It was only a matter of time before libertarianism jumped the shark.
The childishly optimistic sect of the liberty movement is moving past pot legalization and gay marriage. Their detente with liberals resulted in a massive culture victory. Pot and sodomy are de rigueur in mainstream American culture, whether you agree with them or not. Those troglodyte conservatives can wipe their tears with white flags!
The next fight for libertarians lies in the traditional gender spectrum. Not content to keep politics within politics, the loud-mouthed revolutionaries are moving into the messy world of transgenderism. This is a huge jump from the philosophy associated with Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. Ayn Rand would be frowning in heaven if she didn’t think God put a damper on her ego trip.
In a recent Daily Beast column, Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie praises the latest American hero: Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner. Wait a second, you may say. Didn’t Jenner trounce the Soviets in the decathlon almost three decades ago? Why is he now the latest emblem of liberation?
Jenner’s short tenure as the quasi-patriarch of the solipsistic Kardashian clan exemplified American trash culture. But being a family man is hardly seen as praiseworthy anymore. No, Jenner’s search for fulfillment is what Gillespie celebrates as the American Dream come true. Jenner, now fully divorced from the Kardashians, is undergoing the change from man to woman. For this, Gillespie fawns: “Is there any greater story about the American Dream—so bruised and battered in this godawful 21st century—than Bruce Jenner becoming a woman?”
I can think of plenty of things better than deforming your God-given body, but I don’t want to signal the Tolerance Police to my location just yet. So I’ll leave that be for now. My main dispute with Gillespie is on the nature of freedom, and why butchering your born-with appendages is not the equivalent of throwing off your chains.
Jenner’s decision to change from a man to a woman has largely been met with support in the media. Brit know-it-all Piers Morgan called the Olympian “brave” for the move (he also called it un-American to criticize it, which are funny words coming from a foreigner). Ruth Graham of Slate not only praised Jenner, but also had nice words for tabloids that encouraged his — her? — decision.
Gillespie takes the gushing admiration to another level. He not only embraces the sex transition, he calls it one in a series of “bizarre and wonderful loopholes” that help define American greatness. Somehow, I don’t think George Washington was too keen on the idea of chopping off one’s natural tool for procreation.
Gillespie gets one thing right: America has always been a country defined by the freedom to pursue goals uninhibited by government. Lockean individualism is in the nation’s genetic code. This DNA makeup doesn’t always yield positive results. Patrick Deneen can attest to that much better than little old me. But it doesn’t take a PhD and a career-long reading of Burke to know total freedom is not the road to happiness. That dolor goes double for the transgender cause. My fear is that Jenner will not find joy in his new form. The desire to, in a manner of speaking, change biological teams is just a cover for a deeper discomfort with reality.
Recently in the Weekly Standard, Charlotte Allen deconstructed the complicated explanations for the transgendered phenomenon. There are a number of theories out there for the underlying cause of gender myopia. Allen had to tread carefully on this fertile ground. Exploring the “trans” state-of-mind is dangerous territory thanks to the PC mob who threatens job termination if you in any way challenge their self-righteous worldview. Thankfully, Allen didn’t give in to the pitchfork egalitarians, and explored the themes of isolation and abandonment that are predominant in the “trans” narrative. Citing the work of psychologist J. Michael Bailey and Canadian sexologist Ray Blanchard, she brought up the role eroticism plays in motivating the transition from male to female — the most common gender switcheroo in the West.
Modern psychologists lump transgendered people into three categories: sexual fetishists, transvestites, and people with the “woman trapped in a man’s body” pathology. In the course of interviewing over 200 transgendered individuals for a groundbreaking study, Blanchard reached a different conclusion. Allen noted that he found “there was actually a continuum along which all three categories were points.”
“Blanchard coined the term “autogynephilia”—men who fall in love with the idea of contemplating themselves as women—to describe this phenomenon. He believed that it is essentially an erotic response to the trappings of genetic womanhood.”
What does this all mean in terms of American liberty and choice? And why do libertarians like Gillespie think the quintessential freedom is the ability to change sexes like changing clothes?
I suspect the debate over transgenderism is just another battle in the long, never-ending tug of war between dastardly traditionalists and enlightened modernists. The former want to keep the permanent things in life, like the idea that only men have a penis. The latter wants to deracinate the present from the past, while satisfying all sexual desire. The difference is in lasting effect. Only those with the conservative disposition are poised to inherit the fruits of deferred gratification, meaningful pleasure, and moral order. The other side gets high heels for all and a fleeting sense of contentment. See Nathan Verhelst.
That leads to the most dismaying aspect of the libertarian embrace of transgenderism. For all the talk of autonomy, it’s difficult to see how the unencumbered ability to swap genders leads to true happiness. Take a look at Bruce Jenner. He doesn’t appear happy. Every picture of the erstwhile athlete is the same. Jenner looks sad and dejected; a shell of his former self. His body has morphed beyond its acute shapeliness. His face is rough and disfigured.
Perhaps (s)he will emerge from the sex change process a joyful soul. I retain some doubts, however. At the end of the day, transgenderism is a symptom of the same cancer that has infected man since Eden. “Ye shall be gods” is the serpent’s rallying call for all things progressive: technology-driven stratification, moral relativism, and the malleability of nature. The ideals of human liberty are usually lumped in there somewhere. But the continual restlessness that is the creed of liberalism does not lead to freedom. It turns its followers into slaves to sensual desires.
Pray for Bruce Jenner. His fans, such as Mr. Gillespie, aren’t doing him any favors.