Doctor, my eyes: Rachel Levine goes to Harrisburg, and I go to Barfsburg

That’s Rachel Levine to you. It was Richard Levine to me, back before dude decided to look like a lady, although that’s putting it generously. This ain’t no eye exam with Dr. Assad. Them peepers gonna hurt after you behold this androgynous wonder:

Levine said her decision to transition was “life changing.”

“I’ve been addressing that issue all my life,” Levine said. “You don’t suddenly decide at 50-something that you’re transgender. Over the last 10 years, I’ve been investigating that and exploring that.”

I can relate. One of my most life-changing transitions was from a non-patient of Richard Levine’s to a patient of Richard Levine’s; more on this shortly. Kakistocracy is inevitably having a field day with this donnybrook. It’s a rude, rather vicious outlet, but in this case its assessment is none too harsh. I came across another blog, of the feral antisemitic persuasion (i.e., a bridge too far to link), foaming about how all of this has something to do with Levine’s being a “tranny Jew.” This is an odd proposition for anyone who has spent time around Jews. Dude, lady, or whatever Middlesex is is not a shanda fur die goyim; homeskillet is simply a shanda. One can stipulate that Jews can be awfully weird and still accept that Levine is completely sui generis.

Within months of Richard Levine’s entry into adolescent medicine practice at Penn State-Hershey in 1996, he gave me a full physical exam. I was about fourteen, and I immediately knew that he was too goddamn weird to be looking at my junk. He had two or three residents or medical students shadowing him, all of them perfectly professional in their demeanor, which I realize in retrospect was no mean feat for young men under the tutelage of such a strange bird. The exam per se wasn’t inappropriate, let alone criminal, but Levine had the weirdest, most inappropriate bedside manner I can recall ever enduring from any clinician. All the intangibles that cannot be taught or legislated he managed to completely fuck up. It was a brief nightmare, but it was a nightmare nonetheless. Levine somehow had a good enough reputation among his colleagues in the area that my dad was referred to him by a nephrologist after my previous pediatrician told me that she’d leave me to my own wits on genital problems now that I was a big boy. Those weren’t her words, but that was her maturity level as a clinician. After Levine’s physical, however, I promptly told my dad that he had been a total creep and that I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing him again (or, more accurately, of him seeing me).

That was all she, or he, wrote about my involvement with Levine. My parents found me another adolescent medicine specialist who was socially normal, and I heard and thought mercifully little of him until word got around Hershey that he was now a she, or trying to become a she. I was at once floored and vindicated. Levine had been so bizarre and inappropriate in his bedside manner with me, at once unctuous, klutzy, and timid, that his having a midlife crisis and deciding that he was a woman seemed perfectly in character. If I had had to name an physician or nurse from my life that I expected to do such a thing, it would have been Levine. Even today, I can’t adequately articulate what was wrong with him. It’s like Potter Stewart and obscenity. Richard Levine performing genital exams on teenagers or–this is unfortunately his specialty–counseling anorexic girls about their psychological and self-esteem problems is as close to obscenity as one can get without criminal charges.

That’s how bad Levine was before his gender identity crisis. He examined me fifteen or so years ago; by his own reckoning in the PennLive interview, it was about ten years ago that he started questioning, or, as he put it, “investigating and exploring,” his womanliness. This is, after all, not something that one suddenly does in one’s fifties; it’s something that one suddenly does in one’s forties. Richard Levine’s conversion to Rachel Levine is like Henry Hyde’s “youthful indiscretion” in having an extramarital affair at the age of 41, aside from the matter of adultery being maybe a bit trashy and ill-considered, not totally wacked out.

These are the mealymouthed, incoherent comments that the adolescent medicine specialist formerly known as Richard Levine (you see, Prince isn’t that androgynous) has made on the record as she prepares to explain to the Pennsylvania State Senate why she should be confirmed as Physician General. Right off the bat, the process is a farce. If the nominee is that bad, there’s no way the nomination and confirmation process can be good. Outside of greater Philadelphia, the City of Pittsburgh proper, and a few anomalous college towns and the like, Pennsylvania is a fairly conservative state. Levine’s nomination is bound to make a lot of Pennsylvanians, many of them far from wingnuts by local standards, shit a brick. The things that were wrong with his bedside manner back in manlier times come through well enough in her professional portrait in our current era of feminization, if not femininity. Levine is just the person to fail a split-second gut check about, my God, do we really want to allow this freak to assume a statewide office overseeing medical policy? Appointing such a deranged wreck to statewide office is not something that plays well in Peoria. It plays even worse in Shartlesville. (Contrary to popular belief in other states, Shartlesville is not the designated place to shit one’s shorts, although thankfully it’s at some distance from Intercourse and Paradise. I’ve been to all of these places, as he-cum-she said.) The comment thread on the PennLive profile already includes “beaver with a lever,” so we can be fairly confident that the confirmation hearing will be a nasty food fight.

But why shouldn’t it be? The governor should have had better judgment than to appoint someone so bizarre to a state post. The right wing expected little good of Tom Wolf, but even on the nastiest fringes, few could have expected him to appoint to high office a wacky-looking transsexual who makes navelgazing comments to the effect of having found herself in her forties. It’s a bolt out of the blue.

Being quite familiar with Penn State-Hershey, I can also say that it’s even worse than it looks. I’m on a cordial first-name basis with a number of physicians, nurses, and social workers who were contemporaries of Levine’s at Hershey. These include some exceptionally intelligent, savvy, thoughtful, well put-together, well-adjusted individuals. These are natural leaders, people who I have no doubt are mentally and morally fit to hold positions of public trust. At least one of them used to regularly liaise with then-State Senate President Robert Jubelirer. At the institutional level Hershey is pretty dysfunctional, but it has no shortage of excellent candidates for important statewide medical offices. It’s an institution that is less than the sum of its parts.

There are some surprisingly good people on staff at Hershey, but they aren’t all above average. Rachel Levine is a fucking clown. She’s about as low as one can get in the entire organization. There may be four or five other people on the hospital side of the campus whose reputations I’ve heard to be worse; these others include one doc who was caught looking at child pornography on his work computer as part of an unauthorized “research” project and another who was disciplined by the state medical board for entering into a sexual relationship with a current patient. Levine is a pearl-necklaced heap of the hospital’s dregs.

Tom Wolf is an old political hand from York, so he has to have an ear to the ground about these things. The most plausible explanation for his dredging up Rachel Levine for this “public service” is that he took a swan dive straight to the bottom of the swamp. By some accounts, the Physician General’s office was instituted by Tom Ridge as an embarrassing sinecure for political cronies, so Levine’s capacity to degrade the office is questionable. Her capacity to degrade the Commonwealth’s politics, however, just like his historic capacity to be a creep in the examination room, is not in doubt.

Anyone who ever worked for a living in Pennsylvania has cause to resent the process that coughed up Rachel Levine for statewide appointed office. This has to be put in no uncertain terms; if I don’t say it, the “beaver with a lever” crowd will, and I don’t like ceding the entire discourse to subnormal dipshits. To frame the attack in crude personal terms, I lived in Pennsylvania for over fifteen years, have been on payroll in Pennsylvania in seven calendar years, voted regularly in Pennsylvania elections from 2000 to 2008, and since college my professional status has fallen into something verging on the roustabout underclass. Now I learn that my reward for giving a damn about Pennsylvania and contributing to its tax base and electorate all those years–most recently this calendar year–is to see the incoming governor appoint to statewide office a shambling freak who I personally know to be one of the most unfit clinicians at her institution.

There’s no denying that this is a crisis of governmental legitimacy. It’s not even that the electorate got tricked or ginned up to do something stupid, like Californians do on ballot measures from time to time. There is no way in hell that Tom Wolf’s mandate includes something as outlandish as this. I know Pennsylvania. It is not a state whose voters would knowingly give their blessing to Rachel Levine’s appointment if they knew how much he would have given them or their kids the willies back when he was still a man. This is a stupid fight for Wolf to pick. Levine’s appointment doesn’t have the moral urgency needed to justify overriding the majoritarian wishes of the electorate, unlike, say, Bob Casey’s refusal to sign death warrants. Casey pissed a lot of people off with his steadfast opposition to the death penalty, but he did it out of principle and for the moral and constitutional edification of his state. He was, in that regard at least, a true statesman. If Wolf stands his ground on the Levine appointment against an enraged senate, he’ll merely be having a pissing match over the political appointment of a nutty, unqualified freak who should never have practiced medicine in the first place.

And you thought PennDOT was bad.

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