Possible Inauthenticities in the Transgendered Phenomenon

Possible Inauthenticities in the Transgendered Phenomenon

            In the cases I have come across through professional ethics consulting with families and youth, there are present three kinds of discrepancies from institutionally and commercially normative family forms; that is, those possessing two different but dominant gendered parents who have mutually come to terms with the birth gender of their children. They are:

            1. Single parent families: here, the child has adopted the gender of the absent or missing parent and if their sex at birth contradicts that of the one who has been so adopted, a transgendered child results.

            2. Conflict between parents who desire a different sexed child: here, the child internalizes this conflict and reproduces it in himself or herself, generating a transgendered selfhood in the effort to please both parents.

            3. Conflict within one or another parent whose own desires regarding their sexual identity do not match worldly outcomes regarding the child’s sex at birth: in such cases, the child becomes accustomed to performing as if they were the gender counter to their physiological sex, also constructing a transgendered identity for themselves.

            Often subconsciously, parents interact with their children as if the latter were simply smaller projections of themselves. If conflict is present beyond that inevitably associated with basic socialization processes – there is no culture that does not possess this more demographically based conflict; some cultures negotiate it with more compassion and gentleness than do others – also, in my sense, a pathological presence, the phenomenon of transgenderedness is understood by the child, once again, subconsciously, as the only possible response to the context around them. I must please both parents, I must take on the role of the absent parent, I must assuage my parent’s self-doubts.

            In each permutation, ethical interaction is scarce. In general, speaking as a philosopher, I would suggest that any time one’s actions are bereft of ethical reflection, inauthenticity, perhaps at best, is the result. My case observations have, in turn, suggested to me that parents overly and overtly concerned with normative gender boundaries can also produce transgenderism in their children, thereby generating a fourth category, slightly different from the three listed above. Here, by contrast, the conflict within the adult is transferred to the child who reacts not to assuage or please their parent but to instead defy them and thus also to deny the projection itself. These cases were also more challenging to resolve, as the adults involved were in patent denial that they were defending gender norms against their own self-doubts regarding them.

            The inauthenticity of transgenderism is a function of it being not only epiphenomenal to sources of conflict which orbit round self-conscious agrarian-based societal norms regarding gender roles and performances – that is, these conflicts are not personal but rather historical in scope – but as well, they represent avoidance of conflict in general; decoys constructed by the child who is either too young to understand the authentic conflict in the family, or later on, too anemic in character to confront such conflict which has by then become their own.

            As such, it is easier to understand why the gay subculture has been tepid in its support for transgenderism. They are utterly different phenomena in both source and result. For gay people, transgenderism might well seem to be reactionary, as it, in every case, seeks to shore up dominant gender models and roleplaying, and thus is nothing radical at all, let alone revolutionary. Thus, transgenderism has been misunderstood both by its critics as well as by its adherents. In sum, it is essentially a coping mechanism that is both inauthentic to modern selfhood – it seeks to cover over the conflict that is both necessary to distinguish the self from others as well as provide a bandage for the pathological conceptions of parents who have unethically allowed their desires to overtake their ideals – and an entanglement of one’s very being in the face of its essential mortality and condition of its happenstance birth.

            Though gender as a performance, however indirectly related to biological sex and to human sexuality in general, may be a ludic form which should not be evaluated as pathological in itself, that which is sourced in conflicts which are pathological should not be encouraged, but rather resolved at the point of departure. I suggest here that transgenderism is, in general, just such a negative form, and as such, must be gently retouched to the point that the victim in these cases, the child, is not further alienated by other social forces which are thence to be encountered at an interpersonal level.

            G.V. Loewen is the author of 57 books in ethics, education, health, social theory and aesthetics, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades and has consulted for families and youth for three years.

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

The Lap-Dancing Drag Queen of Oz

            Reading L. Frank Baum today is like embarking on an extended acid trip. Political satire and social allegory under the guise of fantasy books for children, the Oz epic ran to 18 volumes, of which 14 were novels. Times change, so it is said, and the Wizard, however wonderful, went from being the best-selling children’s book for the years 1901 and 1902 to being universally banned by all public libraries in the United States in 1928. The chief reason for this ban, coming from the very association that is now hard pressed to keep up the fight against the hundreds of like bans being instantiated across the same nation by people who must still imagine that they themselves live a century ago, was that it was ‘ungodly’, in its portrayal of women in leadership and heroic roles.

            In hindsight, it is likely, had the Democrats run a male against Donald Trump, we would not have that specific lunacy that yet rests within popular politics at this moment. To simply say so only describes a sexism which oft verges on misogyny and is not sexist in itself. But rewind for a moment to the decade which began our social and technical modernity. The combination of women winning the national vote in 1920 and entering the workplace in droves, the new emphasis on the nuclear family and the abandonment of both that extended and the idea that young men, at least, were the de facto wage-earners in dyadic relationships must have been quite the culture shock at the time. As with today, most of the reaction against these very material shifts in society were themselves symbolic. In saying this, however, we do not say that ‘mere symbolism’ has no effect.

            If Baum’s lysergically weird trip was relatively benign – there is but one dark scene in the entire 14 volumes, and then a single dark novella in the 4 companion compendia – our current theater of identity politics seems much less so. From politicians referring to transgendered people as ‘demons’, ‘mutants’ and ‘not quite human’ to private citizens raiding, in vigilante style, drag queen shows – and, wouldn’t you know it, drag children’s story hours in public libraries – the bigotry, intolerance, and basic ignorance that could well have been widely available a century ago appears to have resurrected itself. The Scopes trial of 1925, held in Tennessee, a state which currently writhes in self-imposed political anguish – or is it neurosis? – seems as well to be a kind of resonant talisman for the neo-conservative movement. After all, creationism is taught alongside evolution in most private schools in the United States, as well as being at least present in public systems such as that of Texas, wherein over five million minors attend school. Textbook publishers kowtow to this politics simply because of market. That the pen is more powerful than the sword was never so well, if perhaps ironically, exemplified.

            Baum’s pen would no doubt have out run all available phantasmagorical ink if he were alive today. But as Al Jaffee suggested, it is more difficult to satire politics in our time simply due to the fact that politicians have outrun the satirists, ‘dreaming up things we cartoonists could never have imagined’. In America and elsewhere, politicians have become their own self-satire. The darker scene that is the outcome of what at first seemed mere theater, is that it is the lie that has been accepted as the truth of things. The Wonderful Wizard, Oscar Zoroaster Pinhead, has successfully implanted his persona as a deus ex machina into the hearts and even minds of the otherwise hard-headed citizens of the latter-day Oz. And if the ‘merely symbolic’ can take on a life of its own apart from worldly reality – one simply has to recall the woeful weight of both heaven and hell upon the faithful – all heroic deeds by men, women, or yet other genders might just be in vain.

            Baum was himself originally captivated by the theater. After an unsuccessful stab at it, he returned to it once armed with his best-selling novels. Theatrical and even film adaptations of The Wizard came early and often, culminating, long after Baum’s death, in the MGM film in 1939. But it is telling that the epic series itself has never again been so adapted after early and successful attempts in 1908 and 1910. The 1908 series has been lost though a few production stills remain. The 1910 series of three has been preserved in fragmentary form. In 1914, when Baum himself founded the Oz Film studios, the most advanced of their time, he must have had high hopes. But his offerings were box office failures, being cast as mere children’s fare and thus of no critical or dramatic value. After a scant few of the novels were scripted and shot, the studio went under the very next year.

            I am going to suggest that we too, in not taking the political theater of fantasy seriously enough, are in danger of going down with it. And though MGM itself released a number of the Oz Studio films as riders to their own famous adaptation on its 70th anniversary in 2009, it is clear that the allegorical satire of the Teddy Roosevelt empire-building era – presumably the very period that MAGA ‘if I only had a brain’ Republicans are referring to as ‘great’ – no longer has a willing audience. Or does it?

            G.V. Loewen is the author of over 55 books in ethics, education, politics, aesthetics, health and social theory, as well as fiction. He was professor of the interdisciplinary human sciences for over two decades.