So here’s a thought experiment that pretty much every trans person ever has been subjected to a good umpteen-dozen times by “curious” cis people…
“Let’s say there was a pill you could take, or like a certain kind of brain laser, that could make you, like, identify as your assigned sex, would you do that instead of transitioning? Like, it would be way easier, right? Because then you wouldn’t have to be, like, an incomplete man/woman, you could just totally have a body you’re cool with. Right?”
No matter how many times I hear this tedious and presumptuous question, it never really gets any less insulting and infuriating to me. Might as well get my thoughts down on pap-…uh… pixels.
On surface, the main issue here is a sort of sophomoric question of identity and Cartesian dualism and stuff. The most immediate thing that leads me towards an unequivocal “NO” is the fact that if my gender identity were modified to male, my identity itself would be muted, rendered foreign and unrecognizable. Whoever the person emerging from the “cure” was, and however much relief he may feel, he wouldn’t be me.
Gender is something totally completely intrinsic to self. It’s one of the very first factors through which we articulate a self at all. And while the physical body is deeply intertwined with self, and I don’t buy into any kind of hard Cartesian distinction between mind and body, it’s nonetheless the case that in so far as there is a “self” at all it is the conceptual gestalt we derive from our mind, it’s a consciousness assembled as a continuous whole from hundreds and thousands of discrete cognitive processes. The cognitive processes are from what the perception of a self is comprised, not the shape of your genitals. Changing the latter may make the self happier and more comfortable, but changing the former to fit the latter… Creepsville, population: this stupid concept.
Taking such a “cure”, with its enormous impact on the understanding of self (which is one and the same as “self”, really), would be an act of effective suicide and self-annihilation. And if it were institutionalized as the forced, only available, or the primarily recommended course of treatment, it would be genocide. Even just having such a treatment would border on genocide just in the fact that so few people would elect physical transition instead (especially with the cultural climate of hatred, stigma, shame and intolerance that is currently in place).
I’d be willing to wager that most people who are at least, say, 6 months into physical transition would probably be just as appalled with the thought of taking this “cure” as I am (unless they’ve had a particularly rough transition). But I’m sure almost everyone who has not yet begun transition would say “yes”. We generally all spent years wishing and hoping to be either magically transformed into our identified sex, or to be magically rendered “normal” such that we no longer had those feelings or desires. Given the choice between one of the two, even if it’s the less preferable, we’d probably take it, without really thinking it through very much (if at all).
Those of us who are transitioning or have transitioned generally have an idea that yes, this is possible and through transition one can find happiness and comfort. But our culture does everything it can to suppress that and send the opposite message, that transition is awful and horrible and the worst thing someone can put themselves through.
That is, in fact, part of what drives the fascination behind this thought experiment. The idea that transition is something so hideously awful that wouldn’t we do everything we could to avoid it? That transition is and only ever should be an absolute last resort, if things are just so completely horrible and you’re so miserable that you have absolutely no other choice? That we’d take the “easy” way out, even if it meant annihilating an essential aspect of who we are, if there were any other way?
The premise is based on a myth. The same myth that would be used to enact such a genocide if this “cure” ever came along as a “better” alternative. The actual reality is that transition DOES work. That it isn’t a horrible terrible fate that we should avoid at all costs, while spending our time daydreaming of appallingly unethical alternatives.
I recently read some studies that’s results indicated that 91% of all trans women express complete satisfaction with their transitions about a year after surgery. The other 9% mostly only expressed partial or minor regret related to things like social stigma, loss of job, discrimination, family issues, etc. but expressed satisfaction with surgery and HRT itself. And 100% of trans men expressed total satisfaction with transition.
That is an enormous success rate. Like… ridiculously high. The level of dissatisfaction was even less than what one would expect from usual medical complications, unaccounted variables and statistical flukes or margin of error.
The funny thing? A doctor can actually recommend transition as treatment for GID with a greater degree of confidence in a positive outcome than recommending aspirin as a treatment for headache, mild inflammation or pain. Seriously. Like, you’re more likely to develop some kind of debilitating, horrible liver disease from the acetiminophen (or die) than you are to end up transitioning past the point or irreversibility and end up earnestly regretting it (if you’re suffering from GID… obviously a cis person would end up regretting transition!).
(interesting detail from the study, by the way: the degree to which patients conformed to conventional trans narratives and “gatekeeping” models did not correlate with positive outcomes in any meaningful way… the extremely high chance of positive outcome was the same regardless of how much an individual patient fit into the conventional narrative)
But we don’t talk about that. Instead, we allow the myth of the hordes of regretioners, and the horrible horrible fate that awaits us through transition, to be the dominant narrative of transition in our culture, as a deterrent. Nobody wants to accept that this is actually a totally reasonable and healthy thing for some people to do, that almost always results in significant improvement in our quality of life. Instead, we obsessively imagine alternatives.
But all of that stuff… the stuff about what’s “really” the self, how it would be a form of suicide, how transition works just-fine-thank-you-very-much, isn’t really what actually makes me angry about the thought experiment, or how frequently I’m posed the question. That part is a bit more subtle.
What actually gets me angry is this:
The question is typically posed in terms of what would make things easier for us trans people. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about what would make things easier for cis people.
I’ve found that people who pose this question tend to really dislike it when I say “no”. And it tends to be used as a springboard for them to go on little rants about how I can’t possibly be satisfied with my body, how I’ll never menstruate or be pregnant, how I’ll never look quite like a cis woman, how I’ll never ever be a “real” woman, and how there’s no way I could ever actually be happy being a transsexual woman and that OBVIOUSLY everything would be better “for me” if I’d just take the stupid fucking hypothetical trans-annihilation pill!
That reaction, and that clear disapproval with my answer, is not about concern for me. It also makes it very clear that the people asking weren’t asking out of interest in my “unique perspective” or getting to understand me better, or understand trans people better. They were trying to make a point, and daydreaming about a world they’d prefer.
You see, in the world of that pill, everyone is cis. There are no icky, creepy “in-between” bodies walking around. Just a nice monotonously black-and-white gender binary world (except for the intersex people, unless they’ve been eliminated with some other horrific dystopian hypothetical “cure”) where no cis person is ever made uncomfortable by the presence of someone who isn’t easily slotted into their perceptions.
What they want from the question is, as said, not my perspective. Instead they want me to approve of their world view in which trans is something horrible and awful and tragic that would be GOOD to get rid of. They want me to approve of their idea that in an ideal world, there wouldn’t be any trans people, we’d all just be perfectly slotted into our sex, even if it meant existentially killing us all off and replacing us with Stepford Cis-People. They want me to approve of the idea that trans people only exist because our world is IMperfect, and that we’re really just flaws, a temporary glitch that should someday be corrected. They want my implicit approval of their subconscious yearning for a world where they wouldn’t have to ever worry about people like me.
Which is why they get upset when I say “no”.
Which is why I now get upset when people ask.