A few unanswered questions about the transgender rights movement...
The thing that strikes me most about the transgender rights movement is how its rallying mantra is the exact opposite of the gay rights movement. While the LGBT movement strived to show the masses that being who you are is something you should never be ashamed of (unless, of course, you don’t share the same views they do, at that point, you are an unabashed hatemonger), the trans-rights movement is trying to convince the public that it’s totally cool to be something other than what you actually are.
If you were born with a pair of gonads and port about the SRY protein and you want to say you’re a woman, than by golly, saying precisely that is all you need to do to make it so nowadays. Of course, making that long internalized “true” self is almost always accompanied by tons of hormonal therapies and costly sex reassignment surgeries, but thank goodness such procedures are publicly funded through Medicare!
Alas, there are some structural curiosities afoot here. As we’ve already discussed before, there is a rigid biological determinant explicitly spelling out what makes a man a man and a woman a woman -- amputate as many genitals as you want, but at the end of the day, modern science just can’t override that pesky genetic code. As such, the transgender debate really puts us in a precarious predicament, where the cultural zeitgeist is DEMANDING that we substitute irrefutable scientific knowledge in favor of a much more cozy social science explanation for gender.
For a moment, let’s think about this critically (a hard feat for U.S. public school grads, I know.) If gender is a flexible social construct, regardless of the hard biological data, then doesn’t that mean that other supposedly “ingrained” traits and characteristics can also be simply written off as matters of personal preference?
Interestingly enough, while considering “gender” as anything other than a socially-learned imposition is considered modern day heresy, applying that same constructionist viewpoint to “sexuality” is completely off-limits. There, the only culturally permissible outlook is that sexual orientation is hard-wired into one’s DNA -- this, despite a rather large volume of scientific research suggesting (ever so hatefully and wrongfully, of course) that sexuality may indeed be shaped be one’s early childhood experiences. Frankly, I’ve always wondered why those convicted of sexual offenses haven’t used the same mode of logic used by the anti-constructionist set -- after all, pedophilia and rapists are merely individuals born with those unchangeable sexual dispositions, no?
Along those same lines, let’s say someone wanted to take a constructionist stance on race (yet again, another inarguable biological reality that liberal-types like to pretend only exists in the minds of racists.) That means that, without an iota of irony, I could just declare myself an African-American tomorrow, and since race is allegedly a personally-defined construct, nobody could tell me otherwise, despite my gleaming mayonnaise complexion. Call me crazy, but something tells me the Black Panthers probably wouldn’t accept me as one of their own, even after I got my skin dyed, had hair implants and underwent reproductive organ lengthening procedures. Naturally, I could extend that constructionist viewpoint to create an ethnic-fluid identity, too -- I mean, why can’t I consider myself Han Chinese on Monday and an Ashkenazi Jew on Tuesday? It’s my personal right to describe myself as an Iroquois, and if those injuns say otherwise, they are nothing more than malicious bigots denying me my natural rights.
Funny how we can all accept Bruce Jenner labeling himself as a woman, but recoil in disgust at the idea of a white person even thinking about putting on blackface. Furthermore, I can’t imagine someone with blue eyes, blonde hair and a skin hue just north of bone white getting a favorable reaction from the congregants of a synagogue when he or she just up and appoints themselves a member of the Chosen People, uncircumcised shaft and all.
Interestingly enough, one of the few subcultures standing up to the transgender rights movement is the hardcore feminist contingent. The adherents of the “womyn born womyn” philosophy absolutely refuse to accept male-to-female transpeople as their own, choosing to stick to the strict scientific definition of womanhood instead. Intriguingly, this puts lesbians up against the transgender bloc in something of a definitional Thunder Dome -- and since the four-decades-old no transpeople-allowed Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is coming to a sudden end this year, it looks like the trans-folk have received the consensus cultural nod over the gay-women-folk.
Depending on your perspective, the ongoing success of the transgender-rights movement is either a colossal step forward for multicultural inclusivity or a gigantic punch to the gut of biological objectivity. Whether such is right or wrong is in the eye of the beholder, but it’s simply impossible to accept the transgender construct of gender and concrete biological sciences simultaneously; to say one is “correct” means the necessary refutation of the other.
The thing is, if we are going to be subjective about something as scientifically concrete as gender, we’re inevitably going to find ourselves making some very uncomfortable policy decisions in the future. To accommodate transpeople, should we authorize (or even subsidize) the medical castration of five-year-olds who say they want to live their lives as girls? Should we just do away with gender-specific public restrooms altogether, and let teenagers and college kids urinate and defecate together in post-post-modern harmony? Do we put MTF transpeople in women’s prisons, and FTM transpeople in men’s prisons? Furthermore, should MTF transpeople be allowed to attend women’s colleges -- and if those institutions say no, does the federal government need to send in the tanks and troops to make ‘em?
I don’t want to get in some sort of cartoonish slippery slope scenario, but codifying gender as a fluid, subjective personal descriptor certainly sets a precedent for things that, as a society, we perhaps just are not ready for. If sex is nothing more than a social construct, than why can’t we say things like age, height and weight are nothing more than cultural impositions as well? In fact, why bother using any sort of personal qualifiers whatsoever, since objective, standardized measures are inherently prejudicial?
Perhaps a more pressing question is whether or not American taxpayers ought to be the ones picking up the tab for transgender medical expenses. Sex change operations are already publicly financed via Medicaid in states like Oregon and New York, while California and Massachusetts recently enacted legislation barring private insurers from excluding “transitional care” from their policy coverage. Even deep in the heart of Dixie, Georgia residents are forking over portions of their income to pay for the hormone treatments of state prisoners.
An even more pressing question than that? Whether or not the transitional surgeries are even successful as “treatments.” According to a National Center for Transgender Equality report from 2010, transgender people were found to be 20 percent likelier to attempt suicide than the general population. Per their data, about 35 percent to 40 percent of pre-op transgender people attempt suicide. Among those who surgically transition, the rate of suicide attempts jumps up to 43 percent, while researchers indicate that about 45 percent of those who medically transitioned have, at least once, attempted to end their own lives.
When roughly half of the people who undergo such a specific medical procedure try to off themselves, some pretty heavy questions ought to arise. Unfortunately, in today’s trans-utopia, such inquires are totally off limits; we’ve just got to let people be who they want to be, I suppose, even if it kills them.