We’re hurtling to hell in a handbasket so fast it makes you think of those calculus problems where you have to find the increase in the rate of increase. “We went from ‘Bake the cake, bigot’ to ‘Wax my [testicles], bigot’ really fast,” to quote Erick Erickson’s snappy comment on the “transgender woman” who is demanding that a Canadian Human Rights Tribunal force female beauticians to handle his junk or be driven out of the bikini waxing business.
That wasn’t even the most telling story to emerge that week from the fever swamp that is our culture in the Year of Our Lord 2019. The highly competitive prize for the culture-off-the-rails news of last week goes to the jaw-dropping account of the personal life of Harvard Law professor Bruce Hay, as told by Kera Bolonick in an article that ran on social media under the headline “The Harvard Professor and the Paternity Trap.”
That doesn’t even begin to do justice to the story. Hay’s tortuous relationship with a purported lesbian and her main squeeze, a “transgender woman,” who seem to have set out with dogged energy to destroy Hay’s already rather unconventional relationship with his three children and their mother, beggars belief. Hay and his children’s mother were no longer legally married, and two of their three children together were conceived after their divorce, but they were living and raising the kids together. They had a mutual understanding—or, rather, one that turned out not to be so mutual—that they would not become sexually involved with other people.
According to Bolonick, not only did these adventurers convince Hay that he was the father of a child who turned out not to be his, he was hurled into Title IX hell on his campus by allegations of rape and abuse. He is still barred from the classroom at Harvard. Also—this takes the cake—the couple apparently stole his house while he was on vacation.
Well, as Bertie Wooster frequently remarks, it just goes to show that half the world doesn’t know how the other three-quarters live. Reading about Hay, it’s hard for those of us with more conventional love lives to avoid the Pharisee-and-the-Publican trap: “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.”
But the most fascinating part of the story is a point of commonality, not of contrast.
“By the time I met Mischa,” Hay explains of the beginning of his relationship with the second, transgender, member of this duo, “I had a protective feeling for her.” Their “bond” was apparently “instantaneous”: “Soon they were getting together almost daily, talking for hours . . . Hay believed he’d identified a kindred spirit.”
That’s love. It’s the subject of Plato’s “Symposium.” It’s the force “that moves the sun and the other stars,” as Dante says, and all of us, too. When I posted Hay’s story on Facebook and one friend commented, “What an utter fool,” I reminded him that love makes fools of us all.
We haven’t all been victimized by strange women who might “just really hate the patriarchy” so much that they’re dedicated to destroying men’s lives. But if we’re honest, we have to admit that we’ve all at least been tempted to do stupid things because, at one time or another in our lives, love has been awakened in us by a person, or in a situation, or with a result that wasn’t going to any good to us, and possibly other people in our lives: say, for example, our children.
The real difference between Hay and those of us steering clear of the drama that characterizes his life is that when “the heart wants what it wants”—to quote Woody Allen, whose heart apparently wanted him to take pornographic pictures of his quondam lover’s daughter—the Hays of this world see no reason not to follow wherever it leads, whereas we believe in channeling love into a particular pattern that conduces to happiness.
This is the nub of raging controversy over the transgender phenomenon: Do reality and nature define and constrain us? Did God create us male and female? Is the Eros that ravishes us all ordered to any particular end? Is love meant for something?
If the answer is yes, the conventional rules that used to govern most people’s love lives make a lot of sense: Accept the fact that you’re born male or female. If you find yourself sexually attracted to someone of the wrong sex, the wrong character, or the wrong marital status, put up some resistance. Pursue the kind of love that can be satisfied in marriage. Once you are married, steadily ignore the exit ramps.
That approach left a lot less human wreckage. But it wasn’t just about playing it safe. You know how economists say the minimum wage cuts the bottom rung off the ladder, shutting marginally employable young people out of the invaluable first work experience that could set them on the road to success in life?
The Sexual Revolution has done the very same thing, but in the even more vital realm of the heart: Channeling Eros into the sacrificial gift of self that makes happy families isn’t just good for society, great for individual flourishing, and the only decent thing for children. It can also be—as Plato, Dante, Shakespeare, and Tolstoy would tell us—the first rung on a ladder that leads higher, the start of an adventure whose glorious happy ending is, in J.R.R. Tolkien’s immortal phrase, “beyond the circles of this world.”
Unfortunately, to revert to Dante, we’re moving in some very different circles.