interesting times

#MeToo and the Taboo Topic of Nature

Now we’re talking. Photo: New York Magazine

A long time ago now, I came rather abruptly face-to-face with what being a man means.

I don’t mean the gay thing. Figuring that out in the 1970s hadn’t been easy, but I’d never questioned my sex or my gender, whatever occasional taunts came my way. I mean the fact that, in the years of being HIV-positive, my testosterone levels had sunk, and I decided, given my lassitude, depression, and lack of sexual desire, to go on hormone replacement therapy to get me back in a healthy range for a 30-something male. It was a fascinating experience to witness maleness literally being injected into me, giving me in a sudden jump what had been there all along, and what I now saw and felt more vividly. You get a real sense of what being a man is from an experience like that, as the rush of energy, strength, clarity, ambition, drive, impatience and, above all, horniness overcame me every two weeks in the wake of my shot. It was intoxicating. I wrote about this a couple of decades ago, in an essay I called “The He Hormone.” The visceral experience opened my eyes to the sheer and immense natural difference between being a man and being a woman, and helped me understand better how nature is far more in control of us than we ever want to believe.

I mention this because in our increasingly heated debate about gender relations and the #MeToo movement, this natural reality — reflected in chromosomes and hormones no scientist disputes — is rarely discussed. It’s almost become taboo. You can spend a lifetime in gender studies and the subject will never come up. All differences between the sexes, we are now informed, are a function of the age-old oppression of women by men, of the “patriarchy” that enforces this subjugation, and of the power structures that mandate misogyny. All differences between the genders, we are told, are a function not of nature but of sexism. In fact, we are now informed by the latest generation of feminists, following the theories of Michel Foucault, that nature itself is a “social construction” designed by men to oppress women. It doesn’t actually exist. It’s merely another tool of male power and must be resisted.

This is, however, untrue. Even the newest generation of feminists concede this on the quiet. Although they will organize to shut down an entire magazine to prevent an airing of an alternative view of gender, they are not currently campaigning to shut down the Planet Earth series because it reveals that in almost every species, males and females behave differently — very differently — and there appears to be no “patriarchy” in place to bring this about at all. They know enough not to push their argument into places where it will seem to be, quite obviously, ridiculous. But it is strikingly obvious that for today’s progressives, humans are the sole species on this planet where gender differentiation has no clear basis in nature, science, evolution, or biology. This is where they are as hostile to Darwin as any creationist.

And this is stupid. The alternative explanation — that these core natural differences between men and women have been supplemented by centuries of conscious oppression — is staring us in the face. The fascinating conundrum is where one ends and the other begins. How much of this difference is natural and how much is social? That is the question. And the answer is a tricky one. Is the fact that the vast majority of construction workers are male and the huge majority of nurses are female a function of sexism or nature? Is male sexual aggression and horniness a function of patriarchy or testosterone? Is the fact that women now outnumber men among college graduates a function of reverse sexism or nature?

My suspicion is that it’s more about nature than about society, and one reason I believe this (apart from all the data) is I because I’m gay. I live in a sexual and romantic world without women, where no patriarchy could definitionally exist, a subculture with hookups and relationships and marriages and every conceivable form of sexual desire that straight men and women experience as well. And you know what you find? That men behave no differently in sexual matters when there are no women involved at all. In fact, remove women, and you see male sexuality unleashed more fully, as men would naturally express it, if they could get away with it. It’s full of handsiness and groping and objectification and lust and aggression and passion and the ruthless pursuit of yet another conquest. And yes, I mean conquest. That’s what testosterone does. It’s also full of love, tenderness, compassion, jealousy, respect, dignity, and a need for security and a home. It’s men’s revenge on men. The old joke applies: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? A U-Haul. What does a gay man bring on a second date? What second date?

I know this must be a pain in the neck for most women. But it’s who we are. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s called being male, this strange creature, covered in hair, pinioned between morality and hormones, governed by two brains, one above and one below. We can and should be restrained, tamed, kept under control. But nature will not be eradicated. And when left-feminism denies nature’s power, ignores testosterone, and sees all this behavior as a function entirely of structural patriarchal oppression, it is going to overreach. It is going to misunderstand. And it is going to alienate a lot of people. If most men are told that what they are deep down is, in fact, “problematic” if not “toxic,” they are going to get defensive, and with good reason. And they are going to react. So, by the way, are the countless women who do not see this kind of masculinity as toxic, who want men to be different, who are, in fact, deeply attracted to the core aggression of the human male, and contemptuous of the latest orthodoxy from Brooklyn.

And men, especially young men in this environment, will begin to ask questions about why they are now routinely seen as a “problem,” and why their sex lives are now fair game for any journalist. And because our dialogue is now so constrained, and the fact of natural sexual differences so actively suppressed by the academy and the mainstream media, they will find the truths about nature in other contexts. They will stumble across alt-right websites that deploy these truths to foment an equal and opposite form of ideology, soaked in actual misogyny, and become convinced that every sexual interaction is a zero-sum battlefield. They will see this as a war between the genders, not as a way to advance the freedom of both. They will fight back, and in this tribalized culture, the conflict will intensify. Suppress debate, ban ideas from civil conversation, and you won’t abolish these ideas. You will hand them to the worst bigots and give them credibility.

This week, in the New York Times, Tom Edsall bravely exposed the politics of this. He looked at the data and found, believe it or not, that gender-studies feminism is not shared by all women by any means, and is increasingly loathed by men — and not just older men. “2016 saw the greatest number of votes cast by young white men in the past 12 years — markedly higher than their female counterparts,” says Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, a psychologist at Tufts. Their support for the Democratic nominee dropped by 15 points from 2008 to 2016. Edsall reports that “a Cato 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey found that a bare majority (51 percent) of Democrats believes that calling out sexism is typically justified and not designed to shut off discussion. In sharp contrast, Ekins wrote, about three-fourths (76 percent) of Republicans and two-thirds (65 percent) of independents believe it’s primarily used as a tool to stifle debate.” Two-thirds of Independents now suspect the sincerity of most claims of sexism. Congrats, Brooklyn. Other polls show a declining support for core feminist principles among high-school seniors in the last decade. When I stumble across young male Trump supporters — and there are plenty of gay men among them — this is what they point to. They are defending their core being from left-feminist assault. Insofar as they are pushing back against the latest wave of feminist misandry, I’m not without some sympathy.

Trump understands this dynamic intuitively. Bannon believed it was integral to the Trump project, and wants the slanted elite discourse on men to continue and intensify. I think this issue was an under-acknowledged cause for Clinton’s failure. At some point, Democrats and liberals are going to have to decide if they want to “problematize” half the voting population. They are going to have to figure out who they really side with: Brooklyn or much of America? Reality or an ideology? Both genders or one?

Build the Wall! Build the Wall!

Why not give him his stupid wall?

Yes, I know it’s an absurd and in many ways, offensive project. Yes, I don’t think it will help border security that much. Yes, it’s $18 billion we could well afford to spend elsewhere. But hear me out.

First off, it isn’t really a wall across the entire border. Parts of it will have no wall at all; parts will be a fence. You can see it as an intensification of what’s already there. It also won’t be built in one Trump term or two. Everyone suspects the Democrats could well win back one chamber in the Congress this fall, with all that might entail for future construction. It also cannot hurt border security — and that’s a good thing, right? And if you gave Trump his bauble, you could gain much more leverage over all the other aspects of the issue, including the fate of the millions of illegal immigrants who have now lived here for decades. You could also immediately save the Dreamers, and maybe their parents, from unspeakable anxiety and fear. Whom would the wall harm, in contrast? Only those now trying to break the law.

I also think it can positively help shift the immigration issue to a more productive plane. I don’t believe America has become a xenophobic, anti-immigrant country overnight. I believe this country is still an immigrants’ dream; I’ve lived that experience myself and I’ve witnessed how decent and supportive and tolerant most Americans are toward newcomers. I think they’re worried that illegal immigration is out of control, that elites don’t care, and until they believe — and truly believe — that the southern border is secure, they will remain far more hostile to immigration — and to current illegal immigrants — than they really want to be. Trump’s genius was to see this as a symbol of reassurance, with massive psychological effects on the entire debate. He used that symbol to nefarious ends, but it can also be redirected. The wall, in fact, seems to me indispensable as a symbol if we are to not to disrupt countless lives and families now entrenched in this country and deserving of humane treatment. If the wall can build support for some kind of amnesty for them going forward, it will be worth it.

D.C.’s Appeals

It’s great to see the New York Times finally give Washington its due. Robert Draper’s account of 36 hours in this lively, diverse, quirky, multicultural world capital is worth a scan — even for New Yorkers. It baffles me why so few in the bigger metropolis ever visit, when it’s just three hours away by train. I suspect that the clichés about it are actually believed. Most of America thinks of the city as synonymous with evil; the rest believes it’s crushingly dull. It is neither. My own chauvinism is in the public record, of course. I tried living in New York City for a year and a half and found it intolerable: sunless, overcrowded, rude, incompetent, ugly, massively overpriced, deeply parochial and insular, and an endless assault course of hassle and attitude. There’s also a wider variety of views in D.C., in part because the city has to sustain a lot of Republicans as well as Democrats. So it doesn’t have quite the stifling left-liberal bubble of Manhattan, or the oppressive feel of the People’s Republic of Woke across the river in Brooklyn. No offense, of course!

D.C. has a huge amount of what New York has, in terms of culture and nightlife and diversity and intellectual stimulus. But it’s also livable — full of light and green, as well as iconic vistas and colorful street life — with sidewalks you don’t have to elbow the weak and sick to walk on. It’s even safe to ride a bike here; and to use a pedestrian crossing. My only quibble is in line with CityLab’s Kriston Capps’s note: “Maybe you read in The New York Times that Showtime is the best bar in Washington, D.C., for ‘nightcapping with the demimonde.’ Sorry. That is not something we do here. That is not something anyone has done anywhere since the Civil War. Piqued and stimulated Times readers should try a different bar—I hear they have loads of demimondes in Brooklyn.” Ha!

Also: Since when has D.C. ever, ever had “the starchy, insular appearance of a white male fiefdom”?  This has long been a primarily African-American place, or at the very least a multicultural mix. If anything, it’s only now that its black population is not a huge majority. I love Bob, and maybe he was trying to challenge a stupid stereotype — but, dude, this place’s nickname was for a long time “chocolate city.” How starchy and white is that?

See you next Friday.

A note to my readers: I’d like to respond to a specific criticism of my diary last week. Many pointed out on Twitter that I seemed to be implying that “secretly removing a condom” is a “minor offense” in a sexual interaction. This charge, in my view, is perfectly understandable, given the way a paragraph worked out. Of course, I don’t believe that. Au contraire. I take full responsibility for the way in which I gave that impression, and apologize for it. My point in that sentence was, well, here’s the sentence: “One man is accused of ‘secretly removing condom during sex,’ with no claim of workplace misconduct at all.” That was my point, to note that such charges had nothing to do with sexual harassment or abuse of power - which meant that the movement had morphed into policing sex outside the workplace. As we know from the latest news, this is in fact true. But in listing all the various lesser offenses, I should have more clearly separated that point out, and did in earlier drafts. I apologize again.

Andrew Sullivan: #MeToo and the Taboo Topic of Nature