In his 1973 book The Inevitability of Patriarchy, the sociologist Steven Goldberg described sex as “the single most decisive determinant of personal identity.” Today, one wonders if such a book could even be published. Even if it were, it would certainly face a massive assault by the scholarly establishment, the “news” media, and much of the rest of elite culture, including that of many self-styled conservatives. The state of accepted pedagogy on this matter in our nation’s schools, including our universities, is now nearly the opposite of Goldberg’s argument that intrinsic biological differences irreducible to socialization exist between man and woman, differences that make the radical feminist dream of a society where men and women are functionally indistinguishable impossible to achieve. Increasingly, many in authority now take it as a matter of doxa—beyond any possible argument or demonstration of contradicting data—that sex is not a binary with two categories but a spectrum with many, and that gender is completely disconnected from sex, defined only by the whim of the individual.
The book that most fully demonstrates the radical angle of attack on Goldberg’s scientific view is one that might have had the most influence on elite thinking about gender and sex: Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (1990). The Berkeley professor’s book celebrated drag as a culturally revolutionary act that reveals what she asserts is the fact of gender’s unreality. Gender, Butler claims, is no more than a performance, and drag is a form of radical action against the illegitimate patriarchal system of power. Through this deviant practice, individuals can create alternative identities and subvert heterosexual power. If a biological man can lay claim to the female gender simply by changing clothing, applying some makeup, and altering his speech or mannerisms, the link of gender to anything biologically real is broken and we are in a (liberating) world of mirrors and drama.
Butler’s anarchist attack on “the compulsory order of sex/gender/desire,” that is, the cultural enforcement of the sex and gender binary, is consistent with the French poststructuralism of especially Michel Foucault, who saw society as a set of controls to prevent the free expression of sexuality. This high priest for the sex/gender radicals died of AIDS after having almost certainly contracted the disease frequenting bath houses in the San Francisco area during the 1970s and 1980s. Here, Foucault tested his philosophical principles of sexual freedom in acts of anonymous, sado-masochistic, unprotected carnality with many other men.