The Sexual Revolution Eats Its Own
You can try to tell a revolution, “This far, but no further.” But man is not God.
Fred Sargeant was 21 in 1969; he had moved to New York City two years before, and there took up a relationship with a man eight years his senior. Craig Rodwell operated the only gay bookstore in the country; it was named, scandalously, the Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop, after the famously penitent Irishman who converted on his deathbed.
In the early morning hours of Saturday, June 28, Rodwell and Sargeant stumbled upon a sidewalk brawl between New York cops and patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a tavern operated by the Genovese crime family for clients of a particular disposition. The men stuck around until sunrise, then went home to rattle off a pamphlet demanding action. They distributed thousands of copies of the flier throughout the city. At the top it bore the all-caps, bolded headline, “GET THE MAFIA AND THE COPS OUT OF GAY BARS.”
For the one-year anniversary of the riot, Sargeant, Rodwell, and their co-belligerents organized the first gay Pride parade in the city—and the country. It was a watershed moment for the gay rights movement, as buttoned-down elders clashed with eager young radicals over strategy. The old folks had learned how to get along; they wanted women to wear skirts and men to wear suits, and they didn’t want to cause a scene. The young upstarts were still licking their wounds from Stonewall, and they wanted to raise hell. Sargeant and Rodwell’s faction became a forerunner of the next few decades’ gay liberation movement; their opponents faded into obscurity.
Fifty-three years after Stonewall, Fred Sargeant is making headlines again. Now 74, the veteran activist went to a Burlington Pride event last week with two black, white-lettered signs. One compared “Woman Face” to “Black Face,” while the other read “Gay, Not Queer,” each followed by “#NoThankYou.” While marchers flocked around him in various states of drag and undress, Sargeant stood in blue jeans, a baseball cap, a white t-shirt, and a mask. He was using a cane to walk.
It did not take long for the marchers to get violent. One person, apparently a woman, tried to forcefully rip the signs away from him. Others knocked him to the ground, hitting him repeatedly. On social media later, Sargeant described his attackers as “young trans/rainbow brownshirts in dresses.” He expressed outrage that the movement he once helped lead has been overtaken by radicals. Mainstream media coverage—usually unequivocally pro-trans—seemed sympathetic to his plight.
What happened to Sargeant in Burlington is unconscionable. His assailants should be held accountable to the fullest extent possible under the law. What they did was criminal, and cruel, and utterly indefensible.
But was it a surprise?
Fred Sargeant of all people should know that the word progressive is no empty threat. He himself ushered the revolution into a new phase half a century ago. Did he really think it was going to stop there? Most slopes are, in fact, slippery. And they only become more so when you uproot every tree, upturn every rock, just to open up a vista or a path.
Sargeant and his comrades did not expect, when they first insisted that a man could be as a woman to a man, that their heirs would simplify the principle: a man can be as a woman, full stop. Nor did even those earlier gender-benders predict that prepubescent children would be subjected to surgical castration in the 21st century’s most prestigious hospitals.
When the first sexual revolutionaries fought for contraception they did not know they were inviting an epidemic of industrial slaughter. (At least, the well-intentioned ones did not.) The same drive for compassion and for ever-widening liberation compelled the scientific vanguard in the last century to reverse-engineer and mechanize creation—to disentangle procreation from sex just as the gay liberationists had disentangled sex from procreation. Did they plan (as has happened multiple times these last few years) for aging women to serve as incubators for their own children’s children?
You can try to tell a revolution, “This far, but no further.” But man is not God, and he does not have the power to set the boundaries of the ocean.
This is why compromise—the middle road—is not an option. Men like Sargeant and groups like Gays Against Groomers cannot simply defend the "true revolution" from the nasty radicals. They will be trampled. They have been trampled. There is revolution, and there is counterrevolution. There is a flood, and there is an ark.
So once we chose revolution—even the old revolution—it could only have turned out this way. When the first gay liberationists looked to cleave human conduct from human nature, they planted the seeds of transgender insanity. From the moment the first mad scientist made a human being in a lab, the headline “Woman is pregnant with own son’s child” was written on the wall. When the contours of reality were first rewritten by each of these different factions, it was already a given that the lines would be redrawn—one way or another—for unsuspecting children as much as for adults.
But did it have to be so brutal? This, too, is the nature of revolutions. They end not just with Fred Sargeant looking on in horror, but with Fred Sargeant—old and tired, 50 years of havoc behind him—battered on the ground.
The common observation, borrowed from Jacques Mallet du Pan, is that, “like Saturn, the Revolution devours its children.” But what drives Saturn is the love of power, of status already earned: he simply does not want to lose his place. Here, the aggression runs the other way. And Saturn is a monster through and through, with a madman’s full awareness and conviction of his purpose. This is less vicious—not Goya’s wild-eyed, twisted Titan or Rubens’s agonized infant.
It is the killing of Pelias, the scheming king of Iolcus. Jealous of power and unfearful of the gods, Iolcus sends his nephew Jason, a rival to the throne, on a mission meant to end in certain death. On his journey Jason meets Medea, a sorceress who helps him in his task and follows him safely home.
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Medea is a priestess of Hecate, a goddess of witchcraft, death, and crossroads. Back in Iolcus, she is intent on revenge and eager to be rid of the old king. So she shows his daughters a miracle: slitting the throat of their uncle, Aeson, she brings him back to life a younger man.
The daughters are amazed. They want this for their father. They want it for their city, and they want it for themselves. The witch has shown them a vision of glory, a way to transcend nature. Things will be better—made new—with a little (ugly) temporary cost. The girls gather together with their father; they take a knife to his throat, and wait in hope of the promised resurrection. Medea looks down at his lifeless body, and simply walks away.
This—not the tyranny of Saturn but the folly of the Peliades—was our revolution. None but the servant of a dark god meant for it to happen. That didn’t matter: in the end the man still lay there dead, and his daughters all stood there killers.