shape-shifting gender pioneers have surgically altered their bodies in emulation of a different identity which they have come to believe is most truly theirs, where does a happily oriented cis-gendered heterosexual bore like me get off in second guessing the validity or veracity of their decision? “What’s it got to do with you, anyway?” he wanted to know. “After all," he could have added (but didn't). "It's no skin off your . . . uh . . . nose.”
Well, of course, I acknowledge that sexual identity and expression are infinitely complex matters that each person comes to terms with, ideally in blissful conjunction with somebody else, and in their own particular way. And I believe this to be so even for two-gender traditionalists like myself. Like the unfolding of one’s character or the recognition of one’s talents or inclinations, it can take decades to fully manifest all the implications of one’s maleness or femaleness, regardless of whether you feel perfectly at home in the body you were born with or not.
If some physically mature Josephine or Joe discreetly decides to switch out their wardrobe, accentuate some mannerisms, alter their hairstyle and perhaps sign on for some hormone supplements to help them look and sound a little more like the sex they are not but long to be, I might find their actions mystifying but, sure enough, it would have nothing to do with me. And so long as they didn’t nag at me to affirm an action I can only regard as reckless and tragic, I would do my best to maintain that indifference – though my mystification would now be shot through with pity – if I knew they had hacked off or mangled miraculously functional body parts to replace them with crude surgical approximations of the other sex’s most intimate equipment.
More than forty years ago in a much saner time when it was rarely heard of and totally untrendy, I actually knew two male-to-female transsexuals – one very well and the other just to say hello - who’d both gone in for the full surgical overhaul. Back then nobody was regarded as a trans-sexual if they still had the genitals they were born with. They could dress up funny and identify as anything they liked but if they still had their original junk, they were transvestites and wouldn’t have dared to crash washrooms or locker rooms that were designated for the other sex. And in the other big change in the transsexual biz since that simpler time, we are informed that today’s heaviest traffic at the gender reassignment clinic is in through the girls’ door and out through the boys’.
The trans I knew best had undergone the surgery several years before we met and resolutely did not want to talk about it and that was A-OK with me. About ten years older than me, she was a smart cookie but somewhat naïve in her belief that I and other people who made her acquaintance knew nothing about her physical odyssey. Gossip thrives on the unusual. The fact of her alterations was one of the first things I heard about her prior to our introduction. There were other women in the room the first time we met and at first glance, I wasn’t sure who was the ex-man. Then I noted the narrowness of her hips, the width of her hands. Many months later when I learned for certain that she knew that I knew, I anticipated that she might want to acknowledge this or say something about it but I took all of my cues from her and we still didn’t broach the topic and never have.
We worked together very steadily for about three years and became pretty good friends, if not residents of one another’s innermost circle. She had a broad musical knowledge quite different from mine and introduced me to Erik Satie and Alan Stivell; two favourites I still listen to and never without thinking of her. She also had an excellent grasp of English history (particularly the Tudor period owing to her traceable family connection to one of my great heroes, St. Thomas More) and also Forest City cultural and publishing lore. She eventually moved away from London but I still hear from her occasionally and we both look back with particular fondness on the marathon games of Risk which we used to host, usually at my place, with a couple other friends, a platter of exotic cheeses and several bottles of wine.
Those long nights of pushing metal markers around a cardboard map of the world in pursuit of global domination, taught me just about everything I know about military strategy. One of those lessons which I’ve been reflecting on this month is the way in which the land-locked nations of middle Europe – places like Ukraine, for instance – face the greatest difficulties in maintaining their sovereignty. Copacetic neighbours and an extensive coastline greatly reduce the risk of invasion.
Setting aside those special occasions when we sought to liquidate each other while playing Risk, I would ask the court of public opinion to consider that my history with the only transsexual I’ve ever really known was marked by affection and respect. The fact that we held rather different ideas about what was sexually desirable or appropriate had no effect on our friendship because we both maintained a benign lack of curiosity regarding one another's erotic raptures. We vaguely hoped that things were working out to the other’s satisfaction but we did not want any details. And come to think of it, that’s pretty well the stance I hold with all of my friends.
So it isn’t individual transsexuals I have any sort of problem with; it’s ‘Big Trans’, this suddenly monolithic pressure group that has hopped on the victimization bandwagon to get their utterly poisonous ideology taken up by spineless governments and school boards and the witless overlords of old and new media. It's appalling to see legislators tabling laws to criminalize the refusal to use a trans individual’s preferred pronouns – in short, to compel citizens to say things they do not believe to be so . . . Or for women’s sports competitions to be rendered absurd by allowing significantly more powerful males to compete against them as women . . . Or for prisons to be made more dangerous than they already are by allowing men who say they identify as female (even if they still have their dicks) to share quarters with biological females . . .
But no single plank of the trans ideology bugs me more than the rejigging of our education system to teach younger and younger kids to regard their basic biology as fungible and entertain the idea (which they aren’t even remotely prepared to process) that they could well be born into the wrong kind of body and might want to make some alterations. To introduce such chaos to a developing individual who requires age-appropriate guidance that he can trust, strikes me as nothing less than child abuse.
A couple of websites that I frequent feature clickbait which I regard as a little unworthy but occasionally check out if I’m in the right (or wrong) mood; items that are routinely headlined ‘WTF?’ or ‘Your Dose of Mental Illness for the Day’. These posts link to short TikTok videos in which ‘transitioning’ teenagers and young adults – usually female and broadcasting from some sequestered corner of their parents’ home – impatiently pronounce their preferred pronouns and tell us how infuriating it is to be ‘mis-gendered’ by teachers, parents and other knuckle-dragging straights who won’t play along with whatever fantasy they’re entertaining this week about who they really and truly and most authentically are. I’ve watched enough of these clips to have identified some depressingly prevalent hallmarks of the genre.
Most striking of all is the anger of these overbearing Karens in-the-bud demanding to speak to the managers of the world’s social intercourse so that they can dictate everybody’s thought and speech. If someone is actually confident about some personal understanding they’ve come to, they aren’t compelled to badger everybody else to assert the rightness of their conception as well. Indeed, I suspect their anger is a reflection of their own carefully suppressed confusion. Like Covid-mask fetishists who can't feel safe unless everyone else wears one too, these control freaks demand universal affirmation for their preposterous claims – that men can have babies; that feelings matter more than physical reality; that it's merest coincidence that all the best female athletes inexplicably have penises; that sex is only a social construction presumptively assigned at birth by medical lackeys of the patriarchy; that not feeling attracted to a trans-sexual is an expression of bigotry and hate. If the puffed-up parrots who squawk such drivel were more frequently challenged in their contentions, it might just give them pause to wonder whether they actually believe this hooey themselves.
Almost as pronounced as their anger is the creepy narcissism on display; and that’s a personality disorder that always flags an utter lack of self-knowledge as well as a disregard for others. I mean, what kind of arrogance does it take to maintain that the way you feel about your body gives you the authority to dictate other people’s language? And this is sexual identity we’re talking about here, right? Why would any sane human being want to draw the callow attention of the world onto such an intimate realm of life?
Of course, you take a lively interest in your own sex life, I want to say to these bores. But so does every other sensate person on the planet – not in yours, I hasten to add, but in their own. Do you really think that perfect strangers care about the degree to which you feel at one with the current state of your genitals? Hopefully, there’s somebody in your life who does care about that. But nearly everybody who watches your videos is tuning them in for a laugh. They find your po-faced earnestness about your own sexual embodiment to be grotesquely comical. Hector us until you’re blue in the face but nobody who doesn’t already live with you is going to memorize your nonsensical pronouns. In fact, if our lives unfold the way we want them to, we’re hoping we'll never find ourselves in a situation where we'll have to address a dictatorial bully like you as anything at all.
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THE AQUINAS LECTURE
G.K. CHESTERTON AND THE GIFT OF GRATITUDE
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