Time Magazine recently featured the story of a woman who decided to become a man and then decided to have a baby, which she eventually did. The story was provocatively entitled, “My Brother’s Pregnancy and the Making of a New American Family”, and it included a photo of the mother of the baby, still sporting her beard, nursing her child (seen at left). The facts of the story are as follows.
In 2000, when the woman (left unnamed with the usual political correctness) was nineteen, she decided she wanted to become a man, and later in 2003 at the age of 22 began the hormone injections involved in such a transition. My guess is that her father’s decision to “come out” and declare himself gay at the age of fifty and the messy divorce which followed had something to do with her decision. She did not have her breasts cut off through mastectomy as did many transgender women, nor have her genitals surgically altered. She did however tightly bind her breasts. The hormone therapy resulted in her hips thinning and hair beginning to grow over her knuckles and on her face. She now called herself “Evan”. Throughout all this she continued to want to bear a child.
Her marriage partner was another woman, so of course conception by her was impossible. (Some women who become men have male partners.) She tried to conceive through artificial insemination, but was unsuccessful at first. Eventually over the course of several years and $12,000 worth of fertility treatments, she managed to conceive and carry the child to term. This New American Family now consists of two women (one with a beard) and child of unknown or unrevealed parentage. The icon of the New American Family is a photo of the bearded mother breast-feeding her child. The canons of the transgender movement of course do not refer to the act as “breast-feeding”, since “breasts” presuppose that a woman is involved and they are insistent that the mother is a man. The new and acceptable term is “chest-feeding”.
What is an Orthodox Christian to think of all this? Granted that it is unnatural in the most basic of senses, since it is against nature for bearded men to conceive and bear children, but are there other lessons to be learned? I can think of three of them, for by glancing at a trio of insanities we can learn what sanity really looks like.
The first insanity is that which regards gender not only as fluid or as something one chooses, but also as something to be created. Prior to this dark moment in the cultural history of the human race, gender was considered a gift, something received at birth, a gift containing both certain advantages and disadvantages. Conformity to the dictates of one’s given gender was part of one’s larger conformity to and recognition of how the universe was supposed to run. People did not invent their own moralities, but strove (or perhaps did not strive) to conform to a set of given truths—such as the truth that kindness was to be chosen over cruelty, that murder and theft were wrong, that self-sacrifice for the greater good was admirable. (C. S. Lewis referred to such a shared universal inheritance as “the Tao”.) Authentic human living meant conformity to these given transcendent truths. These truths were not created by men, but discovered by them, and universally held to be true. A father passed them on to his children, like a bird teaching its offspring how to fly. The given nature of gender was one part of this complete package. In the New American Family however, as in the transgender movement generally, gender is not a gift received, but the result of our sovereign choice. We create our own gender, using technology as our tool. (Let us pause to note the classist nature inherent in the transgender movement: only the rich can afford to create their own gender with such expensive technology. The poor of the Third World must be content with the gender they received at birth.) The decision to create our own gender is part of our larger project of self-deification. The serpent in the garden once promised that we could become like God (Genesis 3:5), and we have followed his counsel in refusing to accept the limitations of creaturehood. We have become our own creators, and have used scientific technology to cast aside the necessity of submitting to God and His laws. It is as if Mary Shelley had never written her famous novel. By observing the horror that is the New American Family, we can relearn the truth that gender is a gift we receive, part of the large life-giving inheritance of transcendent truth given to all men.
The second insanity is that which views a child as a commodity, as something to have simply because one wants to have it. Once again everything here depends upon our unbridled and sovereign choice—if I want a child, then I must have it; and if I don’t want a child, I must not have one forced upon me simply because conception has occurred. Using the twin tools of fertility treatments and abortion, we can have whatever we want, regardless of the insistent and intractable facts biology. Prior to this, children were regarded as a gift, just as (for the Christian) everything in life was regarded as a gift. God might close the womb and deny the gift or open the womb and give the gift (see 1 Samuel 1:5, 19), but the reception of the gift did not depend upon our will, but upon God’s.
Such submission is intolerable to the New American Family. As a part of the privileged and affluent secular West, it must have whatever it decides it wants. If a family or a woman does not want to have a child, then the child, if conceived, must be aborted. If a family or a woman does want to have child, then the child must be produced, even if it is impossible for two women (or two men) to conceive. This is not to deny that the child produced may be loved and valued. But we must recognize that the child has been produced on demand, like any other desired commodity. And the mindset which regards one’s desires and demands as absolutely primary and imperative will inevitably produce other unforeseen and unfortunate results also. Throughout the New American Family will run the silent but constant theme, “I must have whatever I want.” Such selfishness (to give its true and traditional name) is a poor foundation on which to build authentic and selfless character. Many people today are demanding and entitled enough already, and have little regard for the demands of self-sacrifice and self-denial. The New American Family is likely to have even less regard for these demands. The will to power becomes all. One can almost hear Nietzsche stirring in his long sleep.
Finally we note how such insanities tend to increase throughout the generations, as madness builds upon madness. Whether one calls this “the thin edge of the wedge argument” or not, experience teaches us that what one generation quietly allows, the next will exuberantly celebrate, and that this celebration will form the foundation for further developments. St. Paul was referring to this process of inevitable and increasing degeneration when he reminded the Corinthians that even a little leaven would eventually leaven the whole lump (1 Corinthians 5:6).
We see this in recent history: not long ago, the homosexual community insisted vociferously that sexual orientation was set at birth, and declared that a homosexual was born gay, with his homosexual orientation as firmly given at birth as if it had been set in stone. Now we can observe the next step in this erosion of traditional values, and see how gender and orientation themselves are regarded as entirely fluid. We can now pick our gender from a whole range of choices. We have created a “transfeminine spectrum” which includes such categories as “genderfluid”, “nongender”, “transmasculine”, and most alarming of all, “cisgender”—the now preferred term denoting the state where one’s self-identity conforms to the gender of one’s biological sex. What used to be called simply “normal” has now been transformed so that it is but one option among many. Since each generation builds, for better or worse, upon the inheritance it received from the previous one, we can expect even more and catastrophic confusion in the generations to come. Family, rooted in the given realities of gender, is the factory which produces authentic and healthy persons, and whenever the machinery in the factory has been altered or damaged, the persons produced by the family will be correspondingly hampered. The downward spiral and consistent erosion of basic human categories reveals the importance of preserving inherited truth and of drawing the line against further erosion.
In the public transit system in the city in which I live, a voice is heard over the light rail train’s loudspeaker as the cars approach the final stop. It announces that stop as the “terminus station”, the end of the line, thereby inviting everyone to leave. I believe that the recent celebration of the New American Family featured in Time Magazine is evidence that we have reached the terminus station. I cannot see how the family factory can go any further astray than it has now gone; and unless we reverse the trajectory it is the end of the line for us culturally as far as family is concerned. Time Magazine has kindly announced we are at our terminus station. I suggest that it is time get off the secular transit in which our culture is riding, and return to an earlier form of travel. It would seem that our culture stands at a cross-roads, where the choice is between the unnatural monstrosities of the New American Family, and the supernatural sanities of the eternal Family of God.