Anthony Esolen and the transgender bull

By Jonathon Van Maren

I’ve said often that Dr. Anthony Esolen is one of the greatest writers of our time, especially on the culture wars that plague us. His 2017 book Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture was easily the best book on that subject in years, and it is simply true that Esolen writes with the eloquence of another age, weaving classical and literary allusions into his writing that would have distinguished him as a man of letters even during a time when people knew what such things were. He often posts paragraphs to social media that should really be published as articles—including the little story below, which exposes the ridiculousness of the transgender premises beautifully:

The boy wipes his forehead and takes a chair at the breakfast table. “‘Morning, Dad,” he says, while he heaps up his plate with pancakes. “Elsie calved last night.”

“Is she all right?”

“She seems so.” The boy is fairly gulping down hunks of pancake and syrup, speared on his fork.

“Did you assign the calf a sex yet?”

The boy’s face clouds for a moment. “I was waiting to talk to you about that first.”

Dad considers. “Well, we assigned the last three calves to be cows, and it seems we need another bull now, to keep things even. It’s only fair, you know.”

“Dad,” says the boy, putting down his fork and looking across the table, while his parent takes a seat and sprinkles salt and pepper over a small plate of scrambled eggs and spinach, “why do we keep cattle? I mean,” he says, exhaling audibly, “I mean, I don’t know what I mean.”

“Son, that’s easy. We keep cattle because we run a dairy farm, and we sell beef.”

“Yes,” says the boy. “And cows give milk.”

“That’s right.”

“And we keep a bull or two for stud, and the others we sell.”


“But we have six cows right now that will never give milk.”

“Son, do you have a crystal ball or something? Do you know the future?”

“No,” says the boy, “but a cow, I mean a bovine animal, needs an udder, and the — the equipment.”

“Back to your old biological essentialism,” says Dad, with a little bit of a scowl, and pursed lips. “How many times have I told you that that has been disproved. Science,” says Dad, and the boy interrupts.

“But I have eyes, Dad!”

“Oh now look, you’ve gotten syrup on the table. Such a mess,” says Dad, reaching for a napkin and wiping the table with more energy than is needed.

“Dad,” says the boy, after an uncomfortable silence, “we now have four pens,” which he enumerates on the fingers of one hand. “We have a pen for the cows that have udders, a pen for the cows that don’t have udders, a pen for the bulls that have, you know, and a pen for the bulls that don’t. Last year we tried to mate a bull that doesn’t with a cow that doesn’t, and the cow ended up mounting the bull.”

“I really fail to see,” says Dad, tossing a strand of hair over the forehead, “what the problem is.”
“We also tried to mate a cow with an udder and a bull with an udder. All they did was sniff one another and eat grass.”

Dad grows visibly upset. “You are questioning ME! How many years I’ve worked that farm when you were too little to understand — to understand these things, and now you are questioning me!”

“Don’t cry, Dad,” says the boy. “I’ll do what you say. I’ll assign it — what did you say? — I’ll say it’s a bull calf.”

“You’ll SAY? You’ll SAY?”

“It’s a bull calf.”

“All right then.”
The boy gets up from the table and takes his plate over to the sink, where he scrapes a half of a pancake into the garbage.

“When you’re done at the barn,” says Dad, “I want you to ride your bike down to Aunt Jenny’s and take her these vitamin supplements. Her prostate is acting up again.”

“Okay, Dad.”

“You’re a good boy,” says Dad, giving the boy a loud smooch on the forehead. “By the way, I saw a very nice tutu at the sporting goods store yesterday. I think it has Somebody’s name on it.”

“But Dad,” says the boy, “shortstops don’t,” and Dad interrupts.

“Don’t tell me about shortstops,” says Dad. “I was quite the player in my time! Now go and finish your chores, and don’t forget Aunt Jenny.”

“Okay, Dad.” 

“Oh, and take these Maxipads to Uncle Bob.”


“And don’t forget to curry the cat!”

The boy leaves the house, letting the screen door bang behind him….


For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.

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