SLS 676

This essay by Deirdre McCloskey as she reflects on the last 20 years of life after she transitioned in early 50’s, is so beautiful and sad. How could her children walk away from her? Best thing I read today.

I just downloaded Robert Pondiscio’s How the Other Half Learns. I’ll read it on Thursday during the flight to Chicago for my education conference.

Get ready to hear more and more about trade school. Why? Because a whole lotta students aren’t making it in college.

Post Malone is all over my running Spotify play list at the moment.

22 thoughts on “SLS 676

  1. If my father had left my mother (or vice versa), it is certainly possible that I would never have spoken to him (or her) again. Hard to know, since nothing like that ever happened to me, but I wouldn’t judge those who have had such an experience.

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  2. This essay by Deirdre McCloskey as she reflects on the last 20 years of life after she transitioned in early 50’s, is so beautiful and sad.

    I didn’t find it “sad.” Rather, I found it “tragic,” in the literary sense of the word. Money quote:

    “But I don’t know what is meant by ‘selfish’ here.”

    Indeed. Once a Chicago-school libertarian, always a Chicago-school libertarian, I guess. It amazed me that after all this time she can’t spare a thought as to why her family might have been upset about the manner in which she first blew it up and then cashed in on a memoir about it that dragged them along for the ride. Can’t bygones be bygones? (The answer to that is apparently ‘no.’) Can’t they see that it was all about her and not about them at all? (Well, yes, maybe that was just the thing that upset them so.) But the grandchildren! They will be so deprived of her love and affection. Whatever.

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  3. Agree with Jay and y81. There are thousands of families divided by bad divorces. This one seems to have been particularly bad, in that reviews of her autobiography on Amazon mention that the wife and family “did not take it well.” That family and friends of her adult children are at pains to respect the children’s wishes for no contact, indicates that this continues to be extremely painful for her children.

    As with any family conflict, we do not know the whole story.

    I did wish that the Last Psychiatrist could have chimed in on it. There did seem to be a hint of narcissism in the piece.

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    1. That family and friends of her adult children are at pains to respect the children’s wishes for no contact, indicates that this continues to be extremely painful for her children.

      Clearly. What I find so selfish and narcissistic is McClosky’s refusal not only to respect these wishes but to understand in the first place why they feel that way. One of life’s lessons (that most of us learn the hard way in our teens or twenties) is that if you truly care for someone who rejects you then the most truthful expression of that affection is to respect that. She obviously doesn’t and so you have to question whether she really cares for her children’s happiness at all or whether it is just all about her, her, her.

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  4. My reaction to the McCloskey essay is that she’s claiming that the only reason her kids cut off contact with her is her transition, which is obviously unjust and bigoted of them. And maybe that’s right. On the other hand, most situations I know where an adult has cut off contact with their parents and I know what’s going on, I sympathize with the adult rather than the parents.

    I have no way of knowing the actual facts, but it’s perfectly possible for McCloskey to both be a trans woman and to separately have been a terrible parent whose children don’t want to speak to her for good reason, and that’s kind of what I’d guess from reading the essay.

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  5. I don’t understand what that means, “the only reason . . . is her transition.” Obviously a sex change was going to end her marriage, and she knew that would happen, and she chose that result. I think children have every right to be angry at a parent who abandons their marriage.

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    1. But it’s actually pretty unusual for kids to completely cut off one parent in a divorce if the only thing the parent did wrong was end the marriage — getting angry about it is one thing, never talking to the parent again is very different. Divorce is common, total estrangement is rare.

      The options here, I think, are either that the kids are freaked out about McCloskey being trans, and that’s why they won’t talk to her or let their friends talk to her (and that’s the clear implication of the essay — that the fundamental problem is that they’re bigots) or that the relationship was terrible for more complicated reasons that she’s a big part of, and she’s pretending that isn’t true.

      And… I thought I didn’t have any particular support for that, but looking back over the essay, the bits where she’s talking about trying and failing to get at her kids indirectly, through first her son’s father-in-law, and then through the neighbor, sound to me like things that I have seen terrible, shitty parents do: collecting allies who aren’t close enough to know all the details of the relationship, and trying to exert pressure through them. I still obviously don’t know anything for sure, but I’m guessing strongly in one direction.

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      1. Apparently, children cutting off parents is becoming more common: https://www.aarp.org/relationships/friends-family/info-03-2012/the-stranger-in-your-family.html.

        it’s actually pretty unusual for kids to completely cut off one parent in a divorce if the only thing the parent did wrong was end the marriage

        You are assuming that’s the only thing McCloskey did wrong.

        and that’s the clear implication of the essay — that the fundamental problem is that they’re bigots

        Yes, I imagine I would have a problem relating to a relative who would write, let alone publish, such an essay. “You’re a bigot” is not conducive to warm relations. McCloskey’s memoir might have portrayed his family in an unflattering light?

        Look at the essay. I noticed a huge number of “mys” when she wrote about her children. “My son,” “my grandchildren,” etc. In an odd way, her children are blocking her access to her possessions. However, people are not possessions.

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      2. And you are presuming she did something else wrong (outside her own text, which does, in my opinion as well, indicate a self-centered approach to relationships, even with her own children, which many of us would consider to be our least self-centered relationship).

        I am seeing a fairly frequent tendency for the current HS generation to talk of their grandparents as bigots (not usually parents, but, the kids I know don’t have bigoted parents). A number, do, however, have grandparents who express a number of bigoted behaviors and those behaviors are interfering with their relationships with their grandchildren. My kids bring this up at Thanksgiving, when many of their peers are looking towards the visit with trepidation.

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    2. Sex changes don’t always end marriages. Jennifer Finney Boylan remains married to her wife, Deirdre Boylan, of 30 years as of last year. They have now been married a wives longer than they were husband and wife.

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      1. There are wives who live happily for years in menages a trois. There are wives who get along amiably with their husbands’ gay lovers. There are wives who stay married for decades to serial philanderers. What a shame for the late David McCloskey that he didn’t get one of the good ones, but instead fate assigned him an unjust bigot.

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      2. Sex changes don’t always end marriages. Jennifer Finney Boylan remains married to her wife, Deirdre Boylan, of 30 years as of last year. They have now been married a wives longer than they were husband and wife.

        What do other marriages have to do with this particular one? McCloskey left his family in a manner that they apparently found painful and scarring and, as a result, want no part of her. Why do we judge that? That’s what they want, just as (as McCloskey *repeatedly* reminds us) she wants what she wants. I will admit that all of her writings come across as narcissistic and entitled (as a Chicago libertarian is wont to be), with constant demands that people accommodate her needs for happiness while exhibiting exactly no introspection about the needs of those she is making demands of.

        Besides, even taking what she wrote at face value, she has used her notoriety and previous academic reputation to litigate this through the media. If I were her family I would feel that my side (whatever it was) was unfairly presented through her biased accounts. I think that people who read her stuff and then complain about how unfairly she is being treated are the same people who only watch half of Rashomon and then lecture me about what happened in the story. Even if I wasn’t angry about whatever other issues there were surrounding the abandonment and divorce, I might find the whole exploitative media/memoir circus to be an unforgivable transgression against me. I wouldn’t want that in my life and I would find it difficult to forgive someone who inflicted it on me against my will.

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      3. Why do I bring up the Boylans? Because this statement is not true, “Obviously a sex change was going to end her marriage”.

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      4. Also, I know nothing about the Boylans, but I don’t know how Mrs. McCloskey was expected to continue to be married to someone who “was not sexually attracted to women” and was “without physical sexual feelings.” Although I gather that those outcomes of sex change surgery are not universal, it hardly surprises me that they might well be a result of cutting off your genitals and dosing your body with large doses of sex hormones different from those for which evolution suited it. Again, these were conscious decisions, not different to me from taking up with a pretty young research assistant (which lots of male professors do, but they attract fewer middle-aged female defenders).

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      5. Weird response, since McCloskey has *no* defenders on this thread, except maybe Laura (and Laura just expressed sadness for McCloskey that she has lost her children). There are indeed a plethora of middle aged men who have affairs and leave their wives and families for young women. I’m guessing that the probability that they loose their children forever (especially if they are rich/powerful men) is not super high, though I’m sure it happens, too. Say, Richard Axel, in his Nobel biography, manages to mention his sons (who presumably still see him) and his new love without mentioning his first wife and mother of his children. Actually, reading the bio sounds a lot like McCloskey,, the same self-centered celebration.

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  6. I’m another with little sympathy for McCloskey with respect to her children. I think anyone who transitions (and especially someone who did it 20 years ago) has had to struggle with understanding why they were so unhappy. She must have been miserable for a long time. Miserable people are usually miserable parents. The parent child relationship probably wasn’t great before she transitioned. Then she turned it into a media circus. I don’t understand why anyone is surprised her kids don’t want contact.

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  7. I had little sympathy for McCloskey when I read the article, as well. However, I think speculating about the characteristics of her relationships with her children is wrong, though, absent other information. Her children may have rejected her because she transitioned, because she left their family and her wife, because of their individual relationship with her, or because they hate all transgender people, including their own parent. But, I generally think they have a right to decide they no longer want a relationship with their parent. I would feel more antagonism towards the children if indeed they hate all transgender people (which is a value I would judge).

    My kiddo likes to say that she does not think children have obligations to their parents. She’s a great kid and I think she enjoys both our company and that of my own parents. But, she thinks these are voluntary relationships. On the other hand, she does think that kids have obligations to their parents.

    So, do we have different levels of sympathy if this was a transgender daughter rather than a transgender parent? Interestingly, it appears that McCloskey has not been rejected by her mother.

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    1. I also agree that parents’ obligation to their children is more of a moral requirement (that was a typo in my initial comment). I think this is one of the changes we are seeing to the concept of civility — that parents earn their authority from the consent of the governed, rather than authoritarian right. So, in the olden days, a grandparent could be free to comment on job choices, clothes, body, character, conversation, . . . But kids couldn’t question the grandparents values even if they were voicing racist or bigoted or misogynistic beliefs. Some kids aren’t taking that anymore.

      I see it as a “punch down v punch up” morality (though punching might always be questionable). Of course, when grandparents are bedridden, in mental decline, and near death, the power structure shifts.

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      1. Unless they are bedridden like the one grandpa in Charlie and Chocolate Factory where he can get up as soon as they can go to a chocolate factory instead of helping around the house.

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  8. “I will admit that all of her writings come across as narcissistic and entitled (as a Chicago libertarian is wont to be), with constant demands that people accommodate her needs for happiness while exhibiting exactly no introspection about the needs of those she is making demands of.”

    Oh, I see this, too. Individually McCloskey exhibits the self-centeredness of seeing things only from her own point of view. It’s the continued extremeness of norming: not male, white, wealthy, ability, . . . , but “McCloskey norming.” They are the kind of people who believe that the food, books, ambient temperature, shoes they prefer are the “right” shoes, books, food, . . .

    One could imagine that it’s a narcissistic personality trait, but I do agree that powerful, libertarian ideologues are particularly prone to the behavior.

    The superficial discussions by McCloseky about economics (recently recognized how toxic the feld seems to be towards women), gender, feminism are influenced by this trait/ideology.

    There’s an interesting contrast with a well known transgender neuroscientist (Ben Barres, who transitioned from female to male during the height of his career) who spoke up quite effectively about the treatment of men and women in the field.

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