In a not terribly long life, I have known well three transsexuals (as we used to say), and another three not so well. Not because I especially sought out their company, but just because I've spent a lot of my time around theatre and music and areas that attract those who feel "different". Two of those three friends I didn't know were transsexual until they were "outed", one very publicly - although with hindsight certain curious aspects of both their physiognomy and behavior suddenly made a lot more sense.
But that's the point: Even those far closer to them than I was weren't aware - because back then the object of having a "sex change" (also as we used to say) was to change from being a man to being a woman. There were still only two teams and you were simply crossing over to bat for the other side. The trans-life had little in common with "gay pride" - because the object wasn't to come out of the closet, but to blend into it so smoothly no one would know you hadn't always been there. Before their outing, the two ladies in question were more lady-ier than thou: both used to show up once a month with a box of Tampax discreetly poking out from the top of their handbags - even though, as we all understood in retrospect, they had no need of it. But they had chosen to live as women, and so they wished to be as other women. And they were mortified when they were exposed.
This was the conventional view as late as the Nineties, when Armistead Maupin's celebration of the gay life,"Tales Of The City", became must-see TV for sophisticated liberals on Britain's Channel 4 and America's PBS. The big plot point was the matriarch Mrs Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) "revealing" her "secret" - that she was not born a woman.
To be sure, as the chromosomocentrists argue, one cannot, biologically, "change sex". But I'll skip that argument, because, as usual, social conservatives are fighting over ground the left has already scorched and moved on from for new conquests. I have no great objection to a grown man who "identifies" as a woman and wishes to live as one. Guys have been doing that, to one degree or another, throughout history, and all that's happened is that cosmetic surgery has caught up with their desires. If half the women in California can walk around with breast implants, I don't see why the chaps can't.
But the chromosomocentrists are missing the point. The left's saying, "Yeah, XY chromosomes, big deal. You're right, but so what? No one's saying she's a woman. We're saying she's a transwoman - a new, separate and way more glamorous category that's taking its seat at the American table and demanding public affirmation. This isn't your father's sex change. Changing from man to woman is so last century."
The coronation of Caitlyn is ultimately not about the right to choose which of the two old teams you want to play on. It's about creating a cool new team. The "T" was always the relatively sleepy end of LGBT, and didn't ostensibly have much in common with the other three-quarters of the acronym. The company it keeps only makes sense if the object of transitioning is not to "pass" but to create a new assertive identity group in and of itself.
So far it's going gangbusters. Hence, the congratulatory Tweets from both Barack and Michelle Obama, and the instant conferral of the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage - but also the immediate ruthless pronoun enforcement by The Washington Post and the Twitter-lynching of Tom Cruise's kid and Snoop Dogg merely for having the lèse-majesté to suggest that, on the one hand, war, poverty and over-fishing and, on the other, solar power for Africa might be more important than some Z-list reality-TV celeb showing off her new rack. (Michael E Mann, the celebrated Doctor Fraudpants lui-mème, would certainly agree with young Master Cruise and Mr Dogg that "climate change" ought to be our paramount concern. But, unlike them, he doesn't have the guts to Tweet that NOAA's adjustment of their figures is a far bigger story than Caitlyn's adjustment of hers.)
And then there's the Vanity Fair cover itself: Caitlyn unveiled in her 1950s cheesecake shot. She hasn't completed her "transition"; she's just at the beginning of it - and, as all the world knows, she still has the old wedding tackle. Apropos the discreet swell in the crotch of her Grace Kelly bathing suit, some wag said Caitlyn Jenner is the most prominent Republican ever to appear on the front of Vanity Fair cover. Be that as it may, we are being invited to admire her not as a woman but as a transwoman - and to accept, as perforce the creator of the now passé Vagina Monologues has been forced to do, that there is such a thing as a woman with a penis. Miss Jenner herself is unclear whether she'll go all the way, or whether, in her new identity, she'll have sex with women or men or both, with or without the meat and two veg.
The economic historian Deirdre McCloskey, who used to be the economic historian Donald McCloskey, wrote an account of her own experience in The Des Moines Register:
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!"
In Caitlyn Jenner's case, she actually did convert to the Republican Party, which may yet prove an unfortunate complicating factor. But Dean Fethke's gentle jokes are a normal, human reaction to the situation - the G-rated version of what happened to another acquaintance of mine, a prodigiously talented arranger and composer called Angela Morley. You won't know her name, but if you watched TV in the Eighties you surely heard her music - on "Dallas", "Dynasty", "The Colbys", "Wonder Woman", "Falcon Crest", "Cagney & Lacey", and on and on.
Thirty years earlier, she'd been a household name in Britain, although not as "Angela Morley". Back then, she was Wally Stott, and the house conductor for the BBC's most popular radio comedy, "The Goons". It was the Prince of Wales' favorite show when he was a boy, and he can still do all the silly voices. A little of it goes a long way with me, but Wally Stott's music was very adroit. He was a very deft comical composer in those days: The tuba theme he wrote for the lugubrious comedian Tony Hancock on "Hancock's Half Hour" is ingenious: It says that character, which is what the best themes do.
The sex change happened in 1972, and shortly thereafter Angela moved to America. Indeed, it seemed less of a sex change than a total lifestyle upgrade, as thorough as the Cinderella transformation in the film she scored so beautifully, The Slipper And The Rose. You can't ask for a better name for a jobbing musician in northern England grubbing around for ten shillings a week with Bert Clegg's orchestra at the Empress Ballroom than stolid working-class "Wally Stott". Conversely, "Angela Morley" is perfumed with the heady swirl of Oscar and Emmy ceremonies and Hollywood parties with Larry Hagman and Henry Mancini.
It wasn't quite that instant a transformation. She was the conductor of the BBC Radio Orchestra at the time of her operation, and there was a lot of tittering about Wally losing his baton. The boys in the band weren't entirely sure what to make of it when Wally Stott conducted his last session and then Peter Knight filled in until their conductor returned in her new guise as Angela Morley. Studio musicians are among my favorite people but it has to be said they're not always the most sensitive. So things were a bit awkward when their old boss walked in and took the podium but this time with a stylish silk skirt swishing against his - er, her hosiery. Eventually, Stan Roderick, the BBC's splendid first trumpet, broke the silence. "Fancy a shag?" he asked.
She didn't, but the session proceeded smoothly thereafer. Angela Morley was a first-class musican, and happy in her new life - although one couldn't but notice with the onset of age that, as with most transsexuals, the unwanted mannishness lurking deep down keeps trying to re-emerge in one's features. Professor McCloskey writes:
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.
At a certain basic level, Professor McCloskey understands that she is not a woman, but she chooses to live as one. She's talking the way Angela Morley talked - about wanting to "present as a woman" and carry on doing what you love, whether teaching history or conducting orchestras. But Caitlyn Jenner is instead "presenting" as a transwoman, and blazing a new trail in self-definition. Why she's doing it is obvious: she's got a reality-TV series, and she wants it to open big, and have people stick with her as she explores various options for her new sexuality with whatever genitalia she decides to go for. She is, in that sense, transitioning from a Jenner to a full-blown Kardashian. But the broader movement - the Big Gay enforcers - have signed on because of the opportunity it affords, to validate a glamorous, fashionable, expandable, elite, noisy, assertive identity-group category and further demolish the old ones.
Hence the backlash against those who step out of line. Tom Cruise's son? Oh, he totally lost it in a "hateful rant" of "off-color transphobic remarks":
"Don't get me wrong. Do what you feel like doing and don't let anyone stop you. But everyone is taking this way too seriously...There are so many more important things that should be talked about
"I'm totally supportive of people staying true to themselves and finding true happiness in whatever way they can," he continued. "There are just more things that we as a nation and as a planet should be talking about and working on."
As Evan Real responded for real:
Geez, tell us how you really feel, Connor!.. Sorry Mr. Cruise, but what really needs to change is your attitude!
This Evan Real wallah is the usual metrosexual pajama boy favored by today's media, but this is apparently how he really really really really feels!!! It's not enough to say "do what you feel like doing" and "I'm totally supportive of people finding true happiness": you have to accept that this is the most important and transformative event of our time. Why else would the President and First Lady be Tweeting their support? Screw climate change, you bigot!
Now imagine you're like the parents of that kid in British Columbia. You notice your Second Grader seems to prefer Barbie to GI Joe, and one day you caught him walking around in his big sister's princess slippers. And maybe it's just a phase, but the doctor and the school guidance counselor are all eager to get him transitioning. And deep down you're not really on board with it, but you remember with that Olympics winner who's something to do with the Kardashians how everyone jumped all over people who weren't celebratory, even Snoop Dogg, who's one mean muthaf**ker, but Big Gay still clubbed him to a pulp like he's some weedy easy-listening lounge act, even when he wanted to talk about green energy, which is like the most pressing, urgent, important subject ever...
Except for Caitlyn, and her "bravery".
It takes an awful lot to push back against that level of cultural enforcement.
What happened this week was a strange mix of Huxley and Orwell, Brave New World and 1984, hedonism and totalitarianism, sexual diversity and ruthless conformity in everything else - a stiletto heel stamping on a human face, forever.
Or until the mullahs take over.