(To understand this article you really need to start with part 1 what is gender?)
MAN IN THE STREET: “Is there really a part of a transgender person that is the other gender, or are they just suffering from some kind of mental disorder? What I’m saying is that – as a humane society we allow them to change their assignation – but we all know deep down that gender is what your birth genitalia is and the related anatomy, hormones and chromosomes.”
TRANSPHOBIC: “You can change the letter on their ID but we all know they are the gender they were born into because gender is purely physical. To put it bluntly… if you’re born with a penis you’re a boy and you always will be and anyone that says they ain’t a boy who has a penis is suffering from a mental delusion and they need psychiatric help not hormones and sex changes.”
A critic of transgender rights – ie… someone who believes they should not be allowed to assign their gender – would be very interested in our example of the Pakistani man in part 2. He would say the following…
“I see a big difference between the Pakistani and the transgender. The Pakistani had every logical reason to feel Pakistani… he has Pakistani family, education, a history of visits there etc. The transgender person, however, has absolutely no reason to identify with the female.”
What our objector is saying is that categorisation errors are common in the human experience, but we identify the error because empirical observation and/or experience proves that an error has been made. In the Pakistani case, there is a difference in categorisation between society (the department of immigration and the government) who see the man as British, and the individual who sees himself as Pakistani.
The observer, charged with trying to settle this discord, will interview the Pakistan man and if the only reason he can offer us for his feeling Pakistani is that he’s ‘always felt Pakistani’ and that he ‘identifies as Pakistani’ we probably won’t take him very seriously. If he can tell us about a long history of being in Pakistan, however, and his Pakistani family and education etc… then we are likely to agree with the validity of his categorisation challenge.
What’s troubling the conservative about the transgender categorisation challenge is that there is no evidence to suggest the validity of what is being claimed. The traits that identify gender are genital, chromosonal, hormonal… entirely physical, yet the transgender shows not one of these traits. All he can bring to the table to validate his claim to femaleness is that he has always ‘felt’ uncomfortable as a male and always felt like he should be a female. And the transphobic will say…
“I always felt uncomfortable being poor and always felt I should have been rich, but that’s life and you can’t always get what you want.”
Then, he might point out that when a person believes themselves something they can provide no evidence for being – Jesus Christ, Napoleon Bonaparte, a woman, for example – we don’t go inventing special labels like transgender – we say they are suffering from a mental disorder known as delusion.
The goal of therapy, he will argue, is to make them align themselves with the empirical evidence: that they are not Jesus christ, Napoleon Bonaparte or a woman. Instead of this, the entire medical profession gets behind the deluded transgender, backs him up and sends him on a course of radicle hormone treatments and massive genital surgery. And anyone that disagrees with this is labelled ‘transphobic.’ This is madness.
(Interestingly, it is not only the trans objector who will play with this idea. Many intelligent late onset transsexuals also wonder if it is all madness as they struggle to deal with an intense feeling which they can not back up with empirical evidence.)
The trans objector has hit upon two of the more sophisticated conservative arguments against transgender rights, and two of the most problematic thoughts which occur to a transsexual with an analytical personality: that…
- 1) Maybe they’re suffering from a disorder as this has all the classic marks of delusion – ie… a sense of self that can not be backed up with physical evidence.
- 2) The transgender is simply suffering from gender envy. He wants something he can’t have and should just get over it the way the rest of us do, when we can’t get what we want.
It is vital, therefore, in our definition of gender and transgender that we deal with these ideas which both unsettle the transgender mind and give fuel to conservatives and transphobes.
Let us just briefly restate their argument.
- – Gender is denoted by physical characteristics.
- – The transgender has no physical characteristics of the gender they identify with.
- – Therefore their identification as another gender is entirely bogus, and either some kind of delusion or just some strange desire which, as it has no empirical basis, they need to ‘just get over.’
In part 4 we will disprove these arguments.