|Anthony Esolen is a smart guy but intellectually dishonest
Image: Nat’l Catholic Register
Wednesday, Anthony Esolen — an irrational Catholic fundamentalist — writes: Some Men Are Born Eunuchs . . .. A castrato is a male with a singing voice equivalent to a medium-high mezzo soprano female (think Cecilia Bartoli). The effect was obtained through castration of the boy prior to puberty. Esolen correctly notes:
The last castrato to sing professionally, Alessandro Moreschi, died in 1922. It is not known whether he was castrated as a boy to preserve his voice or to remedy an inguinal hernia. A poor recording of his singing survives. His voice was a thready soprano, not the kind of thing for which even a partisan of the practice would have recommended mutilation. Perhaps it was once stronger and surer. We do not know.
As an aside, Esolen selectively ignores what Wikipedia correctly described: The Catholic Church’s involvement in the castrato phenomenon has long been controversial, and there have recently been calls for it to issue an official apology for its role. As early as 1748, Pope Benedict XIV tried to ban castrati from churches, but such was their popularity at the time that he realized that doing so might result in a drastic decline in church attendance.
The point of Esolen’s polemic has nothing to do with castrati. His mission is to demonstrate his (and the Church’s) disapproval of transgender people:
Let us think the matter through.
Far be it from me to say anything exculpatory about the filthy priests whose vices warped the lives of many boys and young men and reduced many a parish and diocese to penury. But when those wicked men were done fondling the family jewels, they were at least still attached to the kid. He might still grow up to be a husband and father.
That is not the case when the boy “transitions,” that is, when he undergoes surgery to make it seem as if he is a girl when he is not and never can be.
I think that he just did say exculpatory things about pedophile priests while claiming that he did not.
We get the religious disapproval but at least get the facts correct. Transgender people transition long before having gender-affirming surgery and most transgender people never have surgery. Esolen is then indulging in the common religious practice of pretending that gender does not exist as a separate construct of human sexuality.
Esolen is not qualified to opine about human sexuality. He is on the faculty of Thomas More college and his expertise is in Catholic culture and the catechism. Discarding gender does not conform to the overwhelming consensus of medical science.
So, yes, we all know that gender-affirming surgery does not change one’s chromosomes. However, it does attempt to conform someone’s body to their gender when natal sex and gender are incongruent. Esolen and his ilk always inform us that natal sex stays the same as if they were offering great intellectual wisdom. No one believes otherwise. It is equivalent to saying: Eureka! Horses cannot fly! See how smart and compelling I am?
Does Mr. Esolen have any alternatives to transitioning that mitigate the effects of gender dysphoria? None are known to medical science. Does Esolen have some unique knowledge?
Absent an alternative and then to make this a religious issue is idiotic. Permitting a child to transition is the official recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Back to castrati:
The boy who decided to be mutilated did so to secure something that was in itself good. It is good, not evil, to have a beautiful voice. It is good to be the solo in Allegri’s Miserere. It is not good to mutilate the body for it. It is good, not evil, to provide for your family. It is not good to mutilate the body for it.
“The boy who decided?” It was adults who decided. Often that adult was a Catholic priest.
I will save some useless pixels and keystrokes with extensive quotes from this illogical diatribe. Esolen’s point is that castrati were well intentioned and achieved a beneficial outcome through questionable methods. Transgender people, according to Esolen, do not achieve a beneficial outcome through the “mutilation” of their bodies. None of Esolen’s convictions are true.
Furthermore, Esolen’s intended inference seems to be that children are having surgery and that is simply not the case. While there are exceptions, surgery is generally available to adults. Jazz Jennings, for example, had surgery at 18.
Esolen’s Castrati were castrated before puberty which begins at around 12 for boys. Jazz Jennings gave informed consent as does every other recipient of gender-affirming surgery. Castrati, in contrast, were far too young to properly consent to being castrated.
Yet Esolen prefers the castrato:
He would not be subjected to one surgery after another. His body would not be pumped full of dangerous drugs, including puberty-blockers and tissue-growing hormones, the latter likely to prove carcinogenic. He would not be sentenced to a lifetime of pharmaceutical dependence. His long bones would still grow. His body would be rather soft, but otherwise he would look like an ordinary man and not a freak. He would not be troweled out for a mock vagina.
In the above paragraph Esolen is combining and confusing non-surgical transitioning (through puberty blockers and then hormones) with surgery. He does this for shock value. Puberty blockers are not dangerous, as he erroneously asserts. Does Esolen really think that people do not fully understand the side effects and risks of taking hormones?
The missing calculus:
If Mr. Esolen was capable of critical thinking it might dawn on him that the effects of gender dysphoria must be very severe for people to be willing to endure those side effects and to take those risks. These things are not hidden from patients. Quite the contrary. Treating gender dysphoric people is a full disclosure endeavor.
The comparison is obnoxious:
Without consent and for economic or religious reasons, prepubescent boys were castrated to create a female singing voice. The process was profoundly evil and Esolen’s partial justifications (good outcome/bad method) are not only preposterous but immoral. These castrations, by the way, were done without anesthesia.
Candidates for gender-affirming surgery are adults who are carefully screened. For at least a year prior to surgery they must be fully socially transitioned and undergo intensive psychological counseling. They know every detail of the surgery including the after-effects, possible unintended consequences and the details of post-surgical hormonal maintenance. They are opting for surgery because it will provide them with a better life. They are doing a risk/reward calculation.
Mr. Esolen does not approve because the Church does not approve. The “normal” process is to know the facts about something and then make a decision regarding its worth. Esolen’s approach was backwards. The disapproval came in advance. Only then did he use selective observation to support the preordained conclusion.
People who have gender dysphoria have a medical condition. It is rare but it can be objectively diagnosed. They are already vulnerable and should not be subjected to denigration because of some Bronze age superstition. They further suffer at the hands of moralists who prove to be immoral.
Marginalizing and shaming people because they happen to be different is profoundly immoral. Mr. Esolen should consider, through an appreciation of history, the consequences of his obtuseness.