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Queer Trivia

Some thoughts on knowledge and primates in drag.

How do you make a monkey transgender?

I suppose I should be asking Tony Fauci. Even after the Great Puppy Outrage of 2021, it’s being reported that the NIAID pontiff and Facebook aunt heartthrob has not thought twice about his outfit’s funding of…questionable experiments. Per the Washington Free Beacon:

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s division of the National Institutes of Health paid over $200,000 during the coronavirus pandemic for researchers to study why transgender women have high rates of HIV by injecting male monkeys with female hormones.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in December 2021 gave Scripps Research $205,562 for the study, which aims to determine why transgender women have high rates of HIV. As part of the study, researchers subject male monkeys to feminizing hormone therapy to study how it impacts the monkeys’ immune systems, according to the National Institutes of Health.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Here’s PETA on the subject:

[The] proposed experiment…will subject male rhesus macaques to feminizing hormone therapy to see whether that makes them more susceptible to HIV, purportedly to help transgender women. But rather than holding a proper clinical study with willing human patients that would yield relevant information, these experimenters have decided to use monkeys, who can’t become infected with HIV. It’s just bad science to suggest that dosing monkeys with feminizing medication makes them good stand-ins for humans.

PETA rightly acknowledges that the project makes no sense. But that senselessness goes beyond the basic fact that AIDS experimentation cannot work very well in a species that does not develop AIDS. My opening question was not posed in earnest. How do you make a monkey transgender? You can’t. As I wrote a few months back:

What we call gender is real and actually, in a way, more dignified than sex. It is the way that sex—a fundamental feature of who we are as human animals—affects our higher lives as social and spiritual beings. It is an elevation of bodily facts into tradition, a carefully held and transmitted way to habituate our understanding of who and what we are.

Monkeys don’t have that. Gender is a distinctly human thing, the sum of both physical and social factors. A monkey pumped full of estrogen is just that: a monkey pumped full of estrogen. A man pumped full of estrogen is something far more complicated.

We do not need gender-bending monkeys to tell us why gender-bending men contract HIV and develop AIDS at rates astronomically higher than the general population. Different behaviors render different outcomes. Groups defined by particular sets of behaviors thus experience patterned outcomes tied to those behaviors. (This is the kind of common sense that can get you banished from polite society in 2022.)

It is entirely unclear to me, as I expect it is to most people not employed by the federal bureaucracy, how exactly this—doping Rhesus monkeys with feminizing hormones to try to give them AIDS—is meant to serve the great cause of dignity for trans women. If anything, the undertaking is extremely dangerous to the transgender agenda. When the experiment fails (as it inevitably will) to produce the desired outcome, it may invite unwelcome questions.

And this at a time when male-to-female transitioners are finally breaking glass ceilings in American society. Dr. Rachel Levine (née Richard) is the United States assistant secretary for health and a four-star officer in the fakest of the uniformed services. Caitlyn Jenner (an Olympian under a different name) kind of almost became governor of California. And Amy Schneider, a born-male engineer with a jawline for the ages, is nightly smashing records on Jeopardy!

Mr. Schneider is being pitched to the viewing public as an indomitable girlboss. In reality, he is a rather wild-eyed and discomfiting figure who makes for unpleasant viewing every evening. His carefully learned package of quasi-feminine tics—the slightly tilted head; the wide, unblinking stare; the manufactured voice and stringy, shoulder-length hair; the proudly worn pearl necklace he was given by his girlfriend (because “every lady needs a string of pearls”)—only contribute to the undeniable impression that something is amiss here. If there is one good thing to be said about Amy’s streak on the screen, it’s that he brings a much-needed dose of testosterone to the Jeopardy! stage during Ken Jennings’ interim stint as host.

In fairness, every longtime Jeopardy! champ is unbearable in his own way. There’s something indescribably unnerving about Jennings himself, who began as a superstar contestant for 74 days back in 2004. (What is Backpfeifengesicht?) Buzzy Cohen is exactly what you would expect from a grown man who chooses to be addressed as “Buzzy.” Brad Rutter…well, despite the fact that he’s the highest-winning contestant ever, I actually forgot to include him on this list; that’s really all you need to know. James Holzhauer is a lifeless automaton with a bizarrely toothy smile that I prayed every night at 7:55 would not reappear on my TV the next. Matt Amodio is a Yalie who is apparently unable to utter the rather simple words “Who is…” And let’s not forget that Tom Nichols won five times.

Funnily enough, just about the only first-rate player who is not insufferable is the one actual woman in the Jeopardy! Hall of Fame: Julia Collins, who won 20 consecutive games in the spring of 2014. But this is far and away the exception to the rule. Virtually every other standout player in the history of the game has been, one way or another, a man.

And this—again, the kind of common sense that can get you banished from polite society—makes sense. Because we are not mere monkeys, there are differences between male and female beyond those of the body. As a quantitative matter, it has been shown repeatedly that the kind of broad knowledge that games like Jeopardy! test is far more pronounced in boys and men than in women and girls. General knowledge has been primarily a male domain since Adam named the animals. This is a fact not of sex, but of gender—the nexus between our social and our biological selves. That cannot be reduced to a statement about chromosomes or hormones, but neither can it be overcome completely.

It is, on the one hand, a perverse offense to truth that the highest-winning woman in the history of Jeopardy! is a man. It is, on the other, fitting.

I’m writing a grant proposal I’d like to send to NIAID. I’m asking for half a million to pump some monkeys full of estrogen and see if they get better at trivia. I don’t think it’s going to work.

about the author

Declan Leary is associate editor of The American Conservative. He was previously an editorial intern at National Review and has been a frequent contributor to Crisis Magazine.

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