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Is Gender Just a State of Mind?

Regis Nicoll

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In the wake of the British Invasion, a one-hit wonder from Boston posed the question, "Are You a Boy or Are You a Girl?" It was the hit single of The Barbarians, whose shoulder-length hair, sandaled feet, and cheeky lyrics reflected the dizzying changes of the 1960s. I remember it well. In a garage band of my own, I sported the longer hair and cross-cutting fashions of the epicene trend. On more than one occasion I heard, or overheard, some variant of that question muttered by some backward yokel. Whether intended as fun or due to honest confusion, the question always presumed that underneath the androgynous exterior, there really was a boy or a girl. Flash forward about forty years. Given what we're now being told about sex and gender, an updated version of The Barbarians' hit might well be titled, "Are You a Boy and a Girl?" I'm not kidding. But first a little background.

Sartre's Wrecking Ball

In the early Greek tradition, everything possessed an essence -- an intrinsic nature defined by its purposeful end. For example, the nature of an acorn was to become an oak tree, and the nature of an egg was to become a bird. Likewise, human beings had a nature that, if properly followed, would result in the "good life." That notion held sway for nearly two and a half millennia, right up until Jean-Paul Sartre announced that "existence precedes essence." According to Sartre, the essence of humanness was not innate and fixed; it was emergent and malleable, shaped by the culmination of our life experiences. And since each of us experiences life differently, our natures are as varied as our DNA.

Sartre's simple jingle turned the wisdom of the ancients on its head, becoming the wrecking ball for a generation of coffee- house dreamers intent on leveling the foundations of good and evil, virtue and vice, and beauty and ugliness. But perhaps no change in the last forty years has been as disorienting as the leveling of gender.

[ ... ]

Bizarro Sexuality

The going wisdom of the cultural elite, particularly those cut off from the real world within the ivory tower of academia, is that one's gender is an ever-changing, internal sense of being male, female, or a combination of these. Indeed, they would say that, plumbing aside, there is no difference between men and women at all, only stereotyped roles into which we are socialized by the culture at large.

Conversely, these same people contend that sexual orientation -- whether straight, gay, lesbian, or bisexual -- is an absolutely unyielding human characteristic. We are born with an attraction to the opposite sex, our own sex, or both, and no medicine, therapy, or spiritual epiphany will ever change this predisposition.

Now what happens when a heterosexual man starts to feel like a woman? Does his continued attraction to women mark him as a lesbian? And let's suppose that a homosexual man is attracted to a man who believes himself -- and who dresses like -- a woman; shouldn't the former just declare himself a hetero-sexual and be done with it?

Such permutations are all possibilities in the Bizarro world of the intelligentsia. For only in a sequestered imagination could something as patently innate as gender be considered a malleable product of personal feelings, while sexual preference is considered an unalterable fact of life.

Read the entire article on the Salvo Magazine website (new window will open) (.pdf file).

Posted: 02-Apr-07

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