Recognizing that anything I write on this subject will be offensive to somebody, I decided to plow ahead regardless. Batten down the hatches; here we go.
While surfing the web, I stumbled on an article in Canada’s National Post that introduced me to the concept of “transabled” people. According to the article, transabled individuals feel like “imposters in their bodies” and have an overwhelming desire to create some kind of physical disability in themselves. Such was the case with a man who now calls himself “One Hand Jason” when he deliberately sliced off his own arm with a power tool in order to feel normal.
Granted, this kind of compulsion is extraordinarily rare. The article identifies only 37 people worldwide who identify themselves as transabled. But in light of the current media frenzy surrounding
Bruce Caitlyn Jenner, I think it’s a phenomenon that challenges the rigid cultural authoritarianism that has sprung up in the wake of Caitlyn’s Vanity Fair cover photo.
The conventional wisdom is that everything surrounding Bruce’s transformation into Caitlyn should be celebrated as brave, bold, and wonderful. Conversely, no one is permitted to publicly deviate from that opinion even in the slightest degree. One programmer created a bot with the handle “@she_not_he” for the purpose of “scrubbing Twitter, looking for anyone who uses the ‘he’ pronoun in conjunction with Caitlyn Jenner’s name.” And when actor Drake Bell tweeted, “Sorry… still calling you Bruce,” he was raked over the coals by both the press and the public and ultimately forced to delete the offending message. He has repeatedly apologized, but it’s still not enough. Twitter users continue to call on him to deactivate his account and, in the words of one especially harsh critic, “deactivate his life.”
Apparently, tolerance for Caitlyn is as mandatory as intolerance for anyone who disagrees.
For my part, I think kindness is always a good approach. If Bruce Jenner wants to be called Caitlyn Jenner and wants me to use the “she/her” pronouns to describe she/her, I’ll be happy to comply with her wishes. I don’t know Caitlyn Jenner personally, and I don’t feel like I’m in any position to pass judgment on her. I wish her and her family nothing but happiness. In any case, nothing about this entire episode will have any personal impact on me, and I don’t want to waste even a minute of my life getting upset over it.
That said, I think the unanimous applause for what Caitlyn Jenner is doing is drowning out many legitimate questions that society ought to be asking.
For instance, how are the drastic changes Caitlyn is making to her body all that different in kind from what One Hand Jason did to himself in order to feel comfortable in his own skin? If we know someone’s about to slice off their arm, would we tell them, “Hey, if it makes you feel better about yourself, have at it?” I don’t think we would, yet we don’t apply that same logic to our approach to transgender surgery. In addition, we don’t celebrate those who commit suicide because they loathe their own bodies, but how are the desires of such people so different from Jason’s or Caitlyn’s? If a person feels compelled to surgically alter themselves in irreparable and potentially disabling ways, shouldn’t we do everything possible to find psychological solutions before putting anyone under the knife?
It’s also odd to me that the arguments used to applaud Jenner’s choices are precisely the opposite of arguments made against anti-gay bigotry. If you’re gay, you’re born that way, which means that you need to find happiness with who you are rather than try to be something you’re not. But if you’re transgender, you ought to take radical action to surgically alter yourself in a way completely contrary to how you are born. Isn’t that wildly inconsistent? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on accepting who we are rather than taking extreme measures to try and transform ourselves into something we can never be?
Because the cruel fact is that Caitlyn Jenner will never truly be a woman, at least not biologically. Sure, she can use feminine pronouns and make all the cosmetic changes she likes, but her DNA and internal organs will remain decidedly male, and nothing she can do can change that.
I recognize that even these questions will likely brand me as a hater or a “transphobe,” and that’s unfortunate, because these are questions born of genuine concern, not hatred or fear. Indeed, it’s hatred and fear that are being used to silence legitimate discussions and vilify anyone who departs from the media-enforced orthodoxy. Those praising Caitlyn for her bravery ought to be brave enough themselves to consider other points of view.