"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Folly Of The Gender Spectrum – Teaching Napoleon, Charlemagne, And Genghis Khan

In a high school in San Francisco students were being taught about the gender spectrum and how one day they would have the opportunity to choose their sexuality.  There is no such thing as sexual polarity, the teacher explained, only any number of permutations of the two genders.

 “Ask yourselves”, she went on, “to examine your most inner sexual desires.  Wouldn’t you rather be a man?” she asked a girly girl in the back row. “And wouldn’t you rather be a girl?”, she asked the captain of the football team.

In fact Janie Paulson had had sexual escapades with all of John’s football team; and John was known as the Lothario of Woodrow Wilson High; and this was exactly why Miss Pollitt had picked them.  Sexuality runs deep, she said, and it is full of surprises.

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As a prelude to her famous Genghis Khan class, Katie Pollitt had to cross academic lines (she was a social studies teacher) and teach a bit of world history.  Few if any of her students had any idea who Genghis Khan was, or for that matter Napoleon, Charlemagne, or Henry V; but in order for her to make the point that most of them, despite their battlefield heroics and male valor, were gay, she had to provide some remedial education. Once the history lesson was finished, and her students were at least familiar with the stature and successes of Great Men, she made her famous declaration of gender fluidity.

“Alexander the Great was gay”, she began, basing her assumption on the Oliver Stone movie, Alexander, which boasts a gay protagonist who not only is the supreme commander of a mighty army, but who also slaughters his enemies with the kind of superhuman fearlessness that would put to shame the most heterosexual of movie heroes of past and present. 

Of course Miss Pollitt was adding assumption to fancy – there is no evidence that Alexander was homosexual any more than any other Ancient Greek aristocrat who regularly had sex with houseboys, male prostitutes, and male lovers; and anyone who followed Stone’s career knows that he makes his living on dramatic supposition.   

The valor-courage-heterosexual equation is wrong at heart, claimed Stone, and Alexander is the best example of its error.  Genghis Khan, she said, was most probably gay, basing her assumption on his parallel military trajectory to that of Alexander.  “And, let’s face it”, Miss Pollitt went on, “he was with his army of ten thousand men day and night.  What do you expect?”

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To this gender fluid canon she added every king, prince, emperor, shogun, and mandarin; and in her final class of the series, as filled with the spirit, conviction,and purpose as any preacher, she waved her hands and shouted, “They were all gay.  All of them.  Every last one of them,”

Few at Woodrow Wilson High knew of Miss Pollitt’s own peculiar sexual past.  She had always been as straight as an arrow, and while not as prolific in her sexual offerings as Janie Paulson and certainly not as promiscuous, she had been ecstatic at every sexual encounter. As a young girl she thought only of boys, their hard, erect penises, and that glorious moment of penetration, of entry, and of the riotous sexual feelings it provoked.   

She wanted sex again and again, and felt that her whole adolescent body was attuned to it.  She shivered with the thought of it and trembled with the feeling for days after.  An equally passionate Catholic, she felt that she had been visited by the Lord and anointed by his mother, Mary. Young Miss Pollitt was in the throes of a double ecstatic vision – a Parousia on earth, an epiphanic, joyful spirituality; and an explosive, all-consuming sexuality.

Both ecstasies turned out badly – men were not exactly what she had envisioned, purveyors of sexual delight – but predators, horny, backward, and uneducable dopes who had no sense of femininity, femaleness, or female sexuality.  Bulls in a pasture, rutting, and going back to grazing.  They were disgusting and disgraceful.  

As far as the Church was concerned, her prayers were never answered, Mary became no more than a blue yard statue, and Jesus became just a man, and once lumped in that category, lost his cachet.

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But how to square her still powerful sexual feelings with her newfound distrust of men?  She went through a romantic phase – Mr. Right had to be there if only one looked and had patience – but that too proved fruitless.  These attentive men, those she thought aware and worth consideration were either wolves in sheep’s clothing – as sexually greedy and insistent as the boys in the barn – or pussy-whipped half-men, asking her “Is it OK” at every turn.  

She liked the attention, the flirting, and the historic female assessment of prospective husbands. She felt more a part of womanhood during this period than any before or after.  She was Shakespeare’s Portia, vetting and laughing at one suitor after another until she found her true love.

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She thought that being around gay men might help her settle ‘the sex question’.  Here was a group of males who were uninterested in sex with her or any woman and who were interested in her only as a person.  Yet this interest, devoid of any sexual desire, seemed dry, remote, and academic.  Relations between men and women without heterosexual spice were bland and a waste of time.

It was when she was in her early forties and well on her way in a teaching career that the whole gender spectrum issue became public.  Perhaps she had, after all, been barking up wrong trees all her life, in rapture over male sex, romantically sappy, and then sexually indifferent.  Perhaps these young sexual radicals were on to something,  There was no such thing as one sex or one gender. 

There were as many possibilities as numbers in a factorial, and in order to choose properly, one had to be alert to and aware of the moving spectrum within them,  It was no shame to think like a girl sometimes, or a boy, or a boy transformed into a girl and vice-versa.  There were men who thought of themselves as women who wanted lesbian sex with other transgendered men.  The want ads in university newspapers were filled with all kinds of requests. 

Yet her old, undeniable heterosexual drive could never be totally subsumed within the broader sexual picture. Freud might be right that sublimation was the sine qua non of human nature; but her passions burned too hotly to be completely banked.

Since the idea of gender fluidity appealed to her as a very progressive way of sorting out unchecked female libido, male predation, and male-female alternative gender ‘phasing’, she endorsed it fully, and went on to learn how to teach it to young people and to prepare them to better meet adulthood. This was the perfect cover.

As importantly sexual fluidity was part and parcel of political ‘inclusivity’, the idea that all comers are welcome no matter what their race, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and that sexual identity was a pillar of social strength.

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An inflamed person like Miss Pollittt took quickly to this sexual anodyne.  While she might closet her strong heterosexual desires, she needed an equally powerful emotion to cover for them; and in this case it was gender politics.  

As with most social  hysterics – and psychologically speaking she was indeed one -  facts count for little.  If sexuality was indeed this profound, complex, subjective, and emotional issue, then why obsess on whether or not Napoleon, Alexander, or Charlemagne was gay or not.  The signs and signifiers were there – the obviously dramatic performance machismo, all that killing and slaughter just to hide homosexual feelings; the bedding down with men in tents and barracks; and the cultural history of Roman and Greek pederasts – so no harm, no foul, in making assumptions to make a point.

Miss Pollitt’s class was always well attended as much for her performance as for her words and meaning.  As she warmed to her topic she became a dervish, a gyroscopic madwoman, shouting and flailing her arms in revolt, passion, and ecstasy.  She hewed to the letter of the law and did indeed teach woke sexual politics, but did so in her own way. 

“She’s nuts”, said a conservative member of the school board who was shouted down by his progressive colleagues, “and should be sent packing”.  When the principal was encouraged to attend one of her classes and be openminded about her performance, she accepted, and was a bit overcome by what she saw.  

While Miss Pollitt was accurate in her explanation of the gender spectrum, and quite creative in her references, there was indeed something unhinged about her, a wild look in the eyes and a stiff back.  She was giving the gender spectrum, gay rights, and transgenderism a bad name.  After all, sexuality was not a circus, and this is exactly what Miss Pollitt’s classroom had become.

She was given notice – not fired of course, and not even reprimanded, but transferred to Orange County where the school board was rock-ribbed conservative.  

Overtly she was told that these were the people who needed her particular brand of sexual evangelism, not woke San Francisco; but privately school officials knew that within a year she would be dunned out of education altogether.   Political cause has limits, the progressive school board reluctantly admitted.

After dismissal from Orange County, little was known of her whereabouts or activities. Rumors had it that she had married a Main Line banker from Philadelphia, that she had undergone gender re-assignment, that she had become a high-class prostitute in New York, and that she shelved books at the Cleveland Public Library.   

Whether she was ever able to shake her hysteria, get to the Freudian root of her own sexuality and resort to it, or give in entirely to the now universal hysteria for gender reconsideration, no one knew for sure; yet at the very least she had made a difference at Woodrow Wilson High.  No student could ever read about Charlemagne’s heroic stance against the Saracens at Roncesvalles, saving Europe from Islam without imagining him in bed with a lackey or orderly.

Monday, May 10, 2021

Too Soon Old And Too Late Schmart–A Jewish Odyssey And An American Cautionary Tale

Herb Weinberg had been brought up right – temple, Hebrew school, Stuyvesant, Harvard, and Harvard Medical School.  What more could good Jewish parents want? Nothing, only they never consulted Herb before setting him on his trajectory.  Although Herb could have done Harvard in three years and medical school in two, he drifted his way through post-modern, woke curricula as an undergraduate; cadavers and brain chemistry, and a sinecure at Mass General.  He was the student the top schools wanted and they, overlooking his deep-seated melancholia, admitted him and paid his way.

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His was not an unusual scenario.  Millions of children are sent along paths they never would have chosen – culinary school, the Marines, ballet – but few have the raw talent, native intelligence, and precocious savoir faire of Herb Weinberg.  He could have been anything, anybody, but there was always something niggling and scratchy that dimmed his focus.  

A modest young man, grateful for his abilities but angry at the lack of ‘resolving genes’, he resented the path chosen for him.  Of course he could have gone to Los Alamos, studied theoretical physics and number theory or anything else for that matter.  His agile, deft, and disciplined mind could have mastered linguistics, philosophy, or Biblical exegesis.

He dawdled – muddled about purpose and being, and  unconvinced about the existential rewards of transplanting livers or parsing ancient Turkic – and shortly after dropping out of medical school, he fiddled in the Florida keys, Bayou la Fourche , and Portland.  

‘There is no way but The Way” explained Trigve Ang, a Norwegian Burmese colleague at Harvard.  Herb’s life unless checked and righted would end up badly.

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But Herb had enough of religion growing up – shiva this, Torah that – and although it provided some degree of order and explanation, it was misleading rather than guiding. 

Born in Burma of Scandinavian missionaries who had taken to Buddhism, its philosophical simplicity and lack of cant, ceremony, and presumption, but who could never forget their hair shirt Lutheran past, Trigve Ang was left to flounder between Christian severity and Buddhist tolerance; and ended up in between, neither here nor there and certainly not in a position to counsel anyone else, let alone on ‘The Way’ which, in his private moments, he began to question for its lack of direction.

The irony of the friendship was comedic.  Herb was Jewish to the core.  Decades of study had convinced him of the Yiddish proverb, “Too soon old, too late schmart” – i.e. that there is an inherent value to study, learning, and intellectual cohesion.  Trigve was Buddhist – not quite to the core because of Martin Luther and his very un-Eastern demands – but Buddhist nonetheless.  The world is an illusion at best and a side show at worst, so calm your emotions, damp your desires, and face finality with equanimity – invest nothing in life and nothing will be lost.

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There always seems to be a woman in the equation, and not long after Herb had moved to Humboldt County, he met Dina Shroff, a Bombay Parsi whose ancestors had built the city, set standards for art, music, and business.  The Parsis are Zoroastrians, worship earth, air, fire, and water; ‘bury’ their dead in at the Towers of Silence to be picked clean by the hawks which circle Malabar Hill; and Dina – like Herb – had had enough of its false promises years before; but the social, cultural side of religion, as, if not more important than the spiritual was impossible to shake.  Dina retained enough of the beliefs of her forbears to hold her in ancestral respect.  She could no sooner thumb her nose at Zarathustra than Herb could at Moses.

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Yet, they smoked dope, laid about, lived in Ukiah communes, and hitchhiked through the Badlands.  Irony had its day – a smart,  Jewish, Harvard double graduate; and Zoroastrian apostle on the road together.

“Bennie Birnbaum just set up his own practice”, wrote Herb’s mother, packing in a few words all her concerns about marriage, grandchildren, and Judaism; but of course Herb never rose to the bait; and Dina was equally hectored by her Bombay family.  

Like the Jews who were marrying gentiles at a rate which would reduce the Jewish demographic pool to zero in a few decades, the Parsis, already half-blind and genetically twisted because of inbreeding were demographically trapped by Parsi-Parsi mating which was meant to preserve the culture, the faith, and the tradition, but would hasten its end.

“Who ever heard of a Jewish hippy”, said Herb’s mother who observed that while the gentiles were taking drugs and having free sex, Jews were going to medical school, law school or Wall Street.  The Parsi Godrej, Shroff, and Tata families built Bombay and were instrumental in developing India’s industry, finance, and business sectors.   There were no Parsi hippies either.

Was this very secular, corporate, investment culture essentially Jewish or Parsi – some indefinable cultural character which militated for success? Or was it simply survival – in and out of the shtetl and the camps and a vengeful, inevitable drive to put it all behind?

Herb looked around at his wet, cold, dripping yurt in the Northern California redwoods, at his Parsi girlfriend, at the campfires, dope, and at the anti-establishmentarianism of the commune; and had second thoughts.  Once a Jew, always a Jew, he said; and better to play out cultural, historic, and genetic destiny than fight it.  Perhaps he should re-enroll in medical school, get a fellowship at Sloane Kettering, have a Birnbaum Family plaque in the lobby, visit his grandmother in Brooklyn on Sundays, and read from the Torah on Shabbat.

Enough of this American idealism, Utopian fancy, and love ethos.  The Jews have influenced history for over 5000 years and the Zoroastrians almost that; and both have fought to conserve, protect, and defend their culture.  The People of the Book, of learning, of seriousness, of purpose and practicality – the Jews – and how could any one of them deny and retreat from that history?

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By returning to Harvard, to temple, to Jerusalem, and to the Torah, Herb re-set his compass, found spiritual North, and at last shed the last vestiges of ‘Do Your Own Thing’.  He gave in to his Jewishness, however influenced – his bookishness, his belief, his community, and his history.  Of what earthly relevance was American optimism, secularity, and anti-historical storybook fancy?

Dina went back to Bombay, rejoined the now diminished but still influential Parsi community, and quickly rose to the position of CFO in one of India’s largest and most important – Parsi-owned and managed – companies.   She lived in a penthouse on Malabar Hill, had homes in Pune and Darjeeling, and whose every move on the Bombay stock exchange was watched with interest. 

There are two Americas – one free and easy, seduced either by wealth or public support, morally lax and unobservant, taking what comes, and the other, far smaller by proportion, serious, dedicated, Hamiltonian, and Judeo-Christian which respects universal rules. They are outliers but the sine qua non of social moral renewal.

The current environment of identity politics, cancel culture, and historical ignorance cannot last.  The moral myopia of today’s America  - its distorted sense of freedom, liberty, and individuality – will eventually revert to first principles; and Moses, Jesus, Aristotle, and Zoroaster will be welcomed back. 

Just as Herb Birnbaum grew up and learned before it was too late, so will America,