The Weekly Dish
The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan
Amy Chua On Immigrant Success

Amy Chua On Immigrant Success

The Yale law professor and daughter of Chinese immigrants has always cut against the grain.

Amy, who you probably know as the Tiger Mom, is a law professor at Yale and the author of several books, including The Triple Package and Political Tribes. In this episode we discuss the experience of being an immigrant, of being a minority within a minority, and the importance of, in Amy’s words, “turning being an outsider into a source of strength,” not victimhood.

You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player embedded above, or right below it you can click “Listen in podcast app” — which will connect you to the Dishcast feed. For three clips of my conversation with Amy — on how college kids these days are terrified of debate; on how to be resilient in the face of bigotry; and on the courage of the individual in the face of woke conformity — head over to our YouTube page.

Looking back to our Pride pod last week, a reader remarks:

What a fun and hilarious episode with Katie and Jamie! It’s also nice to hear you a bit cheerier and self-deprecating, part of what makes absorbing your thinking so much fun. Finally, I’d be concerned if the episode hadn’t included some Sullivanesque “get off my gay-man lawn!” comments ;)

Another reader also found the episode “fantastic”:

Thank you many times over for reminding us (I came out in 1975) that there are people not in tune with the au courant aspects of the alphabet movement — especially its anti-Semitism and anti-police sentiments. I have friends who are big contributors to the Human Rights Campaign who are clueless, almost recalcitrantly so, about many of the specifics pushed by HRC and the overall movement. And these people are in the Federal Club — or whatever the big donors of HRC are — at the highest levels for over 25 years.

By the way, in a Twitter thread I saw that the NYTimes effort to “re-center” Stonewall as black trans-initiated is being called “The 1969 Project”.

This next reader sends a moving letter that begins, “Dear Andrew,”

I’m a 26-year-old gay man living in San Diego and I’m writing to say Thank You. At the 1:15:00 mark of the podcast, you say “my generation went through an incredible trauma and fought through a ... critical period of civil rights. Two generations below us have no idea we did anything at all except that we’re old transphobes. We did all of it so people could live gay lives which are not political … ”

Well today, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m getting ready to drive up to Portland, Oregon for what I hope will be an exciting summer romance with a wonderful guy. Nothing political about it. No shame about the fact that we’re two men — just my latest adventure. And I can’t imagine having gotten here without your writing.

At 15, I realized I was gay. It took a while. No one in my family ever even mentioned “gay”, with the exception of Uncle Mike, a grizzled ex-Marine who read books like Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good Catholics? Then, one day watching beautiful Cameron Monaghan in the Showtime series “Shameless”, it sort of hit me all at once:

He’s hot. I’m gay. Fuck. 

It was terrifying. I remember brooding in my room, trying to make sense of it. What does it mean to be gay? Where do I fit? I’m supposed to grow up, get a good job, meet a nice girl, and maybe become a CYO [Catholic Youth Organization] basketball coach. All of that suddenly evaporated, and I felt totally lost.

I didn’t start to find myself again until I read “What Is a Homosexual?” in junior year English class. (Not so long ago, kids were reading you — not critical theory — in the Norton Anthology.) And as I read you calmly, honestly describe the feelings of growing up gay, I suddenly began to feel human again. I wasn’t a freak. There were others out there. 

What followed was a two-year journey of coming out that started with that English teacher, progressed to a few close friends, and gradually encompassed my entire family. Most people didn’t care. Some people loved it. Uncle Mike and his whole family hated it. But I got through it. And I have a beautiful life. 

Your writing was indispensable at each step of that journey. It helped me understand who I was and what I was going through. It introduced me to the politics of homosexuality and, more generally, to your brand of small-c conservatism. It helped me to grasp the fundamentalist psyche of Uncle Mike, and later to question the gender theory of my college’s LGBTQIA++~$% :) student organization.  

Beyond me, your voice so convinced our country of the humanity of gay people that by June of 2015 we had marriage equality. And here I am, packing up, getting ready to go see a guy I could maybe someday marry (— not to get ahead of myself!)

From reading and listening to you, l know that you’ve been through some of the bitterest suffering imaginable. You watched so many friends you loved die a horrible death, made ever more terrible by the contempt heaped on you by the Uncle Mikes of America. But through it all, you persevered. And you kept telling the truth about who you were — who we are. 

I can’t find words to express how profoundly grateful I am for that. But I wanted to tell you that there’s at least one Millennial-Gen-Z cusp gay guy out there who doesn’t think you’re an awful old transphobe. 

Finally, I want you to know that I’m listening. I’ve been listening since I was 15, and I’ll keep on doing it as long as you have something to say or a story to tell.

Another reader contemplates a strong undercurrent of the Great Awokening:

I feel like you keep dancing around a fundamental truth which you never quite grasp, particularly when you observe that there is “something very sexless about the trans movement.” The movement makes a lot more sense when you get past the idea that it is about gender dysphoria and realize that it’s the beginning of a much larger cultural movement in which humanity is rebelling against the tyranny of sex.

As you’re so fond of noting, the trans movement pushes ideas that are in defiance of nature. Yes, they are, and that’s the whole point. As your former colleague Camille Paglia wrote about in great detail, the entire story of all human art and civilization is about defying and overcoming nature. And as Paglia would be the first to note, the most powerful and most cruel way that nature enslaves us is by our sexuality.

For most of human history we had no chance against sex. Birth control was an early small victory and it revolutionized society. Now technology is advancing to a point where we can imagine a world where individuals can choose not to be sexual creatures. Today’s trans child is not gender dysphoric in the traditional sense. The trans child is a human who sees what puberty is and puberty does and says “I don’t want that.” I don’t want my brain to be hijacked by chemicals that fill me with a compelling urge to penetrate. I don’t want to grow a body that makes me an object of other people’s lustful desire. If what it means to be “male” or “female” is all this bundle of dysfunctional societal expectations, then I reject that label.

Today the technology is only just barely there — far short of what its proponents claim for it, much less the brave new world where every person can choose any sex or no sex at will. But imagine that world. Imagine a miraculous advance of technology so that every human being can choose to be male or female, both or neither, and change their decision at any time with no adverse consequence. Wouldn’t that be a victory for human freedom? The error of the trans movement writ large is not its aspiration, but simply that we aren’t there yet. The unhappy detransitioners that you and Katie Herzog highlight are casualties of the struggle in the same sense as were the men who crashed and burned in early failed attempts to create flying machines.

Now I know what you’re thinking: But I like sex! Puberty was awesome! Sex is one of life’s great joys, so why would you want to deny it? I get it. I’m actually on your side: I too think sex is one of life’s great joys. But a hundred years ago there were people who would say the same thing about such evolution-preferred human activities as hunting and killing animals or fighting in battle. Today many of us think of those as gross unpleasantries we thankfully no longer have to do. Is it so hard to imagine that tomorrow a new generation will feel that way about sex?

I can simply say I love being part of nature; and I accept its limits, and rejoice in them. That may be my Catholicism speaking. Or it may be my lived experience that sex is integral to being human, and being human is not about transcending our humanity but living with it. I suppose if people want to try and leave nature behind, they can try. But evolution is a powerful force, and nature tends to have the last word. (Along those lines, don’t miss Kate Julian’s big piece for The Atlantic on the “sex recession” of today’s young people. And she wrote that piece before the pandemic, so those trends almost certainly deepened during lockdown.)

Speaking of Gen Z, a frustrated father writes, “This is mostly a response to the episode with Jonathan Rauch, but it touches on some other episodes and essays on the trans question”:

About this time last year, my 14-year-old daughter came out to me as trans. I was in small state of shock and still am. I responded positively, with support, but also a lot of questions. I support transgender rights, without question. But I have spent a long year trying to understand, what rights do I actually support? What does it mean to be non-binary, FTM, a boy in a girl’s head?

There is so much to this, I can’t really figure out where to start. I can start with the fact that I, as a teen going through early puberty, clearly remember having what today has a name: gender dysphoria. I badly wanted to be a female, and I’ll not go into those awkward teen memories of trying to figure out who gets to have a penis, or breasts, or why. I am not ashamed of those memories, but they are irrelevant. I aged some, found my way through those questions, and in middle age, I AM MOST DEFINITELY A MALE. 

But going back to my daughter, she got into a peer group, and that peer group is obsessed with LBGTQFU activism. And somehow without anyone noticing, she became a little militant about it. We can’t actually talk about what it means, because she goes into a faux state of trauma. Keep in mind that I am in the Deep South, and if this bonkers stuff is in grade schools here, I can only imagine how pervasive it is.

And here’s the thing: my daughter is not trans. If she had a single element of her psyche that was masculine in nature, I would believe her. She is a 14-year-old beautiful and quite feminine child who is simply in the throes of the trans activist bullshit and the belief that being who she is means not being who she is. 

Before I carry the conversation back to Rauch, I have to add one more bit of context to reach my point. We have recently added a new swimming pool, and I have offered to my daughter that she should have friends over to swim. Her responses are rather bizarre and contradictory. We live in an old house that has been undergoing restoration for quite a while, and she says that she doesn’t want people to know where she lives because the outside looks trashy. But in the same breath, she says she also doesn’t want people to come over because if they see the inside of the house they will she know she is from a wealthy family. Money quote: “I want to be liked for who I am.” As she perpetuates fraud on everyone that she encounters as to who she really is! I don’t even know what it means other than to call it a deep-seated intent to live in a land of deceit and lies.

I think the conversation with Rauch has put this all into a context that had been hidden from me: my teenager is acting out the information warfare the two of you discussed, at a micro level.

For the record, I seriously believe there are real trans children in need of care and love. I believe there are likely biological markers for those people. I wish science would catch up and help the debate already.

I also think it is a horrible idea to be giving any child under the age of majority hormone treatments, which permanently alter them. This pisses off my daughter, but my belief is that she is going to figure it out when the right time comes and screwing up her anatomy would be her problem, not mine, if it ever were to come to that. Right now, though, it is clear to me that our culture has a wave of young children who are attempting to perpetuate fraud for the sake of fraud.

I believe these stories of “social contagion” in many cases of people who say they’re trans suddenly in their teenage years, with no previous signs. I really don’t know how else to account for the stratospheric rise in the number of girls seeking to transition, compared with boys. I can’t see how denying this, as the trans movement does, and suppressing it, as the US MSM does, will help actual trans people.

Lastly, a very-longtime reader shares a story from the old days:

I’ve been meaning to write you to tell you this story for years, 20 years now, and never did. Sorry about that. I started typing this email about a week ago before listening to your podcast with Dougherty where, of all things, the topics of Midge Decter and a National Review cruise came up. Wasn’t on my Dishcast bingo card. God works in mysterious ways, obviously!

When I was a teenager, my parents took me on a National Review cruise. It was one of WFB’s last. I was of course the only person under like 60 years old in the National Review entourage, so I was a bit of a novelty\celebrity on the cruise. This was November 2000 I think, or around then.

You came up during a panel that Jay Nordlinger was moderating. The panel was on gay marriage and I don’t remember who all was on it, but the story mainly concerns Midge Decter. I had talked with Jay the night before, at dinner. We still keep in touch. He’s been the nicest guy to me. Anyway, he asked for my take as the only young conservative person in earshot of what he should ask at this gay marriage panel. How does a young conservative think about the issue, he asked. I said — Andrew Sullivan’s Case for Gay Marriage! Ask about that!

I was slightly anti-marriage before reading it (I think I was basically for popular sovereignty on the question), but your article completely persuaded me. And I was pretty darn conservative, so why didn’t it persuade others? What’s the counter-argument if there is one? Ask Midge that, I told Jay.

So, he did ask Midge about it. Her answer: Andrew is dying of AIDS and has a silly Catholic hangup with wanting to be married to his long-term partner before he dies, or he thinks he’ll go to hell. His article shouldn’t be taken seriously because he’s not making a public policy argument; he just wants to be able to get married himself.

To his credit, Jay’s response was essentially: “well, wait a second Midge, isn’t that the most ad hominem of ad hominem responses ever?! If that’s the best counter, maybe gay marriage really is a good conservative thing!” He put it more gently than that, of course, but he got the point across. She didn’t budge and never responded to any of your substantive points. It was all about your motivation as a conservative gay person with AIDS and she really made no sense at all. 

I tell this story to give you some hope, because even in 2000, when this happened, most of the NR cruisers and authors agreed with me, and with Jay, that she was totally out of line. Even people who didn’t like gay marriage — which was a minority position even on that NR cruise — acknowledged it wasn’t a very helpful defense of their case for her to make such a nakedly ad hominem attack. 

By the way, WFB made something of a joke out of the thing, saying that he thought you made a convincing case and we should let you and the other 7 or 8 gays who actually want to get married get married and be done with it.

Hilarious from Buckley. I suspect that many of the young LGBTQ+ activists who regard me as an evil reactionary, are unaware I was once the only openly gay journalist in Washington and one of the first HIV-positive men to come out publicly, even though it risked my deportation — and the kind of nasty, AIDS-related attacks penned by Midge Decter. So I’m deeply touched by those who remember and those whom I may have helped through my writing to be less afraid, and more powerful.

The Weekly Dish
The Dishcast with Andrew Sullivan
Unafraid conversations about anything