Whatever happened to transvestites?
Astute cultural commentators have long observed that culture wars are first and foremost a fight over the dictionary. Whoever gets to define words wins; whoever acquiesces to those definitions loses. To use the dictionary of would-be culture lords is to grant them their right to govern, their right to set terms and conditions, their right to draft the rules of the game. And for far too long, we have gone along with the program.
Language matters. And the linguistic theft that has been going on for decades has happened so subtlety, those who care about living faithfully before the Lord are often at a loss to know what to do. This article about transgender terminology speaks candidly about the redundancy of the phrase “biological man,” as if the word “man” was anything other than a biological term. But on a deeper level, when did we allow the term transgender to even become a legitimate word? If you think about it for two seconds, it should be filed in the same round bin of nonsense as three-sided squares and round triangles. Gender cannot be trans-ed anything; it cannot be changed. To say that it can is to turn gender into something that it isn’t, like a personal feeling or expression. I am old enough, though just, to remember when transvestite was the appropriate term for drag queens and cross dressers. As “offensive” or “regressive” as that term might be today, it at least has the laudable quality of being on point. Clothes, or vestments, can be changed.
Take as a prime example this gentleman who identifies as “polygender”. After showing off four different outfits, with his face made-up and the rest of him accessorized four different ways, he says: “For me it’s more about listening to how my body and my consciousness want to present in the world, rather than letting the world tell me how to present based on what’s going on in my pants.”
Personal expression trumps all. More than that, his personal expression is being held over my head like a bludgeon by the would-be culture lords, who demand that I celebrate his courage and authenticity. But why does a guy playing dress-up control my freedom to call a spade a spade?
This is insane. Gender at this point ceases to be gender (or anything meaningful at all), and has instead become mere wishful thinking, castle building in the sky. If I dress up as a chicken and demand people treat me like a chicken, and then post videos on TikTok shaming people for calling me crazy… well there used to be institutions for people like that. One person’s delusion cannot be another person’s law. Society cannot function like that if it wants to maintain any sense of order or intelligibility. (Matt Walsh has an important children’s book on the subject.)
Before going further, however, it is true that there are young people (girls especially) who suffer from a mental darkness that plagues them with confusion and distress, usually involving a hatred of their own bodies. More often than not, this self-hatred comes as the result of horrific sexual abuse (this brutal article discusses the reality behind teens that try to live opposite their gender as a direct result of verbal and sexual abuse). These young people should evoke our deepest sympathies, and our commitment to offer them the true love and effective help found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
But they suffer this confusion precisely because men (like the man in the video linked above), who were called to be fathers and protectors, have abdicated their true office and have instead glorified nonsense and mainstreamed debauchery, often becoming predators of the vulnerable. And that deserves our strongest condemnation.
This is bad enough. But something deeper has been lost in letting go of the term transvestite. It is the understanding that, with clothes comes a recognition of office. The word vestment comes from the Latin verb vestire, “to clothe.” But for a long time now, vestments have referred not just to clothes in general, but to the robes of the clergy. Vestments are a uniform, the external mark of an office. It is a reminder that clothes signify something, clothes speak.
The clothes of a woman, despite all the liberal anger I am about to incite, signify the office of a woman. And women inherently occupy a different kind of space than men in this world. When my four-year-old son wants to play and roughhouse, he runs to me. When he is hurt or scared, he runs to my wife. Instinctually. He didn't need to be taught this lesson. His bones and sinews knew who was capable of wrestling on the floor, and who was soft and comforting. And clothes play a part in how this works.
And so, the transvestite, the drag queen, the man who takes to himself women’s clothes, is not just playing dress up. He is assuming to himself the role and office of a woman. And he is demanding that all others pay him the tribute and respect due that office. It is high deception, a terrible and destructive joke that should be deeply offensive.
Nevertheless, this act of theft, men stealing the office and respect due to women, is heralded as brave, forward-thinking, and crucial for the cause of all women, everywhere. Doesn't the triangle look round to you?
Let’s make it all the more real. The dude swimming for the Penn State girls’ team is a transvestite. Whatever the sad circumstances that have led him to this, he is still a boy wearing a girl’s one-piece suit. We have forgotten how offensive that is. We have sanitized the nature of his treason against his female “teammates,” and against women in general, with words like transgender.
Christians at least ought to know better. Psalm 19:14 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (ESV). How many of the neologisms our wayward culture has included in their dictionary are acceptable to the Lord? How many have we adopted without even thinking? Our culture couldn’t care less about pleasing Him. But as Christians, we must. It is the very essence of our testimony before a watching world.Joe Carlson
(MA Humanities) is a poet and translator living in the DFW metroplex with his wife and son. His new blank verse translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, as well as accompanying reader’s guides, are available at dantepoem.com.• Get SALVO blog posts in your inbox! Copyright © 2023 Salvo | www.salvomag.com https://salvomag.com/post/linguistic-theft