It is immensely tempting to say that the Democratic senators questioning Amy Coney Barrett during her confirmation hearing this week are engaging in quite a lot of mansplaining. The condescension is there. The unnecessary, longwinded lectures. The interruptions. They’re even using poster boards and other visual aids. The only reason I will not call any of this mansplaining is that the term is vapid and stupid, and used unironically only by people whose simple minds have been warped by politics and ideology. Still, by the Left’s rules, applied equitably, it must be concluded that Barrett’s inquisitors are sexist bullies — even the women, who are apparently infected with internalized misogyny. Or some such nonsense.
But if the meaning and application of “mansplaining” changes according to the political needs of the moment, at least the word is contrived and meaningless from the start. The Left invented the term. I suppose they can do what they like with it. The far more disturbing thing is to witness how real words, words that existed before our era of Woke politics, are now redefined with rapid speed, on the fly, with coordinated efficiency. The hearings have provided us with perhaps the most glaring and striking example of the Left’s language manipulation scheme that we have yet seen.
On Tuesday morning, as you ate your breakfast burrito, the term “sexual preference” was perfectly normal, perfectly acceptable, perfectly common, and if you used it anywhere, everyone would know what you meant, and almost no one would think to be offended by it. By bedtime, as you crawled beneath your covers, “sexual preference” had become an unspeakable slur. In the span of 18 hours, this new meaning had been adopted by the media, politicians, and even the dictionary itself. Anyone who wasn’t paying attention to the news on Wednesday will no doubt use this newly-minted “gay slur” at some point, and be utterly baffled by the horrified looks and breathless chastisements that follow. That, of course, is part of the plan. So how did this happen?
During the course of the confirmation hearings early on Tuesday, Amy Coney Barrett responded to a question about gay rights by saying that she would “never discriminate on the basis of sexual preference.” To most observers, this seemed like a totally normal statement, hardly noteworthy. But some on the Left, sensing that Barrett would give them few opportunities to be offended, decided to make do with what they had. Leftist Twitter accounts began setting the stage, claiming that the judge’s use of the term “sexual preference” is somehow abhorrent, all of a sudden.
Kyle Griffin, an MSNBC producer with almost a million followers, was early on the bandwagon, tweeting: “‘Sexual preference,’ a term used by Justice Barrett, is offensive and outdated. The term implies sexuality is a choice. It is not. News organizations should not repeat Justice Barrett’s words without providing that important context.”
Various others joined the chorus, eventually attracting the attention of Senator Mazie Hirono, who leapt into action. That evening, Hirono circled back to scold Barrett, calling her choice of language “offensive and outdated,” repeating Kyle Griffin’s tweet verbatim. She then explained that only “anti-LGBTQ activists” use the term because they want to suggest that sexual orientation is a choice, when in fact, says Hirono, it is “a key part” of an individual’s identity and “immutable.”
Then it was off to the races. Slate, Jezebel, Vox, and other outlets all joined the dogpile, publishing articles condemning “sexual preference” as offensive, degrading, bigoted, and “a dog whistle.” We must say orientation, not preference, they all suddenly agreed. Our sexuality is not a preference by an ingrained, fundamental, unchangeable part of our essence as human beings.
To cap it all off, Webster’s online dictionary changed its definition of “preference” to note that it is “offensive” when applied to sexuality.
Of course, dictionary definitions change to reflect evolving meanings and common usages, but the usage and meaning of “preference” has not evolved. The Left — to include, now, the dictionary — is not merely noting a change in common usage, but trying to effect a change by pretending that it has already occurred. Words evolve gradually and organically over many years. Changes in language in our society are — rather than gradual and organic — sudden, artificial, orchestrated, and ideological. This is a very different sort of thing.
It is probably no use to point this out, but many of the people and media outlets lambasting Barrett for her use of “sexual preference” have themselves uttered or written it many times over the years. The Advocate, for example, blasted it as “anti-LGBTQ+” only two weeks after publishing an article that makes uncritical use of the term. Slate professed to be “so alarmed” by Barrett’s language after years of using the exact same language in its articles. Indeed, just this year, Slate’s advice column featured a question from a 65-year-old straight man wondering if his “sexual preference” may have changed over time as now he finds himself fantasizing about men. The response from Slate writer Rich Juzwiak certainly does not sound consistent with sexual orientation as an “immutable” characteristic:
Some people keep evolving sexually, finding different things they’re into at different times. In an episode of Netflix’s Sex Explained, fantasies are compared to languages: Research suggests we don’t unlearn old ones, but we can learn new ones. Dr. Justin Lehmiller, who has studied fantasies extensively (he’s also lent his expertise to this column), suggests that one way of picking up new sexual interests could be exposure—via porn, for example—to something novel when on the brink of orgasm. For many, that’s when the disgust response is reduced. The ensuing orgasm could prompt the stimulus to be sought again, and a new fantasy/kink is born.
“Evolving sexually,” “new sexual interests,” “a new fantasy is born.” This makes sexual orientation sound an awful lot like a preference that can be changed, and in many cases does change. There are many real world examples of just such a thing happening. Slate itself provided one of them. “Sexual orientation is immutable” is dogma, impotently asserting itself against a reality that clearly contradicts and disproves it.
Besides, there is an inescapable logical problem for adherents to left-wing gender theory who also claim sexual orientation as ingrained and unchangeable. The problem is that their gender theories cannot coexist with their theory of sexual orientation. These are mutually exclusive propositions for reasons that should be obvious. Take the example of a gay man who transitions into a woman. If he is really a woman now, he is no longer gay. Thus sexual orientation can change. If he must always be gay because orientation is immutable, he must always be a man. There is no way around this without undermining or denying his self-identity somewhere along the timeline. In order to make both propositions work, you must point to this individual and say that he was wrong about being gay, or wrong about being a man, or wrong about being a woman now. But that is to claim that it is possible for a person to be wrong about their own self-identity, which would cause the whole artifice of left wing gender theory to collapse. The scheme doesn’t work if outsiders are able to judge a person’s identity as “incorrect” based on our own logical suppositions or physical observations.
This is a problem that cannot be overcome, though it can be blithely ignored. The advantage to being a relativist, after all, is that you get to invent your own truth to suit the moment. Different moments call for different truths. The relativist feels no need to maintain any common logical thread from one moment to the next. You may say that this is also the hallmark of insanity, and you would be correct. But insanity is our culture’s most powerful political ideology.
The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
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