Anthony Esolen’s Hatred of Nature and of Sex

Terre Thaemlitz

Terre Thaemlitz

Shortly following the publication of Anthony Esolen’s article “Hatred of Nature, Hatred of Sex” on Crisis Magazine, Gil Bailie posts a link to the article with this short introduction:

This Anthony Esolen satire is essential reading. It is Chestertonian, and that is high praise indeed.


Preetha Valentine:

Outstanding article! Identity crisis

Caroline Gissler:

Emperor Norton was ahead of his time.

Timothy Brock:

Esolen’s cruel and tasteless “satire” does nothing to address the problems that transgendered individuals face. I cannot imagine Jesus showing such callous indifference toward them.

How about some constructive suggestions instead of just more of the same poisonous ridicule? Esolen’s article perfectly exemplifies the attitudes that transgenders have to face daily. That it could have been published on a Catholic website is absolutely appalling.

Caroline Gissler:

It’s the rest of us who look at our bodies and know what we are by the evidence in front of our eyes who are being ridiculed when we are in essence told that it is all in our heads.

The Cornerstone Forum:

Esolen is not mocking people suffering from confusion about their sexual identity. He’s mocking the ideologues who think they are doing those people a favor by abandoning reality. The long term damage will be to the very people who think they are being helped.

Timothy Brock:

Two days ago, I was at the hospital with the family of a man who had just had open-heart surgery. We were in the surgery waiting room when the surgeon came in to report to us how the operation had gone. He conducted us into a small private room, where he described the patient’s condition and advised all of us about what to expect and how to help in the recovery.

We listened to the surgeon with total reverence and respect for his skills and his knowledge. Not one of the eight of us ever raised a hand to object that something he had instructed us to do didn’t seem “common-sensical.” We were in the presence of scientific knowledge on which the man’s life absolutely depended at every single moment for the next five days.

Which one of you thinks you have the authority or the expertise to insist, contrary to all available scientific evidence, that gender is what’s between your legs and not what’s between your ears? To me, it is simply appalling (1) that you do not already know this and (2) that you presume to question pediatricians and psychologists who do.
For the sake of our friend’s recovery, we listened with rapt attention to every instruction the surgeon gave us. Our friend’s life depends on it.

For the sake of our children, we must start listening to those who actually have a scientific understanding of gender identity. Let’s set aside folk wisdom and pre-scientific ideas for their sakes, please. Let’s listen to the doctors.

Gordon Savage:

“Which one of you thinks you have the authority or the expertise to insist, contrary to all available scientific evidence, that gender is what’s between your legs and not what’s between your ears?”

Timothy: Putting aside for a moment your Ad verecundiam argument to simply shut up and submit to authority, what exactly do you mean by “between the ears”? The “social constructs” that Esolen critiques are between the ears in one sense, the interplay of brain and hormones is between the ears in another. And this seems to me a perfect example of the our Postmodern culture confusing its reverence for the plasticity of social constructs with the very concrete needs bio-social needs of children.

Real scientists who care equally about getting this right are divided over what to do. Ruth Padawar wrote this in the New York Times in August 8, 2012: “Transgender activists have also pressed for changes in the psychiatric establishment, which still officially considers children’s distress over gender identity a mental illness. Now the American Psychiatric Association is reviewing the diagnosis of ‘Gender Identity Disorder in Children’ for the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Critics, though, condemn the association’s choice of Dr. Kenneth Zucker to lead the inquiry. Zucker is the head of a well-known gender-identity clinic in Toronto and the most prominent defender of traditional interventions for gender nonconformity. He urges parents to steer their children toward gender-typical toys, clothes and playmates and advises them to prohibit behaviors associated with the other sex. Zucker’s academic articles assert that while biology may predispose some children to gender nonconformity, other factors — like trauma and emotional disorders — often play a role. Other contributing causes he cites include overprotective mothers, emotionally absent fathers or mothers who are hostile toward men.” I recommend the article.

I’m no fan of the DSM system, but it doesn’t sound like one of the those slam-dunk, “the science is settled so shut-up,” situations.

Timothy Brock:

Gordon, I have a question for you, but it will have to wait, as I am spending lots of time at the hospital with my friend who had heart surgery on Thursday. Watch this space.

Timothy Brock:

Gordon, after dismissing my appeal to the authority of medical professionals, you buttressed your own view by citing the authority of a medical professional.

There’s nothing wrong with deferring to authority when that deference is warranted, as it was in my hospital experience last week (see my earlier comment). But when a non-scientific institution presumes expertise about a scientific question, there is no such warrant.

Psychologists are indeed divided about whether to include transgenderism in the DSM, and I never said they weren’t. On both sides of the issue are people who understand transgenderism quite well.

I know that many transgenders do not want the stigma that comes with classification of transgenderism as a “gender identity disorder.” However, some (not all) transgenders want hormone treatment and medical interventions. These are not covered by insurance unless they are prescribed for a specific disorder. So that is a strong argument for classifying transgenderism as a disorder.

What I said earlier about gender is completely supported by the American Psychological Association (as well as the other medical associations): Sex is assigned at birth. It is a biological status. Gender refers to socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a society considers appropriate for boys, girls, men, and women.

I was surprised that Caroline and others did not know this and that they thought that you could simply “look between your legs” to establish your gender identity. Well, I’m afraid it’s not that simple.

The place to start in understanding transgenderism is NOT in the writings or opinions of a single psychologist. Go to the American Psychological Association’s Q and A:

Read the sections on discrimination and how to be supportive.

If you’re going to discuss these matters, it’s simply inexcusable not to be informed about them … for the sake of transgendered individuals who suffer daily as a result of your ignorance and indifference.

Gordon Savage:

All this time I was expecting a question.

Authority? Ad verecundiam means “appeal to reverence;” it is not a “dismissal of [your] appeal to the authority of medical professionals,” but a reference to your tactic of shutting down discussion by suggesting those who disagree with you embrace “folk wisdom and pre-scientific ideas” (bogus authority) over science (virtuous authority). And it’s not just about science but brave doctors who save lives in open heart surgery. Give me a break! Ad verecundiam is a way of diverting people from the judicious weighing of the conflicting arguments of equally authoritative sources. Hence my reference to competing authorities in the New York Times article.

But the real mistake was initial your reading of Esolen, that it was “tasteless ridicule” of those who suffer the consequences of gender confusion. The article wasn’t about transgendered children, it was about adults who consider gender wholly a social construct separate from biology. You wouldn’t think of suggesting that social identity is completely separate from biology — hence a man who thinks he’s a horse or Napoleon needs counseling — but you imagine it’s unproblematic to separate entirely social sexual constructs from bodily sexuality (BTW, if you were right, why shouldn’t a parent have the right to steer their minor child toward what they consider the “best social constructs” much like they try to get them in the best school?).

Are those who disagree with you always “ignorant” and “indifferent” or is it just me?

Timothy Brock:

Gordon, first of all, I did not “mis-read” Esolen. He’s a clever but very transparent writer. His article is clearly about California’s directives regarding transgender children in the schools. The photo at the top makes that explicit. The lengthy analogies with race and class are only intended to set us up for the “the real offense against nature,” which is even “crazier,” he says, than the objects of his ridicule (the Prince of Pasadena and the Queen of San Quentin). Can you not see that he is comparing transgender children to these delusional individuals, and then ridiculing the whole lot of them and the legislators who allow them to self-identify? Do you imagine that when Esolen writes about the “trans-blacks,” he is not analogizing with transgenders? All are delusional, in his view. All arel crazy. So, apparently, are the two APAs.

He writes, “…if I say that a boy may be a girl or a girl may be a boy, I do in fact reject the healthy and the normal.” And the legislators are “mad” for going along with such “delusions.” They “hate reality.” So, apparently, do the two APAs.

Esolen does not understand that there is a difference between a “transman” and his hypothetical “trans-black” because he is not interested in understanding. He writes regularly for Crisis Magazine, an ultra-conservative Catholic publication. He’s an ideologue who starts with conclusions and distorts facts to fit them. He knows nothing about transgenderism. Some of his statements are absolutely bizarre from the perspective of scientific understanding. He writes that “sex is not a social construct,” as if anyone had claimed that it is. Gender is partly social construct and partly a result of genetic influences, prenatal hormone levels, early experiences, and experiences later in adolescence. But it all comes through biology. Even the experiences are processed by the body-brain. Gender is not the same as sex. Esolen appears to think it is “insane” to believe that one is a female when one has male genitals, or vice versa. He has not, and could not have read scientific literature or given any serious thought to what he has written. I’ve blogged with Esolen many times, and this is completely typical of him.

So why does he called his article, “Hatred of Nature, Hatred of Sex?” Is he suggesting that transgenders and those who try to help them, such as the medical establishment, hate nature and sex? Don’t you find that a bit bizarre? Personally, I think it’s very hateful.

Timothy Brock:

Gordon, I have no interest in “shutting down discussion,” but I believe it is morally wrong to slander groups of people out of sheer ignorance. I am not a moral relativist or a post-modernist, and ignorance is not a social construct. It is an absence of knowledge and understanding. Rather than stop a discussion, I would like to stop slanders and encourage people to take responsibility for the damaging things they write about other people, especially entire groups such as transgenders. It’s one thing to praise another person or group out of ignorance, but it’s quite another to disparage them or to suggest that they are “crazy,” “unnatural,” and “unhealthy” when they are not. The psychologists and psychiatrists at the APAs are not “insane.” (These are all Esolen’s words.)

Esolen throws around expletives like “objectively disordered” when he is himself objectively ignorant of what he writes about. He is ideologically opposed to all the letters of LGBT, and arrogant in his presumption of expertise.

By all means, judiciously weigh the conflicting arguments of various sources, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they are all “equally authoritative.” There is a big difference between an authority and a shill. Look for consensus opinions of medical professionals on topics like these. They may not be perfectly reliable, but they are the best we’ve got.

Gordon Savage:

Timothy, Perhaps, as you say, you’re not a “moral relativist or post-modernist,” but you are a slanderer for continually dismissing all of those who differ with you as ignorant. I’m done with this.

Timothy Brock:

Gordon: In fact, I do not dismiss all those who differ with me as “ignorant” of the matters under discussion. As I indicated earlier, I am very respectful of people who have genuine expertise, especially if they represent or express a consensus view in the sciences. Although I know that modern medical professionals can occasionally be wrong, their training and certification tells me that they are far more trustworthy on medical matters than people without such backgrounds.

We have not been talking theology here. Transgenderism is a condition that is best approached through scientific inquiry.

If there’s any area where ignorance and knowledge are sharply differentiated, it is science, where one opinion is not just as good as another.

This is why I am offended when Esolen ridicules transgenders and their advocates. Esolen is not a scientist and he apparently has little respect for scientific inquiry. His is not a trivial offense, in my view. It fuels the scapegoating of transgenders and its end result is more wounding. Transgenders need genuine understanding, not ridicule.


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