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Want Proof That We Live in Strange Times?

“It just saddens me to see so many of our strong butch women giving up their womanhood to be a man.” Now there’s a statement your grandmother probably wouldn’t understand.

It was spoken by a character on “The L Word,” a lesbian soap opera on television. It was cited in Sunday’s edition of The New York Times as evidence of a new controversy that is reshaping lesbian and feminist thought — are women who undergo sex change operations to become men going over to the enemy?

The statement above was the response of one character to the announcement that Moira, another character, was planning to become “Max.”

As the paper reports:

The sentiment was a tamer version of what many other women wrote on lesbian blogs and Web sites in the weeks after the episode was broadcast last spring. Many called for the Max character to be killed off next season. One suggested dispatching him “by testosterone overdose.”

The reaction to the fictional character captured the bitter tension that can exist over gender reassignment. Among lesbians — the group from which most transgendered men emerge — the increasing number of women who are choosing to pursue life as a man can provoke a deep resentment and almost existential anxiety, raising questions of gender loyalty and political identity, as well as debates about who is and who isn’t, and who never was, a real woman.

The conflict has raged at some women’s colleges and has been explored in academic articles, in magazines for lesbians and in alternative publications, with some — oversimplifying the issue for effect — headlined with the question, “Is Lesbianism Dead?”

It has been a subtext of gay politics in San Francisco, the only city in the country that covers employees’ sex-change medical expenses. And it bubbles to the surface every summer at the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, a lesbian gathering to which only “women born as women and living as women” are invited — a ban on transgendered people of either sex.

The article is rather explicit, but it is also very important. Oddly, it was published by the paper in its “Fashion and Style” section. In all my years of reading The New York Times, I cannot remember any single article that included more convoluted moral quandaries — moral questions that did not even exist just a few years ago, but now reveal the emerging worldview of the age. When lesbians have to stipulate that attendees at a music festival must be “women born as women and living as women,” we have entered a whole new epoch in the annals of human confusion.