The New Puritanism
One of the primary foci of the current cultural zeitgeist features the preoccupation, mounting to an obsession, with one or another form of sex, the more aberrant the better: The phobic obsession with rape, sympathetic coverage of re-assignment surgery and body modification, injunctions against deadnaming and heteronormativity, the emphasis on cisgender guilt, the sanctifying of gay marriage, the injustices of something called the “patriarchy,” the explosion of sexual harassment charges against media and political celebrities, the emphasis on sexualizing criminal justice proceedings in favor of women (aka gender disparity), and even legal bestiality. Moreover, the biological division between man and woman has been re-conceived as a “social construct” that must be unlearned, the product of a vast priapic conspiracy.
The feverish obsession with sex in all its myriad forms and embodiments has led to some very bizarre ideas and mind-numbing outcomes, of which gender (or non-biological) self-identification and transgender fluidity are among the most conspicuous. The pursuit of the sexual makeover has become gruesomely popular. And when mother and son transition to father and daughter, we know we have entered the twilight zone. Indeed, one feels as if one is living among James Cameron’s epicene avatars or deep in some psychotic’s substitute world. And yet the gender radicals are chiefly accredited academics, journal editors, published feminists and government functionaries, an infallible sign that our so-called elites have entered the realm of the fabular, dragging the wider culture and its political masters with them.
What we are observing is a bizarre form of Puritanism. The visceral yet denied fixation on sexual expression and behavior that we associate with the Puritan sensibility, especially as it manifested in the Salem witch trials, has morphed into its opposite, namely, a lubricious fixation that has become publicly endorsed and applauded. The gender mavens of our time are as prurient as the witch hunters of old.
They are the Puritans of the modern age who see sex under every stone while at the same time unleashing a campaign against all that is normal and fruitful in the relation between men and women. The delusion in which they have invested -- that sex and gender are conceptually unrelated and the latter trumps the former -- is not only an affront to common sense but leads by unrelenting increments to the displacement of the usages and conventions on which normative life and societal flourishing depend.
A typical example of this costly absurdity is furnished by a new NIH (National Institutes of Health) study to be conducted by one Ethan Cicero, a post-doctoral, self-declared anti-Trump student at Duke University. Cicero (not to be confused with his noble namesake) defines “transgender” as an “umbrella term that includes a spectrum of gender identities and persons with gender expressions,” entailing but not limited to “genderqueer, genderfluid, transsexual, gender nonconforming, and two-spirit people.” Gender, he argues, is more “abstract” than sex, referring to “the complex relationships among gender biology (sex), gender identity (one’s sense of being female, male, both, or neither), and gender expression (outward presentation behaviors, and roles).”
“Abstract” is probably the wrong word; Cicero surely meant “comprehensive.” In any event, biological sex is a mere discursive starting point and counts for little in the colorful pageant of sexual identities marching down cultural Main Street. Gender Pride takes precedence over common life, denouncing and shaming all that is healthy and proven in the very bedrock of human history. Nature is just not that malleable, but nature never stopped a gender Puritan.
Gender fanaticism has gone viral, infecting every corner of life: language, marriage, genuine social reciprocity, freedom of thought and expression, and the productive and symbiotic relation to reality. Individuals are encouraged to look within to find where on the vast continuum of gender possibilities they might fit. Meanwhile the heterosexual male mainstream is under attack for the crime of harboring a normal sexual drive, believing in romance and wishing to start a family. It is no accident that the feminist left has seen fit to ridicule Vice President Mike Pence as a strictly traditional monogamist.
The new Puritanism cannot abide the time-tested sanctities and moral underpinnings of the Western tradition, in particular with regard to the institution of marriage, durable relationships, or the productive biologically based “contract” that allows for the perpetuation of normative civic existence. The new Puritanism is a pietistic fraud that puts sexual experimentation and violations of the norm before the stable arrangements that promote social and cultural continuity. The Mike Pences of this world must be pilloried and excommunicated while the Caitlyn Jenners are to be celebrated and canonized.
Absent bacterial cell division, the genetic binary is a fact of nature and those who propose that sexual dimorphism is a “social construct” that must be undone are flirting not only with one another but with disaster. The irony of this latest development, however, has escaped its progenitors, for it is precisely the trans phenomenon that is a “social construct.” It does not exist in nature; it has been invented. As Janice Fiamengo writes in an article titled Is Feminism a Religion?: “If evidence for the biological basis of sex is brought forward, a feminist will simply claim in response that all science is sexist,” in other words, we are sexist if we do not consider sex and multiple forms of sexual identity, however anomalous, as the end-all and be-all of human striving rather than as merely one aspect of mutual existence. It may be said that the Puritans of old suffered from repression and projection. The new Puritans suffer from genderitis, that is, libidinous self-election.
When culture attempts to pre-empt nature and deny biology, the result is catastrophic: the disintegration of civil existence, illusion substituting for reality and the peripheral displacing the central. Meanwhile, pressing issues on which our prosperity and survival depend -- a precarious economy, domestic subversion, Islamic jihad, unvetted and illegal immigration, international conflict, the falling replacement fertility rate -- go unattended. Buying into a subprime version of reality can lead to only one result: the foreclosing of the cultural mortgage. No matter. The gender Puritans go marching on.