For this relief much thanks.
—Francisco, Act I, Scene I, Hamlet
So it’s come to this: the Obama Administration has issued “Dear Colleague” letters to the nation’s universities reminding them, as “a condition of receiving federal funds,” that they must follow the “gender equity” provisions of Title IX, and, furthermore, that those provisions now very much include the care and feeding of so-called “transgender students”: “a school must not treat a transgender student differently from the way it treats other students of the same gender identity.” Among other things, this means that girls who think, or at least say, they are boys, and vice-versa, must be allowed to use bathrooms designated for the opposite sex. “A school may provide separate facilities on the basis of sex,” the “Dear Colleague” letter warns, “but must allow transgender students access to such facilities consistent with their gender identity.”
Imagine: functionaries in Washington telling people across the country how they must arrange their restrooms based on arbitrary criteria!
The appropriateness, indeed, the legality of “Dear Colleague” letters—missives whose chief purpose is to intimidate and bully—is itself a large subject, as indeed is that rancid instrument of Jacobin intimidation, Title IX. But we must draw a veil over consideration of those large-scale evidences of the operation of Leviathan in order to concentrate on what may well turn out to be one of the Obama administration’s signal domestic policy achievements, its retromingent effort to violate the privacy of bathrooms, locker rooms, etc., in pursuit of the pseudo–civil rights issue of (trans)gender equity.
Attentive readers know that there is nothing new about the Obama administration’s love affair with the issue of “transgender” rights. The President actually mentioned the subject in his last State of the Union Address. In one sense, he is simply capitalizing on a trend that first took root in the academy a decade ago and that, more recently, has received the imprimatur of The New York Times, Newsweek, and other reliable barometers of politically correct attitudes. The rhetoric has become increasingly shrill as the campaign for this species of psycho-sexual extravagance has mutated from a private crusade into a legal imperative. When the legislature of North Carolina recently defied the doj on the issue of who may use which bathroom, the Times accused the state of being a “pioneer in bigotry” and lambasted the “absurd” “lunacy” of those who question the propriety of the new dispensation.
Well, The New York Times is one thing. The Department of Justice is something else. Here we move from the noisy irritation of an incontinent rhetorical chihuahua to the jackboot of unlimited state power. Last month, Loretta Lynch, the Attorney General of the United States, gave a speech in which, invoking Jim Crow, she assured the “transgender community” that the Obama administration had their backs: “we see you; we stand with you; and we will do everything we can to protect you going forward.” Oh, and she also countersued North Carolina.
What is going on here? How is it that an issue that, until yesterday, most people thought deserving of the ministrations of psychiatry emerged as the latest candidate for civil-rights sainthood? There are, we believe, two imperatives working behind the scenes.
The first involves the long, long wave of the cultural revolution, in particular those precincts of the revolution that aim to transform life by emancipating sex. As Irving Kristol observed in 1994,
“Sexual liberation” is always near the top of a counter-cultural agenda—though just what form the liberation takes can and does vary, sometimes quite wildly. Women’s liberation, likewise, is another consistent feature of all countercultural movements—liberation from husbands, liberation from children, liberation from family. Indeed, the real object of these various sexual heterodoxies is to disestablish the family as the central institution of human society, the citadel of orthodoxy.
It is curious how regularly the campaign for liberation transforms itself into a demand for new forms of servitude. The free speech movement was born in Berkeley in 1964. Nowadays the cry is for limits on speech that is “offensive” or “privileged.” A banner seen at Harvard Law School sums it up: “Free Speech is Not Equal Speech.” Similarly, in the 1960s the slogan was “free sex”; now, ironically, we encounter something closer to “free from sex.” Consider, to take just one example, Paisley Currah, a professor of political science at Brooklyn College and the author of Making Transgender Count. “Just as Herbert Marcuse’s theories were important on campus in his day, gender theory is important now.” Ms—or is it Mr.?—Currah is quite right to conjure up Herbert Marcuse. The German-born radical, who died in 1979, was a pivotal Sixties guru. But he was more than that. In his “protests against the repressive order of procreative sexuality” and insistence that genuine liberation requires a return to a state of “primary narcissism,” Marcuse sounds a very contemporary note. Such a “change in the value and scope of libidinal relations,” he wrote in Eros and Civilization, “would lead to a disintegration of the institutions in which the private interpersonal relations have been organized, particularly the monogamic and patriarchal family.”
Seen as an ingredient in the long march of the cultural revolution of the 1960s, the sudden efflorescence of a phenomenon that belongs in the pages of Krafft-Ebing is just the latest item on the agenda to “disestablish” traditional manners and morals. But the Obama administration’s interventions on the issue of transgenderism are also part of a larger movement to insinuate state power into the interstices of everyday life. Tocqueville famously warned that in democracies despotism did not so much tyrannize over citizens as it infantilized them. And it did this, he wrote, by reaching in to the nooks and crannies of life, sapping initiative, and transforming independent actors into wards of the state—“sheep,” as Tocqueville put it, with the bureaucracy of the state as the shepherd. Imagine: functionaries in Washington telling people across the country how they must arrange their restrooms based on arbitrary criteria! The author of Genesis noted in passing that “male and female created He them.” But that was before Barack Obama and Loretta Lynch arrived with their coercive “progressive” mandate. If the state can tell us how we must order public bathrooms, what can’t it do?
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 34 Number 10, on page 1
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