Had I told Democratic friends around the turn of the 21st century that in 2021 their party would insist that a biological man identifying as a woman should be treated as a woman in sports competitions, they would have laughed me under the table. Yet here’s Joe Biden, their man in the White House, claiming that biological men have the right to compete against women as “women” and to use women’s restroom facilities.
This is the sort of idiocy against which one cannot argue. Either one grasps the importance of chromosomes and genitalia in identifying males and females, or one is an idiot. To argue against the idiot is itself idiocy, for no one so irrational will ever listen to rational argument.
All we can do is try to understand how we got here—and that route is not what one might think.
The first path on this journey to biological blindness is culture’s insistence on equality-as-sameness. Under this definition, it’s expected that women be given the same jobs as men regardless of differences in physical strength.
Applying this assumption of equal physical strength consistently, we are left with no room for complaint when physically superior men compete against physically inferior women, because merely pointing out the difference is forbidden. “Men and women are physical equals, therefore competition between them is inherently equal,” goes the classic feminist line. Unless the feminist rejects this claim, she must take the side of the transgendered in the matter of athletics.
But the case for men in women’s sports is bigger than a claim to some sort of equality. The assertion that men can identify as women if they so choose makes the very reality of “man” and “woman” a matter of choice, unrelated to biology. If identity is a matter of choice, then the issue of biological differences is moot. That the biologically male-women keep defeating the biologically female-women is of no consequence. Some kinds of women are simply better at sports than other kinds of women, that’s all.
Although some have flirted with applying this issue of “identity” to areas beyond gender, the notion hasn’t stuck to any of them. One hapless white woman attempted to identify as black but was promptly called out as a racial wannabe. That sort of thing, the culture made clear, was a no-no. You don’t get to be a white-black person, even though the chromosomal difference between blacks and whites is far less than that between men and women. So, how can men “identify” as women?
The answer is found in one famous name: Marilyn Monroe. Marilyn is a symbol of Objectified Femininity, such as is often seen in Playboy magazine. The sexual revolution, so called, did not result in the liberation of women but in a new definition of women as sexual entities of a certain sort. Where “woman” previously meant any biological female—with the ensuing range of possible attributes, personalities, and physical and emotional traits—the “woman” who emerged in the 1950s and ‘60s had only certain, hyperbolized characteristics. She was “built,” she was seductive, and she was a little on the mentally shallow side. In other words, she was easy prey for men on the make.
This cliché of women now seems ludicrous, as indeed it always was, but while feminists worked to offer a view of woman as man’s physical and mental equal, they did nothing to offer a truly feminine alterative to Marilyn and Playboy. A sexual woman remained an objectified woman.
The object changed a bit from Playboy bunny, to hippie girl, to ‘70s swinger, to ‘80s party girl, but nowhere along the line was there an effort to reaffirm the integrity of woman as a full sexual partner. To do this would have required facing and possibly dismissing some of the sexual revolution’s most cherished beliefs. It would have been necessary to address the central role of a woman as a mother, and the inherent connection of sex to parenthood; to look at marriage as more than a breakable contract; to redirect sexual energies to partnership and relationship instead of titillation and orgasm; and even to look at the traditional roles of men and women in marriage as not baseless. Indeed, it was easier to press forward with equal-as-same and to leave objectified women in place as proof of men’s indominable chauvinism.
Enter the trans woman. Biology abandoned, we arrive at the place where “woman” is any human with a particular attitude, namely, a willingness to exhibit the cliches of objectified feminine sexuality and be called “woman.” An object doesn’t need biology. All that is required is the willingness to be such an object. Trans women are protected for the same reason pornography is popular.
When “woman” again means something beyond a choice or an object, sanity will be restored to American sexuality. For now, we live in a world of unreality where an entity is whatever we choose to name it.
Kenneth LaFave, PhD, is the author of Experiencing Leonard Bernstein (Rowman & Littlefield).