Last night, I was glancing through the web-sites I follow a bit less frequently than daily and brought up Quillette. The second or third article I opened drew my appalled attention, and kept me thinking about it uneasily all night, in much the manner one is haunted afterwards by the sight of a blood-and-compound-fractures-everywhere motorcycle crash.
The name of the author, “Dierdre” McCloskey, rang a faint bell. When I looked him/her up, that proved to be no surprise, this McCloskey person was actually the rather well-known author of a much positively reviewed book on “The Bourgeois Virtues.”
Professor McCloskey, not surprisingly, of course, for a graduate of Harvard and best-selling author, writes very well in a characteristically restrained, yet Olympian, manner, treating the bizarre topic under discussion, the author’s decision at age 53 to “change gender,” with good humor and detached mild irony.
The fine quality of the writing, however, and the author’s smug, self-congratulatory tone, struck me as outrageously incongruous considering all the issues being so artfully glanced over and avoided.
Itâ€™s been a long time now since, at age 53, I became a woman. Actually, Iâ€™m an old woman more than twenty years on, who walks sometimes with a nice fold-up cane, and has had two hip-joint replacements, and lives in a loft in downtown Chicago with 8,000 books, delighting in her dogs, her birth family, her friends scattered from Chile to China, her Episcopal church across the street, her eating club near the Art Institute, and above all her teaching and writing as a professor. Or, as the Italians so charmingly say, as una professoressa. …
But of course one canâ€™t â€œreallyâ€ change gender, can one? The â€œreallyâ€ comes up when an angry conservative man or an angry essentialist feminist writes in a blog or an editorial or a comment page. The angry folk are correct, biologically speaking. Thatâ€™s why their anger sounds to them like common sense. Every cell in my body shouts XY, XY, XY! I do wish they would shut up. Wretched little chromosomes. In some magical future I suppose weâ€™ll be able to change XYs into XXs. But not now.
And more importantly a gender changer age 53, as I was in 1995, canâ€™t have had the history of a born girl and woman. She cannot have had the good and the bad experiences of girlhood and motherhood and the rest. No science can change her life history. …
I had a normal boyâ€™s life, and the advantage in a macho field like economics of being a man for half of my academic career. The question of what you are is qualitative, not quantitative. What sort? What life? What team? In late 1995, I chose to switch teams. …
Itâ€™s a Romantic fallacy to think that people have simple and eternal essences. They change. In a free society, shouldnâ€™t they be allowed to? Tell me.
My wife soon remarried, and lives with her new husband and still enjoys the square dancing she and I loved in the last five years of our happy if sometimes tempestuous thirty years of marriage. Bless â€˜em. Sheâ€™s not spoken to me. In that autumn of first realization in 1995 I left to my wifeâ€”stupidly, husband-styleâ€”the task of telling my children, my grown son and my college-freshman daughter. Women do emotional work, Donald must have thought, if he thought at all, which I donâ€™t recall he did. I should have gone myself in Donald drag to my children. Not that gender change is a theorem, to be â€œexplainedâ€ with the snap shut of a proof. Itâ€™s a story, and in October 1995 it was in the middle of Act 1. But my confused and self-absorbed neglect was an awful mistake.
My daughter still lives in the Midwest; she is married and has a child. Iâ€™ve told in Crossing about how, a year later, when she was still in college, I saw her that one time, very early in my transition, a weeping father in a dress begging for a hug. My friend Patty had advised against the meeting, wisely. Later I occasionally wrote to her, fruitlessly, and a long time afterwards helped her financially. Her lone letter in reply said â€œThanks for the money. I still donâ€™t want you in my life. …
My son lives not too far from me. He too wonâ€™t speak. None of my marriage-family, out to cousins, is permitted to speak to any of my birth family, out to cousins. Is my son enforcing the embargo with threats? I donâ€™t know. His wifeâ€™s father, a professor of law whom I persuaded once to meet me at Oâ€™Hare airport, wonâ€™t help, because heâ€™s afraid of losing his daughter. To what? Not to love or to tolerance of human change. Hmm.
In 2000 I had moved from sweet Iowa City to a new job at the University of Illinois at Chicago, deciding to live downtown. I learned that a neighbor on the very same hallway was also a well-known libertarian, someone who wrote blazingly on human freedom. True, I noted, he and his wife were strangely distant towards me. Odd. I heard that every month the man hosted a soirÃ©e of free-market types. Oh, nice. Natural for me, I thought. But a note I left suggesting I might join got no response. Hmm. Oh, well. Iâ€™ve got plenty to do.
Then one day I learned with a jolt from another libertarian economist that my son came to the very same soirÃ©e, and knew that I lived thirty feet down the hallway. Good Lord. My Episcopal God was tapping me on the shoulder, hard. In the same hallway. Hope flared. Huzzah!! With the strange neighborâ€™s help, surely, I thought, I can get back my marriage family, my children, my grandchildren. After all, the neighbor believes in freedom. True, my son had chosen not to knock on the door down the hall. But, well, hope. I left a wrapped copy of Crossing at the neighborâ€™s door.
Next morning I opened my own door to get the newspaper. The package, unopened, lay on the welcome mat, a message scribbled on it, â€œWe donâ€™t want to have anything to do with you.â€ My breath stopped. I couldnâ€™t cry. Hope left as shockingly quickly as it had arrived. I thought: So thatâ€™s why his wife so awkwardly wouldnâ€™t let her children collect Halloweâ€™en candy from my door last October. Not even to indulge the sentimental middle-aged lady down the hall. So-called lady. Thus freedom. Maybe my son had claimed to them that I had been an evil father or something. I donâ€™t know. By a decade later they had become at least ordinarily courteous in encounters on the elevator, and I invited them once by note to eat at my club. A note in return:
â€œNo, we are your sonâ€™s friends.â€ And so?
I have not seen my sonâ€™s children, now in college or high school, or my daughterâ€™s child, just now in school. The forbidding of children and grandchildren was at first like being stabbed in the chest, the knife twisted in the wound. Early on, I would send Christmas gifts to the grandchildren. But I gave up after a while. Strange, isnâ€™t it, that I care about these offspring Iâ€™ve never seen? But there it is. Blood is thicker than water, I suppose.
What worries me mostâ€”with the decades, the stab wound hurts lessâ€”is the loss to my children and then their children. I would have been a good father, an aunt, whatever you want to say, and anyway a grandparent, nearby and visiting out of state. Youngsters benefit from having more people in their lives, more models of how to live and to love. …
How does a new gender feel after all these years?
Most decisions leave at least a small regret, a 4:00 a.m. wakefulness. Did you marry the right person? (In my case, yes.) Did you choose the right profession? (In my case, yes.) Should Donald have stayed at his beloved University of Chicago, which in 1980 he left from irritation at the reluctance in the Economics Department, though not in History, to promote him right away to full professor? (A hard one, that; but on the whole, yes.) But becoming Deirdre has evoked not the slightest passing instant of regret. Not once. Nada. …
During the late 1990s shortly after my transition I had called up a male dean at Harvard and asked him if Harvard could change my degree to the womenâ€™s college, Radcliffe. â€œOh, I donâ€™t think we can do that.â€ â€œBut the U. S. State Department,â€ I whined, â€œhad no trouble changing my passport from male to female.â€ Pause. Then with a smile in his voice, â€œYes. But Harvard is older than the U.S. Department of State.â€ Goodness. Some things never change.
Am I an “angry person?”
Yes and no. Reading Professor McCloskey’s essay did not make me angry, it made me very, very sad. What does make me angry is the patently obvious recognition that Professor McCloskey is, at some level, a very defective and mentally-deranged specimen of humanity afflicted with impulses and desires most of us would consider unbecoming, disgraceful, and bizarre, and the knowledge that a deliberately calculated and conceived political movement using appeals to sentimentality and ressentiment as leverage has successfully persuaded the contemporary elite community of fashion to accept an outrageous Falsehood as Truth and mental illness and sexual perversity as a legitimate societal constituency and a worthy cause.
OK, let us grant that Professor McCloskey really did experience an involuntary, unsolicited in any way, hankering to dress in female clothes and live life as a woman.
We all experience, going through life, involuntary and unsolicited impulses toward thoughts, fantasies, and actions which, acted upon, would really be destructive, disgraceful, illegal, and simply wrong. Who has never experienced homicidal thoughts? Who has not been tempted by an opportunity for theft? Who has never received a sexual proposition for an encounter that was out of bounds?
The political constituency for sexual perversity successfully bamboozled our dim and cowardly elite by the simple tactic of pointing to the involuntary and spontaneous character of homosexual desire and its universal temporal and geographical minority manifestation as evidence the sanction of Nature.
“Ich kann nicht Anders!” (I cannot do otherwise!), Peter Lorre, the child murderer in Fritz Lang’s 1931 “M” protests to the Berlin Underworld gangster jury deciding on his fate. 1931 Berlin gangsters had a lot more sense than the International millennial-era elite. They unsympathetically condemned the murderer Hans Beckert for his crimes.
Consensual homosexuality and female impersonating are, of course, not exactly the same thing as murder. They are basically self-regarding activities that could be omitted from the book of criminal statutes in a libertarian state. But that does not mean they are not disgraceful and wrong. Or even that they do no harm.
Pretending to be something one is not is contemptible and wrong. I expect everyone has one or more unfulfilled personal dreams or fantasies. Lots of people would love to have become rich and famous. Large numbers of people yearn to be movie stars or astronauts. Pretty much everyone has one or more unfulfilled personal ambitions. But living one’s life pretending to be something one is not, ruining one’s marriage, destroying one’s family, breaking one’s vows in order to pretend that the impossible is true? Maybe people like Professor McCloskey should be â€œallowedâ€ to do all those things, but they certainly should not be encouraged and applauded. Nor should the rest of us participate in their charades. And doctors should certainly should not be allowed to violate the Hippocratic Oath by chemically or surgically mutilating the human body in pursuit of fantasy.
Professor McCloskey writes well, but I fail to understand how anyone can take seriously the academic and scholarly conclusions of someone who thinks it is possible to base his own identity and life on an obvious Lie and an essentially futile fantasy.