I wasn’t going to take the bait that the identity politics left is dangling like so much shark chum hoping to score some cheap points against us retrograde defenders of human nature, but then two worthy stories related to the Bruce Caitlyn Jenner matter crossed the screen.
First, Damon Linker of The Week, a centrist not afraid of laying some smack on cultural conservatives—including a column a few days ago on how cultural conservatives were “freaking out” about the Jenner metamorphosis—now wonders if maybe this is all a Jenner publicity stunt? Ya think?
We’re all suckers.
That’s what dawned on me suddenly the other night. I’d just filed a column on how some social conservative writers are responding to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out as a woman on the cover of Vanity Fair. I hadn’t given in to the sanctimony that’s characterized so much of the commentary about Jenner and her transgender struggles, but I did try to explain why many liberals are inclined to refrain from judgment and even to celebrate this watershed moment in American culture.
And then it hit me: Like everyone who’s talked, written, posted, and tweeted about this event, I’ve been taken in by a publicity stunt.
The guy who enriched himself by bringing our culture the sordid spectacle of the Kardashians is now a gal who’s promoting a new reality show, and she’s trying to ensure that it gets the highest ratings in the history of trash TV. . .
Please, let’s be honest about what this means. For one thing, and despite what a number of people appear to believe, it’s not especially “brave.” Or at least no more so than any celebrity publicizing personal tribulations in order to make money.
Do tell, Damon. Meanwhile, let’s take in a contrast. I’ve long recommended to students various works of economic historian Deirdre McCloskey, especially the first two in a contemplated trilogy starting with Bourgeois Virtues and Bourgeois Dignity. But I’m also very fond of some of McCloskey’s older work, which you’ll find under the name Donald McCloskey. Donald McCloskey decided to switch teams back in the 1990s, and it hasn’t affected her work at all—in fact the more recent work is by far McCloskey’s best.
McCloskey wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register yesterday that stands in quite a contrast to the Jenner spectacle:
I couldn’t at age 53 “become” a woman in genes or life history, no more than Jenner can at age 65. Yet I could and did present as a woman, and Iowans were mostly calm about it. I’m calm, too, now a church lady (Episcopalian, the Frozen Chosen), younger sister and daughter, at 72 still working, if you call the work I love “working.” Gender change is a distinctly minority desire — maybe one in 200 or 300 born girls or boys. Being calm about it is not going to destroy society or cause “human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together,” as Bill Murray said in “Ghost Busters.”
The surprises are often good. I expected my mother to have a hard time adjusting. She took five minutes: “Son, if that’s what you want. Just one piece of advice: Don’t do anything more interesting! Don’t decide to become a horse!”
My dean at the University of Iowa, Gary Fethke, said at first when I came out, in a little comedy act, “This is great for our affirmative action program: one less man, one more woman!” Gary, like me, is a free-market economist. So his next joke was, “Thank God! I thought you were going to tell me you were converting to socialism!” Then he acted as my friend and advocate. Iowa calm.
Notice, incidentally, the residual respect McCloskey has for essential human nature, which is utterly absent from much of the discussion of transgenderism today—absent on purpose. In any event, McCloskey’s account here is utterly without the triumphalism or sensationalism of the Jenner circus. McCloskey’s theme of “Iowa calm” is that it’s no big deal.
But about that “becoming a horse” bit. How long until someone starts to think . . . never mind.
P.S. Leave it to CNN commentator Mark Lamont Hill to point out that all the celebration over Jenner reinforces the patriarchy, or something. . .