The world had become a weird place even before the age of President Donald Trump, otherwise he never would have been elected, but it was still a jarring reminder on Wednesday of how very weird weird things have become when the world wound up with Trump “tweeting” an official proclamation that transgendered people cannot serve in the military.
This is the sort of commonsensical policy that wouldn’t have been considered the least bit controversial not so very long ago, but these days things are more complicated. Men who think themselves women and women who think themselves men are now a fashionable cause, and concerns about the nation’s military readiness don’t have the same cachet, so the “tweeted” proclamation stirred a big fuss in all the papers. Throw in all the weirdness that always comes with Trump and his “tweets,” and it’s all the more complicated.
Clans and tribes and kingdoms and nation-states have been waging war against one another for long so that humanity has learned a thing or two about how to do it, and one of the lessons is that successful wars have almost always been waged by armies of stout-hearted and self-identified men who will fight for the rights they adore. Which is not to say there haven’t been some ferocious women warriors over the past millennia, and we’re unashamed to admit there have been more than a few of them who would put us to shame on a battlefield, but the general rule about leaving the fighting to the men-folk has always proved generally reliable. The rights of those outlier ferocious women warriors began to supersede considerations of military readiness even before the weird age of President Barack Obama, however, and by now the most up-to-date notions of social justice are given greater weight than the most time-tested notions of how to win a war.
After so many years of modern America treating its military as a social engineering experiment rather than a war-winning enterprise, it’s no surprise the conversation lately turns to talk about the even further outlying men who think themselves women and the women who think themselves men and their rights to serve in the military. By the social scientists’ count the number of transgendered people in America is measured with a percentage point and a couple of zeros of the general population, and despite the dizzying number of number of dizzyingly diverse people we know we’d put the number even lower, and we have to believe than only a fraction of that already small number are pining for military service, but these relatively infinitesimal few are what all the fuss is about.
Which is not to say that any of them wouldn’t put us to shame on a battlefield, and we’ll concede that in these weird times the current poster boy or girl for transgenderism is a self-identified woman who once won the gold medal in the men’s Olympic decathlon, which is way more macho than anything we ever did, but we still go by the general reliability of the time-tested general rules of warfare. Go ahead and call us old-fashioned, but we also have our doubts about the current vogue for those outlier men who think themselves women and women who think themselves men. We can’t recall who to credit with the observation that someone who thinks he’s Napoleon is still considered crazy, while someone thinks he’s Josephine is now to be indulged in the conceit, but it seems apt. Quite frankly, all this post-gender talk strikes us as another another one of post-religious manias that keeps popping up.
Which is not to say we lack compassion for these few folks, but rather to say that lopping off their healthy organs and surgically mutilating their genitals doesn’t necessarily strike us as the most compassionate response to their situation. Way back in the ’50s the first so-called sex-change operation was performed in Sweden on George Jorgensen, who had been honorably discharged from the United States Army after World War II, and a short time later he or she became the popular nightclub chanteuse Christine Jorgensen, and despite his or her celebrity it seemed pretty weird to almost everybody at the time, and probably still strikes most Americans as kind of creepy. Since then there have been a lot of other so-called sex-change surgeries, the first of which was performed in America at the august Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, but by now the record shows that the patients mostly haven’t been happy about it, and have had much higher mental illness and alcoholism and drug abuse and suicide rates than the general population. The rate of regret is even higher than for such less-drastic measures as tattoos and plastic surgery, and as a result that august hospital’s chief surgeon now refuses to lop off healthy organs or otherwise surgically mutilate a patient’s genitals.
All of which seemed quite commonsensical to pretty much everybody until as recently as last summer, when even the Republican nominee for president was inviting that former men’s Olympic decathlon champion to use the women’s room at his Trump Tower, and chiding the Republican convention that had nominated him for its old-fashioned ways, and blasting the Republican North Carolina’s decision to restrict men’s rooms to biologically male people as a bad business decision. Trump is still on solid ground for insisting that America’s military and its war-winning mission is different than the restrooms at Trump Tower or a North Carolina basketball tournament, but by now he’s ceded an awful lot of ground in the ongoing culture wars.
By “tweeting” his executive order rather than seeking the military’s full-throated support for a congressional action on the matter, Trump has also passed up a chance for a national commonsensical consensus and allowed an inevitable Democratic successor to easily undo his slightly executive-ordered policy. That’s earned the wrath of a lot of old-fashioned Republicans on the right, even as more up-to-date Republicans embrace the modern sensibilities about all this stuff, and it just goes to show what weird times we’re now living in. For now, it looks a lot like the same “Tweet”-first-and-ask-questions-later mess Trump made of his otherwise commonsensical plan to restrict travel from countries where lots of people want to blow up America.
We’ll continue to wish our best for all those men who think themselves woman and the women who think themselves men, hope like hell America somehow wins its inevitable next war, and in the meantime we’ll continue to note what weird times these are.
— Bud Norman