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'Trans Kids' and the Return of the Castrati
The new reason for sterilizing boys is just as stupid as the old one
As the saying goes: There’s nothing new under the sun. While sterilizing children because their body does not align with their inner gender ghost seems to be a uniquely modern insanity, this is not the first time humans have purposely sought to derail the physical development and maturation of children, particularly little boys. A macabre parallel can be found in the castrati of 16th to 18th century Europe.
The castrati were singers who were castrated (hence the name) before puberty to preserve their unbroken voice. They sang in church choirs and in the opera, with some achieving great fame. Many people today would likely look back on this trend with horror and call it abusive. But many of those same people would turn right around and chant “Support trans kids!” The development and history of the castrati speak to the same dark inclination to put other values—whether politics, religion, art, or music—over the current and future lives of children.
It is interesting to note that castration was actually forbidden by the Church, but an exception seemed to have been made for the purposes of ecclesiastical music. You see, women were traditionally excluded from choirs because of St. Paul’s exhortation that they be silent in the churches. In 1588, Pope Sixtus V banned women from singing on any kind of stage. So, the solution was to use boys. Unfortunately, boys’ voices lacked the desired power. And, of course, they would grow up and their voices would change. It was costly for the Church to musically educate a steady supply of young boys.
It is perhaps for a combination of these reasons that, in 1599 under Pope Clement VIII, two young castrati named Pietro Folignato and Girolamo Rossini were the first to begin singing in the Sistine Chapel Choir.
Production of Castrati took place mostly in Italy, with the epicenters of the practice being Lecce, Bologna, and Norcia. The surgeons would often be called away to other European capitals as well. Because the procedure was technically outlawed, few descriptions remain. Typically, it was done by severing the spermatic cords, which led the testes to atrophy. It was most commonly performed between the ages of 6 and 9.
During puberty, a male’s vocal cords grow by about 65%. However, the castrati operation prevented the normal activity of testosterone, which meant that the vocal cords did not grow and thicken as they normally would. At the same time, growth hormones and other influences of the Y chromosome will still cause the larynx, pharynx, oral cavity, and thoracic cavity of such a boy to grow. Due to this enlarged upper respiratory system, an adult castrato had a lot more vocal power.
Physically, the castrati retained an infantile penis and were said to grow up with smooth and hairless skin, though with thick heads of hair. Contemporary commentators also often described them as being uncommonly tall. This was likely due to the delayed closure of growth plates which would occur during a normal puberty. They were said to have a more feminine fat distribution, sometimes with wider hips and gynecomastia. The castrati also had wider rib cages, which left even more space for lung development.
Most boys who went through the operation came from poor backgrounds as their families hoped that it would offer them prospects for an artistic career. They were then sent to conservatories for intensive voice training that could last as long as a decade. When the training was done, a young boy’s first appearance would be arranged by his mentor.
Unfortunately, castration alone did not guarantee great singers in the absence of natural musical and vocal talent. Very few of these boys would actually go on to achieve fame and glory in the opera houses. Far more went into church choirs and others, whose voices had failed, often went into the priesthood as they were forbidden to marry. However, many parents were willing to take the chance, especially as the popularity of castrati exploded after the first public opera was opened in Venice in 1637.
The small number that did become opera stars were like modern-day rock stars. They toured all over Europe and had many adoring fans. But it was not without sacrifice. Consider this excerpt from a castrato named Filippo Balatri, who was born in Pisa in 1682 [emphasis mine]:
My voice was found to be of the finest texture, with a natural and well-performed trill, great agility in roulades and a natural taste in singing… For this reason my father’s friends started recommending: “Cut, Cut” (and the Maestro added his voice to theirs). After all these cries of “Cut, cut”, my father finally agreed. I was sent to Accoramboni, a surgeon in Lucca, to spend two months in his home, where I would enjoy much delightful conversation. This period of conversation was so bewitching that, instead of earning the title of doctor (which I could have done at any time), I received a patent to present myself as one of the frigidis et malificiatis for the rest of my life. And now I will never hear that sweet word ‘father’, which I might one day have heard.
The peak of the popularity of castrati went hand in hand with the peak popularity of opera around the end of the 18th century. By this time, up to 4000 boys a year were undergoing the operation.
The Vatican itself continued employing castrati in the Sistine Chapel until the early 1900s when Pope Pius X issued a ban on castrated singers and declared that the parts of sopranos and contraltos must be taken by boys. The last castrati to sing in the Sistine Chapel, Alessandro Moreschi, retired in 1913.
Good riddance to a strange practice that made boys sexually dysfunctional and infertile as adults all to preserve a singing voice that was in fashion for a specific period of time.
Or maybe not?
Less than 100 years later, the practice made a comeback, only this time it was under the guise of “caring” and “compassionate” gender-affirming care.
Suddenly, a new generation of young boys is seen as too effeminate or simply not properly masculine enough to actually be young boys. This means that they are really girls, which in turn means that they can’t be allowed to go through male puberty.
Today, we’re not barbaric enough to cut the spermatic cords, at least not right away (we’ll just cut everything off in the teen years when a boy who has been “affirmed” for years is still really, really sure he wants to be a girl). Now, we just use puberty blockers, with their host of ugly side effects, to halt a boy’s development. And, after a few years, virtually every single boy on these drugs progresses to female hormones to really make sure that he can never mature sexually.
To me, there is something even more nefarious about this modern castrati cult. While 17th- and 18th-century parents were at least able to say they were trying to give their sons a chance at economic opportunities and a comfortable life that would have otherwise been inaccessible, there is no such excuse today. Worst of all, today’s cult implicitly places the blame at the feet of the boys themselves, since parents, teachers, and clinicians can say they are just following their lead and helping them become the girl they insist they are.
Like the castrati of centuries past, some do get lucky enough to continue on to fame and fortune, winning many fans through their various endeavors. Consider, for example, Jazz Jennings, Kim Petras, and Nikkie de Jager (better known as Nikkie Tutorials). But are they really lucky? From what has been televised of Jennings' life, there doesn’t seem to be a way to justify the high cost.
Then there are those who go on to become smaller-time influencers or who are currently enjoying the cultural moment to wield power in politics, in the workplace, or simply in their communities.
But for most of these boys and, eventually, for all of them, it becomes a question of “now what?” What would have been their path in life was derailed at an early age. The typical prospects of relationships and family open to others will be much harder for them to come by.
The time of the castrati could at least provide a life in the Church as an option. Today, it seems that we are crueler. Even those who say they don’t yet regret their transition often feel abandoned by health professionals as surgeries go wrong or as other health issues arise. Those who do regret their transition are shunned from the community that love-bombed them in the beginning.
Ask woke progressives if they agree with what happened to the castrati and most will likely say no. Compare it with what’s happening to “trans kids” today and I imagine they would mumble something about the latter being bad because the Church started it but that today we know which kids should actually be castrated.
I say “most” because while researching this topic, I noticed a concerning trend where the castrati are held up as examples of a “third” gender, of gender fluidity, or as a historical example of “trans” people. Even one of the papers I used, which was otherwise very helpful and informative, contained a whole section at the bottom that went right off the deep end with babble about gender and how the castrati weren’t really men because they could not fulfill the procreative role.
This is exactly where we go off the rails when it comes to “trans kids” as well. Just because the castrati were prevented from maturing did not make them some other sex or any more female than male. Likewise, just because a young boy displays gender non-conforming behavior doesn’t make him any less a young boy. And no matter what procedures he is put through on behalf of this evil ideology, he will always be male.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and we can already guess what judgments history will make of this newest excuse for castrating boys.
Castrati singers: surgery for religion and art. Italian Journal of Anatomy and Embryology.
The lost voice: a history of the castrato. Journal of Pediatric Endocrinology and Metabolism.
Castrati Singers—All for Fame. The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
The Voice of the Castrato. Lancet.
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