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G.K. Chesterton and the Fad of Transgenderism

Since I was once a teacher, permit me to open this piece with a multiple-choice question. Here it is:

The outbreak of transgenderism today is primarily an example of the impact of what?

A) an ideology
B) medical experts
C) a confusion
D) a dogma
E) all of the above
F) none of the above.

It might be tempting to answer E, but the most correct answer would be F—and not only because the most correct answer begins with an F, as in Fad. How else to explain the surge in gender dysphoria among American youth? Since 2017, cases of gender dysphoria among 6-year-olds to 17-year-olds have increased by over 170 percent.

How permanent will the rather sudden embrace of transgenderism be? No one knows. But the longer it lasts, the more powerful the transgender movement will become. And the more powerful it becomes, the more consequential its impact will be. These consequences affect not just the young who choose to have their bodies mutilated—with or without parental consent—but also their families, their present and future associates, and the country at large.

No one knew this better than G. K. Chesterton, who recognized a fad for what it was when he saw one in action. The fad that began to rear its ugly head at the beginning of the last century was, of course, eugenics.

Many otherwise responsible and respectable people were swayed by it. None other than Theodore Roosevelt and his first Supreme Court selection, Oliver Wendell Holmes, come immediately to mind.

To his great credit, Chesterton never so much as flirted with eugenics. He saw it as a logical extension of Darwinian thinking, and he quickly condemned it in essays and columns, as well as in his book Eugenics and Other Evils. Contained in his condemnation of the particular evil of eugenics is a lesson for all of us as we contend with what is clearly the reigning fad of our day: transgenderism.

When Eugenics and Other Evils was published in 1922, Chesterton observed that eugenics was not simply a fad, but that it was already a highly “fashionable” one at that. He went on to note that many fads, even fashionable ones, are quite harmless. Other fads, however, he explained, only seem harmless until they last long enough to become “dangerous,” eventually gathering sufficient steam to become tyrannous.

Chesterton would live only until 1936. So he wasn’t on hand to witness the lengths to which Nazi Germany would go to implement eugenics in its “final solution.” But he was certainly correct to predict that a seemingly harmless fad could—and would—become tyrannous.

At the time that he wrote Eugenics and Other Evils, Chesterton did not deny that many of his contemporaries thought it was silly to worry about something like eugenics, which seemed to be something so irrelevant and, therefore, harmless. His answer to his critics was to remind them that a “blow from a hatchet” was not at all harmless and could only be countered while it was “in the air.”

In other words, the only way to destroy the potential tyranny of eugenics was to attack it before it could become more than a fad. Chesterton knew this would be no easy task. After all, the idea behind eugenics was at once attractive and seemingly “scientific.” In addition, the movement had earned the praise of intellectuals, who were full “of idealism and benevolence.” Words that could equally characterize the transgender fad.

Chesterton wondered what this would lead to in England, especially since politicians were already advancing proposals to deal with the so-called “feeble-minded.”

If legislation would be enacted to police or eliminate the “feeble-minded,” Chesterton declared that such a step would mean that England had left behind the “Feudal State” and was heading toward “the last anarchy of the Industrial State.”

Chesterton’s key insight here is that anarchic acts are not simply perpetrated by those in rebellion against the state. In fact, anarchic acts can be imposed by the state. He explains that anarchy “aims at setting up a new rule in place of the old rule.” And what could be more anarchic than destroying bodies—and families—while benevolently claiming the moral high ground of inclusion and compassion?

With Chesterton’s insight in mind, let’s return briefly to transgenderism. Clearly, it is a fad. Just as clearly, it has suddenly become quite fashionable. Will it become tyrannous? Clearly, the signs are there. How else to characterize proposals to deny parents their parental authority and follow that up by punishing them if they defy the state and try to interfere anyway?

Chesterton did not have to contend with this particular evil. But were he with us today, he would recognize it as the fad—and the evil—that it is. He would also warn us of the anarchy that it might create and the tyranny that it could impose. He would then deploy his pen as a hatchet to parry it while it is still somewhere in the air and not yet the entrenched tyranny that it threatens to become.

Image credit: Flickr-Levan Ramishvili, PDM 1.0

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    Colleen Phillips
    November 22, 2022, 7:02 pm

    I shudder to think of the harm this vile fad is causing to children, in particular. What is being labeled "gender-affirming care" is actually just the opposite: Medical professionals disregarding their Hippocratic Oath to "do no harm," and instead, maiming and dismembering gender-confused victims by amputating and lopping off perfectly healthy organs in permanent irreversible ways. They are prescribing powerful hormones and hormone-blocking drugs that have unknown long-term effects, but which may include increased risk of heart disease, strokes, and cancer.
    My message to those who suffer from the mental illness of gender dysphoria: If your mind and your body disagree on your gender, it isn’t your body that’s wrong, my friend.

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