Dr. Rachel Levine is now a 4 Star Admiral, the first person to have transitioned between genders to hold that rank. She is also a lot of other “firsts,” due to her gender identity.
She is, however, not the first public official to have violated her oath of office (putting her mother in a hotel while lots of other Pennsylvania mothers and grandmothers were exposed to Covid in nursing homes). She is also not the first to be the target of criticism, nor the first to be ridiculed because of her looks, her speech patterns or other things extraneous to her inherent abilities.
Let’s, then, get this fact off the table: There is nothing historic about Rachel Levine other than the fact that she has chosen to be outspoken about her own personal gender journey. And if you think that’s special, I have no problem with it. It is, after all, a “first.”
But I think that Levine’s continued elevation to higher office points out a growing problem with American society as we become more obsessed with identity.
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Although it’s out of fashion to talk about the great melting pot, I can assure you that my immigration work over the past quarter century has underlined the importance of inclusion and integration into society, not exclusion and segregation. And that is what you get when you start recognizing things like firsts based on individual identity.
In Europe, that obsession with identity has often proven a permanent aspect of life, strictly dividing segments of the population to this day. We, on the other hand, appreciate our respective heritages and venerate the ancestors who gave us stories, names, recipes, traditions and familial polestars, but also generally consider ourselves “Americans” no matter how recently our families arrived. The same cannot be said in places like France, where being considered “French” is something many immigrants will likely never achieve.
Except, that’s starting to fracture now in a big way, and it’s no coincidence that with each new “first,” we move further away from the idea of a United States.
When Sandra Day O’Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court, I was sufficiently appreciative of the moment but I was more concerned with whether she’d vote against Roe v. Wade (and what a disappointment she turned out to be on that front). When Antonin Scalia became the first Italian American elevated to the high court, I was thrilled and raised a glass of red wine in his honor but didn’t think that my life was going to change in any major way because we shared that heritage(it didn’t). When Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman to be tapped as a vice presidential candidate, I thought it was nice enough but her being a fairly liberal Democrat kept me from celebrating. When Sarah Palin became the second woman to be tapped as a vice presidential candidate, I was much more excited both because she shared my values and politics and also because she looked like Tina Fey from Upper Darby. When Kamala Harris became the first actual female vice president, I took two Tylenol and went to bed.
My point is that being the first of any particular identity to do anything isn’t, in the end, anything. If we start pointing to people who look and sound like us to be a measure and metric of our worth, we really don’t have much faith in ourselves and our own ability to succeed.
If we start pointing to people who look and sound like us to be a measure and metric of our worth, we really don’t have much faith in ourselves and our own ability to succeed.
I was watching a documentary about Rita Morena last weekend, in celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, and could only get through half of it because every person who spoke about an admittedly magnificent actress/activist/national treasure had to talk about her Latin blood. I suppose I should be grateful that they used “Latin” or “Latina” as opposed to “Latinx,” which is really just the way some gringos with a woke obsession spell the word.
I had the same reaction when they touted Rachel Levine as the first “woman” to be a four star admiral. As Megyn Kelly aptly noted in her podcast this week, Rachel Levine was a man for the vast majority of her life. She did not have to deal with the struggles that women normally deal with in work situations, and was able to accomplish most of the things that got her to the point of being tapped by Governor Tom Wolf and then President Joe Biden for elevated public positions while she was still a man. Therefore, it is disingenuous to make a point of her gender, now, as something particularly unique. All of the groundwork was laid when it was easy.
I suppose I will be attacked as a bigot for saying this, which is neither surprising nor upsetting. That word has lost all significance in this day and age, when someone who disagrees with you is someone who hates you.
Rick Warren once wrote that “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”
Unfortunately, that bit of wisdom is lost on the vast majority of Americans who buy into the idea that if you do not honor a person’s identity, pronouns, history, gender, or preferred narrative in exactly the way they wish, you want them to suffer. And that’s what’s so perverse about the glorification of identity.
That bit of wisdom is lost on the vast majority of Americans who buy into the idea that if you do not honor a person’s identity… in exactly the way they wish, you want them to suffer.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Christopher Columbus, and the fact that other groups (including some addled and masochistic Italians) were trying to rewrite history and in doing so attack Italians. I have been told that my support of Columbus and my anger at those who are vilifying him as a genocidal maniac is just my own form of identity obsession.
But here’s the difference: I do not embrace Columbus because of his DNA, and I am not angry at the critiques of him as a woman of Italian descent. I am angry that people who are so concerned with the feelings of others to the point that they will take a perfectly good word like “Latino” and twist it into something else to soothe the feelings of mostly white progressives– nevermind the hypocrisy in trashing someone else’s “identity” by mangling their language.
So perhaps we should just shelve all of this talk about being the first transgender this or the first Black that or the first female this or the first Muslim that or the first disabled this or the first male that (chest-feeding parent) and simply celebrate the things that connects us.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61