Garret Mountain was formed from a lava flow 190 million years ago. It is now an isolated plateau, rising to about 500 feet, which doesn’t sound like much, except that the surrounding cities, Paterson, Clifton, and Woodland Park, are in the Passaic River Valley and are at more or less sea level. From that vantage point, Garret Mountain’s altitude makes a statement.
Today Garret Mountain is a public park, a green oasis surrounded by the urban sprawl of the Boston-Washington corridor. The air above Garret is the Atlantic Flyway, a migration route that billions of birds have been using for at least hundreds of thousands of years. In May, birdwatchers come from around the state and in some cases other countries. In gritty and dangerous Paterson, NJ, they witness the miracle of migration. Eagles, ospreys, and peregrine falcons punctuate skies usually monopolized by jets approaching Newark airport. The red-carpet stars of this show are the warblers.
Warblers are tiny, usually about five inches in length. The smallest weighs less than a quarter of an ounce. Don’t let that tiny size fool you. The blackpoll warbler covers a route that could awe any Olympian. “Blackpoll warblers undertake an astonishing non-stop flight over the Atlantic, ranging from 1,400 to 1,700 miles … in just two to three days.”
At Garret, most warblers keep to the treetops and they move rapidly, using newly emerging leaves as cover. Warblers arrive shortly after insects awaken from their winter sleep. Given their job, chasing bugs in high treetops, their tiny size, their acrobatic moves and speed, warblers are devilishly hard to see. In May, numerous adults get up before dawn and delay reporting to their day jobs. They spend the morning on the forest floor craning their sore necks upward, struggling to catch a fleeting glimpse of a favorite warbler.
Civilians tend to stereotype birdwatchers as eccentric outsiders. When I am at Garret in May, that stereotype never makes less sense. Beauty transports me. I lose all sense of time. I forget whatever worries I have. Birdwatching is my favorite drug. That isn’t a joke or a metaphor. I don’t require the illegal substances pushed on Paterson’s streets. I have Garret Mountain.
Something really obvious struck me hard the other day. I have been enjoying birds’ beauty for decades. But the apparently carefully designed quality of their beauty suddenly demanded my cognitive, as well as my aesthetic, focus. Their beauty is not the unstudied result of impersonal physics like a cresting wave. No. The warbler’s beauty gives every appearance of being the handiwork of an orgiastic artist exhausting every color in his palette, every calculation of his abacus, every contortion of his physics, to pack every inch of his creation, his earth, with more beauty than one human could see in a lifetime.
The yellowthroat is one of the most common warblers. Across its eyes runs the black slash of a Zorro mask. This mask contrasts with its striking, thin, white monobrow and chrome yellow breast. I understand evolution, I’m okay with believing in evolution till a better explanation comes along, but I can’t convince myself that evolution alone crafted that bauble.
The Blackburnian sports a maze of black racing stripes. His throat appears to be on fire. You feel you could hold your palms up to a Blackburnian warbler’s throat and toast your fingers against the morning chill. The glistening black of the black-throated green warbler is so utterly black it is shocking, like the very black coloration of a black bear you stumble across on the trail. The black of the bear and the black of the green warbler appears inorganic. It doesn’t fit in the treetops; it’s not the black of a shadow. It’s the black of onyx, a mineral mined deep underground. The contrast between the bird’s green back and the black throat is stunning.
Beauty speaks. Listen, and discover what the warblers’ beauty communicates. The males are the show-offs. This indicates that males are taking risks that females do not take. Why? The males want to mate. In order to mate, they must be fit, and they must compete with other males by exhibiting their fitness in plumage and song. The males’ bright colors also make the males easier to see, and to be picked off by sharp-shinned hawks. Once mating is finished, fall warblers all tend to look a lot alike. Garret Mountain is not overrun with birdwatchers in autumn. No one drives a hundred miles to see blandly plumaged birds.
The females’ subtler, more quiet beauty speaks as loudly as the males’ ostentation. The females also have important work to do. They are not to take the same risks as the males. Their job is to nurture new life. They need to brood and feed the young.
House sparrows are one of the world’s most common birds. If you are near a window, you could probably see a house sparrow right now. Males wear a black bib. The larger and blacker that bib is, the more dominant that house sparrow is in his flock’s pecking order. One advantage of that visual cue: if you are a go-along-to-get-along kind of male, you avoid fights with the guy with the big, black bib. If you want to be the next top man, you have to take on the guy with the big, black bib.
Birds’ beauty ornaments the world. In Africa, I saw hornbills, birds with gigantic beaks, beaks that seem to require their own navigation system separate from that of the rest of the bird. The beaks are used in jousts between males, to capture prey, to excavate nest cavities, and to amplify birdsong. The bills are so heavy their support requires modification of neck vertebrae. I watched great blue turacos float up and down in a rain forest tree. Two feet long, powder-blue, a black crown permanently adorning their heads, they were one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. A friend had a fish pond stocked with edible tilapia. The pond was stalked by a hamerkop, a fish-eating bird whose head is shaped like a hammer.
In Poland, storks, three and a half feet tall, mostly white but with black primary feathers and bright red bills and legs, built nests on roofs. As I walked along the rye fields surrounding my mother’s Slovak village, a hoopoe rose up from the side of a dirt road and almost blinded me with its vivid black and white striped wings. In Nepal, I watched a lammergeier, a bone-eating vulture with a wingspan up to nine feet, repeatedly drop a cow’s pelvic bone on rocky ground to facilitate the bone’s consumption. In Berkeley, California, I watched hummingbirds dive bomb a great horned owl. Hummingbirds are almost weightless; “you could mail 8 or 10 with a single postage stamp.” Yet they have been seen dive-bombing eagles, 1,600 hundred times their weight.
Beauty is not just about spectacle, rarity, or brilliance. Consider the gadwall, a common dabbling duck. They are gray – the least glamorous color. But close in on a gadwall with your binoculars, and you will see that these ducks are as painstakingly composed as a painted bunting, a bird that spills the contents of a Sherwin-Williams store onto its tiny surface. The male gadwall’s breast and side are vermiculated; charcoal gray, off white, taupe, and glints of gold, culminate in the deep black rump and white outer tail feathers. “That’s just camouflage!” you may sniff, as if costuming a duck in camo is no mean feat in itself. But it’s not even just that. The military mass produces camouflage; it is functional. It is not beautiful.
Birds range from tiny hummingbirds to three-hundred-pound ostriches. Their feet, beaks, sizes and shapes would outstrip any hardware store or Lego set. The sword-billed hummingbird has a bill as long as its body. It uses that bill to plumb flowers with long corollas, and sip their nectar, nectar never to be tasted by shorter-billed birds. The black skimmer uses its asymmetrical bill, long on bottom, short on top, to trace a line in water and thereby attract and catch fish. The wood stork wiggles its bright pink feet to feel for fish. Chimney swifts are so aerial that it was long believed that they have no feet at all, thus they are members of the family Apodidae, Greek for “footless.” Their tiny feet are specially designed for clinging to the vertical surfaces of hollow trees; their modified tail feathers help them to land and move on surfaces other than air. Even the almost totally aerial swift is outdone by the wandering albatross. That bird’s eleven-foot wingspan allows it to travel 500 miles in a day, barely flapping its wings, and to go up to six years without touching land.
Someone – or just blind evolution – juggled a massive amount of data. This was multi-dimensional juggling: color and function, bone structure and mating ritual, climate and terrain, predator, and prey. Somehow every last bird on the planet is beautiful. Colors, shapes, and functions all complement. Giant beaks, tiny feet, extra long wings, every known color: they never clash. I can spend an hour trying to find the right shade to serve as background for a photo on my computer desktop and somehow I never get it right. I can spend a month trying to figure out what to wear to a job interview and I always end up looking like a bag lady. And somehow the vermiculated gray of the gadwall melds exquisitely into the true black of its butt, with all the grace of the resolution of Pachelbel’s canon. And that coloration serves beautifully for the life the gadwall lives, on ponds, its butt in the air, its beak underwater, nibbling on submerged vegetation.
Strangely enough for a girl who spends as much time in nature as she can, I have a lifelong horror of insects. I follow, on social media, several nature photographers. Some take close-up portraits of insects. I’ll probably never assess as beautiful the insects with which humans compete for food, like houseflies, or those that parasitize us, like ticks. But close-up photography of insects, such as is found here, convinces me that someone, somewhere, could find even insects beautiful, in the same way that I find birds beautiful.
Move in even closer, and the beauty doesn’t stop. Both this cross section of a stem and this stock photo of a cell bear resemblance to a rose window from a Gothic cathedral. Given that the rose window is evidence of master craftsmanship, I see those same qualities in nature. Indeed, CBS news referred to cell photos as revealing the “artistry” of microscopic life – including in the mouth parts of a lone star tick.
I got a real shock the other day – the amount of money in my checking account actually matched what my calculations suggested the number should be. I am not good at math. I don’t understand mathematicians when they talk about beauty, or anything else. I understand poets better, and John Keats, in “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” declared that “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” But Edna St. Vincent Millay handed beauty back to the mathematicians. She wrote that “Euclid alone has looked on beauty bare.” Physicist Michio Kaku addresses math, truth, and beauty in this YouTube video. Mathematicians and physicists insist on the existence of beauty and lay claim to beauty, every bit as much as poets and birdwatchers do.
As has been argued by minds far superior to mine, beauty does exist outside of us. It is not something we invent. It is something we discover. Beauty is made up of measurable properties, and it is universal. In 1994, David M. Buss, in his book The Evolution of Desire, cited many studies to argue for the universality of beauty. A beautiful woman is assessed as beautiful in a variety of cultures. The features that make her beautiful are constant. The human eye seeks symmetry, proportion, clarity, economy and efficiency. I would add “surprise.” The shiny, night-sky blackness of the green warbler’s throat, the mole on Marilyn Monroe’s cheek, the regal remoteness exhibited by both Nefertiti and Greta Garbo, the rapid deflation of the line of the Eiffel Tower as it approaches the ground: all surprise the eye and make the beauty emerge from its surround, perhaps equally beautiful, but unsurprising, and therefore less arresting.
I’ll venture a potentially shocking statement here. I used to work as a nurse’s aide among the ill, elderly, and dying. When I first arrived on the ward, I saw wrinkled, old, and distorted faces. After a week or less, I recognized beauty in every face. Beauty is found throughout our world, and beyond, in space itself. That beauty, in all its attributes, is so widespread, suggests to me that beauty is doing important work, and speaking important messages.
Exactly because beauty is so powerful, beauty has been weaponized. Beauty is a hugely important factor in the lives of women and girls. Beauty plays a big role in determining mate choice, lifetime income, and even courtroom judgments. A 2019 peer-reviewed study argues that “More attractive persons were less likely to be arrested and convicted than less attractive persons … the beneficial effect of being attractive was confined solely to females.” Conversely, women assessed as unattractive are punished. Girls who were overweight in high school tend to have lower lifetime incomes, even if they lose the weight, studies have shown.
I’ve been subject to teasing, bullying, and unwanted comments all my life because I am an unattractive woman. A teacher called me a “big ox” when I was in second grade. Around fifth grade, I was rejected for a part in a school play because I was taller than “Jesus.” An eye doctor, in my presence, told my mother that when I needed glasses, I should get the fancy kind, because their fanciness would detract attention from my face. When I was a teenager, I signed up for a night school dance class. The teacher pulled me aside and told me to stop attending. “With a body like yours, you will never be a dancer.” I’ve got a million stories like this, but you get the idea. I know what it is for the word “beauty” to be used as a weapon cracked against your skull.
White supremacists insisted that black people are ugly because they do not look like white people. Malicious caricatures, for example in Minstrelsy, cruelly exaggerated black features. Well-meaning blacks and whites alike worked to demolish that hateful abuse of the concept of beauty. Black female celebrities like Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Beverly Johnson, Nichelle Nichols, Pam Grier, Diahann Carol, Diana Ross, Iman, and Tina Turner began to achieve fame in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. They demonstrated that “Black is beautiful” was not just a slogan.
Not just black people have been stereotyped as irredeemably ugly. The movement variously known as scientific racism, social Darwinism, and eugenics also condemned entire populations to the “ugly” category. In the Saturday Evening Post, bestselling novelist Kenneth L. Roberts painted ugly word portraits of Slavic immigrants to the US. A nineteenth-century physiognomy text compares a beautiful English woman to a subhuman Irish woman (see here). As a child, I wasn’t just teased for being fat, I was teased for being a “Polak.” “How do you tell the bride at a Polish wedding? She’s the one with the braided armpits.” I’ve got a million of those stories, too.
Nazis exploited extreme and ugly caricatures of Jews in their propaganda. Nazis claimed that their hate was rooted in nature. The first and last victims of Nazi genocide were handicapped Germans. Nazi propaganda contrasted idealized images of attractive Aryans with distorted images of handicapped people. Their physical handicaps, Nazis argued, violated nature’s law against the unfit. This history erects a giant red flag. Uncritically worshiping beauty or nature leads to bad outcomes.
The concept of beauty can be as deadly as knives and guns when in the wrong hands. But where would humanity be without knives and guns in the right hands? We need beauty, we need to recognize beauty, and we need to listen to what beauty is saying.
Woke is weaponizing the concepts of beauty and ugliness in new ways. Woke is now exploiting fat people and people who identify as transgender. I’ve been overweight all my life. I’m a tomboy, that is, I am “gender non-conforming.” Even so, Woke attitudes toward obesity and toward gender-non-conforming people are alien to me. Woke’s use of the concept of beauty and ugliness to insist that people find fat bodies and gender non-conforming bodies – bodies like mine – sexually alluring is totalitarian. It will never help me or anyone else. It’s just another strategy to undermine society.
The Woke have insisted that not finding obese women sexually attractive is an act of bigotry, bigotry for which the bigot must be punished. The insistence that viewers publicly acknowledge that fat bodies sexually arouse them is dystopian. It reeks of China’s Cultural Revolution. It is an effort to colonize our aesthetics, our desires, our limbic systems. Activists also insist that there is no downside to being fat, including health risks. In fact being overweight significantly undermines health.
In 2021, self-described “fat content creator” Lexi Nimmo released a TikTok video insisting that rejecting fat women as sex partners is “problematic.” You can watch some of her video here. On January 8, 2020, fitness celebrity Jillian Michaels was asked about famous, and famously obese, pop star Lizzo. “Why are we celebrating her body? … It isn’t going to be awesome if she gets diabetes. I’m just being honest. Like, I love her music. Like, my kid loves her music. But there’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘And I’m so glad she’s overweight!’ Like, why do I even care? Why is it my job to care about her weight?” Michaels was attacked by self-appointed virtue police. She was called a racist, a sexist, a bigot, a hater, and fatphobic. Of course Michaels had to issue several statements that sounded like apologies.
Lexi Nimmo’s “You must find me sexually attractive” video is obnoxious. I don’t find Nimmo attractive. I would not want a body like hers. I would not want Lexi Nimmo as a friend or neighbor. I would not even want to talk to her on the phone.
Lizzo is obese. But there’s more than that. I don’t share her attitude of what constitutes appropriate public behavior. I think women should be modest and dignified. Lizzo appears naked in public. She has repeatedly twerked on camera. She speaks obscenely. When trying to be thoughtful or uplifting, Lizzo says things like, “Go home tonight and look in the mirror and say, ‘I love you, you are beautiful, and you can do anything,'” I don’t share Lizzo’s value system. My value system tells me to “Go home tonight, avoid the mirror, examine your conscience and discover how you failed to live up to your highest ideals that day. Then resolve to do better tomorrow.” In an NBC news op-ed, Lizzo wrote, “I don’t think that loving yourself is a choice. I think that it’s a decision.” How did that make it past an editor? Decisions are choices. Lizzo’s attempts at wisdom are vapid.
If you enjoy watching Lizzo twerk naked and listening to her spout obscenities, I’m happy for you. You live in a world that will satisfy you. If Lexi Nimmo is your idea of a great best friend, again, I’m happy for you. I would never make any attempt to limit Nimmo’s or Lizzo’s ability to produce profitable content, or audiences’ ability to access and enjoy that content.
What don’t I like? Totalitarianism directed at my ability to identify beauty and ugliness. If I were looking for a teaching job right now, my comments here about Lizzo and Lexi would sabotage my job search. People have been doxed, harassed, threatened, and beaten up for expressing opinions like these. And that’s why I care. The concepts “beauty” and “ugliness” are now contested commodities in the culture war.
On December 20, 2021, New York Magazine’s cover was ugly. It was a photo of a woman, naked except for Calvin Klein briefs. The woman wears a chin beard and a smug, confrontational expression. Large earrings hang from her ears. Her breasts have been removed through mastectomy. She has also had a hysterectomy. There is a deep wound in her thigh. The flesh removed from her thigh now bulges from her Calvin Klein underwear. “My penis, myself. I didn’t need a penis to be a man. But I needed one to be me,” the headline blares. “I could not have gotten my boobs cut off fast enough … I spent weeks before my 2019 hysterectomy up late in bed, hot and sleepless, fantasizing about the moment the medical waste disposal team at UC San Francisco would batch-incinerate my uterus, which swirled with dysphoria like nausea from the depths of my soul.”
The naked woman is Gabriel Mac. Mac has a history of mental instability, including alcoholism, insomnia, post traumatic stress and obsession with self harm, including wanting to plunge scissors into her “fatty” thigh, “gouge open my thigh,” “gash in a good hole” in her thigh and watch “blood and badness seep out.” Mac also reports having been sexually abused by her father when she was a child, see here.
Mac had staged her own violent rape and published a detailed account of that rape. Her volunteer rapist “suddenly smothered me with a pillow, not to asphyxiate me but so that he didn’t break my jaw when he drew his elbow back and slammed his fist into my face. Two, three, four times. My body felt devastated but relieved.” Mac wrote further, in a book and in articles, about this staged violent rape.
Mac claimed that the mental health issues, rape, and obsessive writing were a reaction to her journalistic coverage of sexual violence in Haiti. Other reporters rejected this. Haitian-born journalist Marjorie Valbrun wrote, “Really? You need to get punched in the face by a man during sex in order to get over Haiti? So I guess mimicking a violent sexual assault is acceptable as long as it is wrapped in compelling prose and sold as self-healing.” “Dozens of Haiti-based female journalists and NGO” workers condemned Mac’s behavior to Mother Jones. At least one Haitian woman begged Mac to stop using her own story in Mac’s work. She pointed out that Mac was endangering her life by doing so. Mac apparently ignored her and continued to use her story.
I lived and worked in Africa and Asia. A friend was raped. I was sexually assaulted, and also sexually menaced, although not raped while overseas. I did, at times, have to fight physically to avoid further assault. Neither I nor anyone I know who worked overseas developed conditions comparable to Mac’s. Journalists Mona Eltahawy and Lara Logan were both sexually assaulted in Egypt; neither has reported the reactions that Mac reports. It does not follow that staging your own violent rape or undergoing medically unnecessary mastectomies and phalloplasty are somehow the result of having been a journalist in Haiti.
Both New York Magazine and Mac herself know that that photo is ugly. They know that it constitutes a misogynist insult to, and assault on, women. That’s exactly why the photo is on the cover of New York Magazine. Legacy print media are struggling for sales against inevitable extinction in an increasingly fractured and online media market. Mac wants attention. The magazine and Mac colluded to produce as confrontational and perverse a photo as possible.
In the past, circus owners profited from selling tickets to geek shows. Geek shows were ugly assaults on human dignity. An often addicted geek, paid with alcohol or narcotics, bit the head off of a live chicken and swallowed it. And the audience cheered. Today, enablers of trans extremism and “fat acceptance” costume their thirst for ugliness with pretend virtue. “You think that photo is ugly? You are a bigot and you must be doxed, threatened, fired, made unemployable, silenced. We do this in the name of our new Woke faith.” The new Woke-flavored Marxism is a combo of secret police and P.T. Barnum. (Ben Shapiro outlines how trans extremism services Marxism here.)
One does not have to know Gabriel Mac’s troubled history to recognize pathology in the New York Magazine cover. The photo’s ugliness speaks loudly enough. Mac’s new body violates beauty. Her waist is narrow and her hips are broad. She is clearly female. Her body is hairy in masculine pattern. The human eye immediately recognizes that there is something amiss. Further, Mac’s nudity and exhibitionism are undignified and depressing. Mac is forcing us to view and assess what her self-loathing, self-harm obsessions, and misogyny have done to her body. She takes the urge for display to an unseemly extreme. She could have chosen to be photographed in swim trunks, clothing that one wears in public. Instead she chose underwear, a garment one exposes at home, in the bedroom or bathroom. Anti-social elements will scoff. Both swim trunks and underwear reveal the same human geography; why is one unseemly and the other appropriate? I turn, again, to the house sparrow. That black bib communicates much. Appearances do matter. In any case, Mac got exactly what she wanted: to claim victimization. She disseminated an ugly photo and her own pathological misogyny. People didn’t like it. She is now an official victim. Mission accomplished.
On February 14, 2023, Matt Walsh released a “heartfelt message” to Dylan Mulvaney. Mulvaney, an adult, male actor, announced in March, 2022, that he is a “girl.” Mulvaney further announced that he was so attractive that he could steal women’s husbands. Walsh responded. Walsh said, “You do not pass as an attractive woman, or as a woman at all … You cannot escape what you really are and what you will always be … You may not be masculine, but you aren’t feminine. You are weird and artificial; you are manufactured and lifeless; you are unearthly and eerie. You are a human deep fake … even your personality is contrived … the people who pretend to accept you are pretending because they are afraid of being lectured if they don’t or because they want to use you as a platform to virtue signal.” Walsh was punished for speaking truths that everyone knows to be true. He was widely criticized and his presence on YouTube was greatly reduced.
Dr. Rachel Levine is ugly. Andrea Long Chu is ugly. Tiffany Moore, of the notorious “It’s Ma’am” viral video, is not a bad looking man, but he does not pass as a woman. Tara, formerly Thomas Jay White, who identifies as a woman and posted a video threatening to shoot to death any woman who tried to stop him from using a women’s bathroom, is not beautiful. He does not pass. Drag performers do not look like women. They look like men engaged in hostile and contemptuous misogyny. Bruce Jenner the Olympian was one of the most handsome men on the planet. Caitlyn Jenner, in candid photographs, without all the careful lighting and photoshopping, shows a face full of plastic surgery’s manipulations.
One must say of men who identify as women that they are “beautiful;” that they look “real;” that they can “pass.” Most aren’t beautiful, they don’t look real, and they can’t pass. To say this is not to advocate for any harm or discrimination to come to men who identify as women. No one should tease or bully or discriminate against any of these people. People who identify as transgender should enjoy the same rights as any citizen. But the insistence that we all say, “Beautiful. So beautiful I desire you” about fat people or trans people is an attempt to control our perception and our desire. It’s right out of Clockwork Orange. It is that totalitarian control of our aesthetics that we must protest.
I don’t think that Keats is right. Beauty and truth are not identical. But there is some truth in beauty, and some truth in some ugliness. In “Binsey Poplars,” Catholic priest, gay man, and great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins articulated how man’s interference with nature can destroy beauty that can never be reconstituted. He speaks of chopped down poplar trees, and a pinprick that destroys a human eye.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Humans aren’t poplar trees, but we are part of the same creation, and when we mess with our own beauty, we sometimes mar it beyond repair.
Dr. Helen Joyce feels about evolution the way that believers feel about God. In the way that believers respect creation’s beauty as the handiwork of God, those who revere evolution feel that it can’t be defied by something so puny as a human being. “Sex is a reproductive strategy that goes back more than a billion years. It shapes everything … There are at least ten thousand known differences in the genetic expressions of males and females. Female blood is different … everything is different … Hundreds of millions of years of evolution is shaping everything about you. Every cell is male or female.”
Joyce’s words come to mind when viewing a recent video made by a woman who identifies as a man. The woman has a beard, a mustache, and a deep voice. She says she has been identifying as a man for eight years. She cries in the video. She says how lonely she is. She says that when she identified as a woman, people wanted to hug her, talk to her, and share community with her. She mentions how even women who are strangers to each other can form instant fun and supportive communities in women’s restrooms. “Friendships are so much harder to build,” the woman says, wiping tears from her eyes. “This s–t is lonely,” she cries.
Under the video, numerous men comment that the woman is lonely because she is a woman identifying as a man. Women and men are different, they point out. Growing a beard and mustache and deepening the voice through testosterone injections does not make a woman a man. A recent study reports that people who have attempted to “transition” to the sex opposite to their own are more lonely. “Our data indicate that transgender and gender diverse people, who have undergone gender reassignment surgery feel lonelier.” The thousands of measurable differences between men and women make it difficult for a person to be a beautiful member of the opposite sex. The human body is a composition, like a symphony, like a cultivated row of poplars, and removing one element throws the rest out of kilter. Similarly, changing one element makes it harder for the person making the change to find community. What that element is may be difficult to isolate and rejigger. That we can’t name every difference between men and women doesn’t make those differences less real.
Surgeons and pharmaceutical companies can insist to vulnerable people that their drugs and their blades can change one sex to the other, but they can’t. These drugs and blades can’t touch the thousands of differences between men and women; they can’t even find them all; they can’t even name them all. The odd reaction we have looking at someone like Dr. Rachel Levine informs us of much.
Previously in this essay, I mentioned house sparrows, small, common birds you can see from almost any window in the US. House sparrows are not native to the United States. They were introduced to this country. They prefer the same nest sites as bluebirds, a colorful, beloved, native American species. House sparrows kill bluebirds. There are numerous, grisly photos on the web of baby and adult bluebirds pecked to death by house sparrows, see, for example, here.
Champions of bluebirds recommend to homeowners that if house sparrows nest on your property, you dispatch them. “The bird must be eliminated from the population by humanely killing it,” one of many websites recommends. “This may sound harsh but remember, these birds are not native to North America and not part of our ecosystem. They are an invasive species … Put the bird in the palm of your hand and wrap your fingers around the chest. Apply firm pressure for a full minute.” Otherwise, you can “Break their neck.” Or “gas them.”
Nazis were neo-Pagans. They argued that nature demanded that the same approach one might take to an invasive species of plant or animal should be applied to human beings. The Judeo-Christian tradition has been at war with that “natural” approach for thousands of years. It has insisted that we care for the weak, the vulnerable, and the stranger. In doing so, we defy “survival of the fittest.” In loving and serving, we find beauty even in the faces of the old and infirm.
I am not arguing for the worship of nature or the worship of beauty. Similarly, as a woman who has been relentlessly bullied by my fellow humans for my failure to live up to beauty or femininity ideals, I am not arguing for bullying’s revival and sanctification. Bullies are sinners and they do great harm.
I am, rather, saying that Woke is invading language. Among other words they demonize or sanctify, the words “beauty” and “ugliness” have been weaponized. I’m recommending here, that we resist that, and that we think about, and reclaim, in a way that corresponds with our Judeo-Christian tradition, a tradition of compassion and fairness, and also of truth, the words “beauty” and “ugliness.” Given how pervasive beauty is in creation, and how much it communicates to us, it is clearly too important for us to surrender this word, and our ability to recognize it.
Danusha Goska is the author of God Through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery.