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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).”