Sweet Loretta Martin thought she was a woman
But she was another man
All the girls around her say she’s got it coming
But she gets it while she can
News of Hugh Hefner’s death last week struck me even harder than the 1975 breakup of Sonny and Cher. One falls into thinking that some things won’t change, and events like these produce a vertiginous queasiness, where all that is solid melts into thin air.
I used to read Playboy magazine back in the mid ’60s to early ’70s, like a lot of people. It’s now fashionable to blame Hefner for all the moral rot the virtuecrat sees in society, but we were less censorious back then. As for the magazine, Jonathan Swift had an answer for the modern-day critic. “This I know, all people bought ’em.” Besides, compared to today, Playboy had a healthy clarity about sexual matters. A teenage boy leafing through Playboy got a pretty good idea of what the girl next door looked like when she undressed and, by checking himself out, saw immediately that he was not one of her gender, and somehow understood that he never would be.
Vive la différence! was an expression of joy at the diversity of God’s creation. That la différence was a condition of human reproduction might, for many, have been sufficient proof for the existence of God. Would that we knew such clarity and joy today.
In the old days, parents had to wait until the delivery to find out whether their child was a boy or a girl. Nowadays, nobody can be quite sure, for the child gets to decide that for himself whenever he’s ready.
That’s the story of Zephyrus (née Sylvia) Todd, as approvingly told by the Washington Post. Sylvia loved science, and became famous for an invention of hers. President Obama invited her to the White House, and the United Nations invited her to Geneva. An elite private girls school invited her to Australia. Katie Couric invited her on her show. After all, a scientifically minded girl who excelled in mechanics was just the role model the world was looking for.
But then things began to change. First, Sylvia painted her pink bedroom blue and covered one of the walls with Post-it notes that told her, “It’s ok to cry. You are loved.” Then she told her parents that she was a boy. To which her father laconically replied, “In the palette of human experience, about the best thing we can do is apply labels that almost match.” Finally, together with mom and dad, the 16-year-old Sylvia decided that henceforth she’d be a boy named Zephyrus.
Even as a boy, Sylvia continued to defy gender stereotypes. She now preferred art to science and hated gym. And in school, Zephyrus acquired a “boyfriend” who was also a “trans boy.” Still, the road to true identity never runs smooth, and there were “anxious deliberations about locker rooms, and hassles with swimsuits and chest binders.”
Chest binders? Call me old fashioned, but if I absolutely had to choose, I’d prefer that my teenage daughter asked for silicone breast implants over chest binders. Surely, it would be more natural for a girl to want to look like a Playboy centerfold than the acne-covered teenage boy looking at it.
Contrary to the prevailing view, I don’t think that Hugh Hefner sexualized women. Mother nature did that all by herself. Even before the magazine came on the scene, teenage girls were stuffing Kleenex into their bras, trying to look sexy for the boys. Women were already sexual, and Playboy told them that this was OK. It also told teenage boys that it was OK — and in fact natural — to desire girls.
The Beatles released their song “Get Back” as a single in 1969, and it became a number one hit in fourteen countries.
“Get back to where you once belonged,” it advised sweet Loretta Martin, the man who thought she was a woman. That was then. Pity poor Sylvia Todd, whose parents betrayed her by not telling her that. Pity a brave new world where there are more genders than one can count, and where children no longer know which they are.
In many ways, Hefner’s life was incredibly conventional. While lauding the bachelor lifestyle, he nevertheless married three times and fathered four children who, despite their proximity to the Playboy Mansion with all its celebrities and bunnies, seem bright, happy, and successful. And unlike poor Sylvia/Zephyrus Todd, they are by all indications normal.