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Modernity, Masculinity, And Trans

Here is an e-mail I received from a reader who is a male-to-female transgendered person. The reader does not insist on anonymity, but I don’t want to run the risk of trolls searching out the soul who was brave enough to write the letter below, and threatening violence. Remember as you respond that one of the rules of this blog’s comments section is that you cannot personally insult someone who comments here. Anyone who speaks rudely or insultingly to my correspondent will get their comment sent to the trash:

I’ve been reading your blog for several months, and I’ve enjoyed both your perspective and your intellectual honesty. I’m writing this email to share some personal perspectives on transsexuality that I’ve not read elsewhere, diverging substantially from both the common left/right positions. I hope you find them interesting.

Having read innumerable takes on transgender issues over the last decade, I’ve come to find the narrative explanations for the modern instance of the phenomenon lacking. On one hand, the left constantly innovates a linguistic matrix of concepts engineered as articles of faith — referentially justifying themselves in relation to other inventions, synthesizing a supporting web for belief contextualization. This style of rhetoric aims to entrench social dialogue in such a thing, keeping it at a safe distance from questions relating to the actual causal source of the phenomena.  The right, by contrast, spends many days futilely trying to attack the most outrageous & ungrounded concepts of the opposition — playing to an already sympathetic audience, but utterly ineffectual at achieving (meaningful) ideological turnover. Or, if more intellectually inclined,  conservatives attempt broad pictures explanations based on moral and spiritual decline… I believe there is some truth to the latter, but a better picture emerges when one looks at things on a more granular level.

 To start, there is much missing in the mainstream conversations of transsexuality, concerning the actual cause. There are a few scientific explanations available, most prominent being Blanchard’s conception of Autogynephilia (the AGP/HSTS model) – and I believe some of the observations of that theory are very real. Yet I also believe that academic sexologists are overly inclined and professionally motivated to posit their area of research as the ‘one true cause’. I think a more fundamental reason has a basis in the very conditions of modern life. All the following applies exclusively to the case of MtF (Male to Female) transsexuality, and I believe the FtM variant has a somewhat different origin, but I won’t speculate on it here

On a very concrete level, there is very little appealing to boys/young men in the modern world. Before they can even make sense of it, boys look around and see parents (or parents of friends) get divorced. Well before we become adults, we grow accustomed to transitory friendships and relationships – a fact that only becomes more real as we face realities of a geographically liquid labor market, forcing several cross-country before we turn 30. The dating market is also brutal, especially for socially awkward boys, or those less virile and masculine. To many boys, the dream of owning a home and land feels antiquated and even impossible – perhaps they witness their own parents brutally struggling with a mortgage, or they grow up around those who have never done anything other than rent.  They are subjected to a cruel form of education (additionally, one highly demeaning to gifted children), and promised that their reward for working diligently for half a decade may be to work in a cubicle at FAANG [Facebook/Apple/Alphabet/Netflix/Google] from 9-5 until they turn 60. In short: the modern version of a man is one fundamentally emasculated and servile.

I think this accounts for much of the current cultural patterns. Masculinity is now so reduced that an increasing portion of boys turn their eyes away from it in disgust. As early as eight years old, I experienced these emotions. Eventually culminating in a deep sense of nihilism that would stay with me for over a decade. Latent to this was an awareness that society was conditioning me to accept a life that was fundamentally meaningless, but I lacked the words and experience to truly identify. By the time I was 11, my sexuality had manifested to the point where I realized it was incompatible with any sort of normal life — the kind that I didn’t want to begin with. Even as I still desired love. A few years later, I learned of the possibility of transition, but found it grotesque and debasing – and turned away from it, with some part of my heart aching for it.

One note: To those like myself, (Modern American) Christianity was never a viable answer. In part, because it doesn’t speak to this anger – and in part, because it has a certain dopey clumsiness to it. Evangelical Christianity always seemed like a haven for televangelical grifters with their grifted base, and Catholicism as a nest of hypocrites led by pedophiles. That was the cultural perception, at least. In the face of what I perceived to be the horrifying reality of modern life; religious faith seemed an ineffectual solution. Alongside this was the perception that Christians were largely domesticated, inoffensive, and tame – despite all leftist protestations to the contrary. Yet a soul that burns with fury does not seek to be placated and resents that which would tame it. I believe this is one reason the post-Christian far right is in ascendancy — they alone have found the words to give voice to this rage of many young men/boys.

For my part, that rage stayed with me until my early 20s, until it consumed itself leaving ashes and an absolute depression in its wake. At which point, the idea of transition — having haunted me for years – no longer disgusted me. It was never about deluding myself into believing that I really was a woman, but rather accepting the nature of the desires I felt and symbolically making them a part of myself and inscribing that truth into my body.

I offer my example partly because I know it well, yet all because I’ve had enough experience in the LGBT world to know that isn’t truly special. I’ve served on diversity committees at a high level in elite academic institutions, supervised multiple LGBT youth groups, participated in online discords, and borne witness to the cultural flows that orient people to transition. Many of these young adults/teenagers are highly intelligent but disgusted by the state of our society for reasons they struggle to put to words. Even as it is the very same that offers them incredible freedom and encourages their explorations in identity. Often enough, they are indoctrinated into the web of cultural leftism, intellectually blocking them from any vantage that might offer higher insight on their natures. Many are shaped to have a disposition to desire gender transition, long before they stumble on the concept.

Men like Orban can patch the decay and delay it a few years – but the root cause is much deeper than things like drag queen story hour, or a salacious children’s book on gender identity. These are symptoms – but the fundamental problem is not a ‘desire to be trans’, but a ‘desire to not be a man’. A boy who enjoys being a boy will never find himself culturally groomed into transitioning, but one conditioned to despise his nature needs only the faintest push. Suppression only goes so far – and until these root causes are addressed with a more desirable and beautiful idea of masculinity, I believe this social process will continue.

Ending on a personal note, I don’t regret my choice to transition, and I wouldn’t do a moment in my life differently. I found the love that I always sought, and that alone redeems my mistakes. But I cannot help but think that many who are transitioning now are inviting great pain upon themselves, and will find no such deliverance. For them, the rest of their lives will be lived in a state of perpetual resentment, haunted by demons they cannot name.

This is really profound stuff, and I thank the reader for writing it. It’s easy to see that in many ways, modernity also teaches women to fear and loathe their femininity. The reader gives me a lot to think about. I don’t want to give a hasty response.

Remember: I will not post your comment if you speak insultingly to or about this reader. 

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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