Tag Archives: Dog Day Afternoon

Gender Defender

The Idiot has been away recently to attend the Village Idiots Convention, held this year at the Lee Plaza Hotel in Detroit. He returns to conclude his musings on The Transgender Tipping Point and related subjects.

Well, Dog Day Afternoon was pretty interesting, especially where the bank robber Sal Naturale names Wyoming, my home state, as the foreign country he wants safe passage to. Hah! And how peropportune: the movie was based on a real Brooklyn bank heist carried out in 1972 by three hapless clowns, including one John Wojtowicz whose “wife,” Ernest Aron, was a man who self-identified as a woman. I use the scare quotes because the wedding ceremony was of dubious legitimacy. Well, it seems that Ernest had some serious psychological issues due to his sexual confusion. Or was it the other way around? Who knows. The point is that Wojtowicz robbed the bank partly to get enough money for Ernest to afford sex-change surgery. Having failed in that crime, he did nonetheless get enough money from film rights to pay for the change, and Ernest became Elizabeth Debbie Eden. She died from AIDS in 1987.

I grabbed a cup o’ Black Whole Singularity from Dogface Donuts and sat on my bench to try to make sense of all this. I’d talked to the Fool on the Hill and Moe Rahn and I’d done some reading and lots of thinking. So, where are we with this? The Village Green lawn, just mowed, glittered with golden gobs of sunlight. Teenage kids were making out, young couples were playing with their children. Ah, nature. It was a good afternoon for some clear thinking.

There have always been, and always will be, people whose inner sense of their own gender doesn’t agree with their natural gender: boys who think they’re girls, girls who think they’re boys, and a bewildering, chaotic, ever-morphing variety of preferences and practices. Let’s call it LGBPTTQQIIAA+ for now; the acronym will no doubt expand. And we know that some societies have made allowance for people like that. But it has also happened often enough that other people have been unjust and cruel to such persons. Humans are like that sometimes, one is sad to admit. Such mistreatment has given rise to a new quasi-civil rights movement and to demands, not only for protection and acceptance, but even for approval, praise, and celebrity. Conchita Wurst, Carmen Carrera, Chaz Bono are hailed as heroes or, in that noxious media cliché, “icons.”

One thought-floor down, this “movement” seems to have as its first principle that science’s proper purpose is to fix or improve what is not naturally “right” in some sense. We can all agree that science and technology can and often do improve our natural conditions. Skilled surgeries, pharmaceutical products, technological devices, these save lives every day. And most of us would agree that sexual-confusion disorders are real as psychological and emotional conditions, with multifarious causes, kinds, and degrees. We should all agree that the sexually-confused should be treated justly, not because they are a special case but because they are persons and deserving of justice. But we do not all agree that sexual confusions should be treated as physical disabilities, nor that reassignment treatments require us to accept the results as real. Gender reassignment is a radical extension of cosmetic surgery. Yes, results are sometimes beautiful; but they are always artificial. These procedures are a frontier, not of civil rights, but of medical ethics and the limits, both natural and humane, of science itself.

But in the very basement of transgender-rights thinking, I now believe, there lies that ancient Protagorean skepsis: each one’s inner reality is real to him, and of external reality there is no complete agreement. We wish we knew more of what Protagoras meant. In our time, however, doubts about nature and objective, shared reality have been routed into class warfare tactics. To insist on such natural realities as physical sexual organs is to “privilege” one group, “oppress” another. To avoid being an oppressor, one must deny the meaning of reality. To prefer lies to truth is the new “civil right.” It allows us only the freedom to applaud a tyrannical Emperor’s haute couture.

I’m a certified Idiot. Life is confusing enough, I know. But this movement is moving in the direction of far greater idiocy and very far away from real rights.

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Gender Extender

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The morning after my chat with the Fool on the Hill about the “transgender tipping point,” I left my bench on the Village green and walked over to Dogface Donuts. I took my customary seat on the plastic milk crate outside the front door. It was a good day for depending on the kindness of strangers: I soon panhandled enough for a medium latte and a Choco-Loco croissant. Mighty tasty. Crossing the street to the library, whom did I meet but my old pal Moe Rahn.  It was still ten minute before the library’s opening time, and I hadn’t seen Moe for a while, so it was good to catch up with him.

“Idiot! What brings you to our fine local bibliothèque? They painting your bench today or something?”

“No, Moe, I come by most mornings, use the restroom to brush my teeth, wash my face, tidy up a bit. Then I’ll do some reading, catch up on the news. In fact, just yesterday the Fool on the Hill and I were discussing this so-called transgender thing and I want to learn more about it.”

“Oh, yeh, the Laverne Cox story. Did you read that Time piece on her a few weeks ago? And how’s the Fool doing, by the way? Haven’t seen him in a while, either.”

“He’s good, but the eyes in his head see the world spinning ’round. And yes, that’s the article we talked about.”

“Come to any conclusions? Reach an agreement? I imagine you two see the issues differently.”

“Not really. He reminded me that human societies have always had to tolerate individuals who occupy a liminal sexual status. That’s the Fool’s preferred term, ‘liminal,’ but it seems some people now call this ‘two-spirit.'”

“True, but others use the term ‘third gender.’ In fact, the Supreme Court of India ruled a couple of months ago that this is now a legal category of persons. The law is mostly about welfare-state benefits and protection from discrimination, not so much about social acceptance. And you know, that idea is really old in India. There’s a line in the Mahābhārata I recall: ‘among men you will become a man in form, among women a female, among the third class an un-man.’ And you’re the grammarian after all. That’s what the neuter gender is all about, right?”

“Huh. Yeh. That’s interesting. Reminds me of Aeschylus’s Seven Against Thebes, where Eteocles demands the loyalty of everyone in the city, ‘man, woman, and whatever exists between them.’ What worries me, though, isn’t that there have always been such people, but where we think we’re going with all this redefinition. I mean, the ‘third gender’ itself is a basket of virtually infinite varieties and nuances of gender and sex, like Facebook’s hypostatizing list of sexual self-identifications. Eventually this can only render basic words like ‘male, female, masculine, feminine, man, woman’ meaningless. That doesn’t seem much like progress to me. Seems more like chaos.”

“Just fears, Idiot old friend, and timely too. Jerry Brown just signed legislation replacing the terms ‘husband’ and ‘wife’ in California state marital laws with ‘spouse,’ and another bill is heading to the California senate that would allow a woman to refer to herself as ‘father’ or a man to denote himself ‘mother’ on a child’s birth certificate. Once you finish your toilette, check those out. And you’ll want to read a recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Dr Paul McHugh on  the medical ethics of sex-change surgeries. Let me know what you think.”

“Paul McHugh, huh? Will do, Moe, and thanks for the tips.  See you around the Vill.”

I spent the rest of the morning in the library, following this trend as far as I could and wondering where it might be leading. The McHugh piece made sense: people who feel that they are a different gender than as they were born are suffering from a psychological disorder and deserve our understanding and proper treatment. Gender “reassignment” surgery seems nothing more than disfiguring mutilation. And one article I read made an interesting comparison to the Cat Man, that sad guy who really felt that he was a wild cat and had all kinds of surgeries to become one. Killed himself eventually. All the cases of sex-change changes of mind and the high suicide rates of people who still can’t find happiness after their surgeries — I don’t know; doesn’t seem like something we should be celebrating as a “new civil-rights frontier” in magazines. Seems a lot more like a serious medical ethics problem, a detachment of science and technology from humanism and nature. Some parts of the Hippocratic Oath still apply after all: “I will abstain from all intentional wrong-doing and harm, especially from abusing the bodies of man or woman.”

As I walked back to the Village green I wondered ‘How’d we get to this point?’ I could detect filaments of Romanticism, Nietzsche, Deconstruction, feminism, the sexual revolution, anarchism, multi-culturalism, diversity — one gnarly knot of notions. Back on my bench I then remembered Moynihan’s fine and famous article “Defining Deviancy Down.” Good old Moynihan. And that’s it, really: the advance of the anti-normative over the normative. The very concept of norms is increasingly viewed as oppressive, while deviation from norms is increasingly regarded as heroic, liberating, deserving of favored or special treatment for all those who might claim restitution for some real or imagined past injustices. That is, for all of us. And not as members of a society or civilization but as separate claimants upon society for its social goods.

Well, at the Village Odeonplex they were showing the classic Dog Day Afternoon, wherein Sonny and Sal hold up a bank to get money so that Sonny’s lover Leon can get his sex-change operation and be a woman. Based on a true story.  More or less.

To be continued …