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On A Hypothetical “Cure” For GID

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.

Comments

  1. Gordon says

    I don’t get it. Clearly the opposite thought experiment would have to be equally valid.

    Would I want to take a pill to make me not identify with my assigned gender?

    Maybe, if it was short term for reasons of understanding another person’s life experience. But as a permanent change? No.

    And if it isn’t for me why should I assume it is ok for you?

  2. bspiken says

    Heh, on the first read I thought the hypothetical laser (cause laser > pills every day of the week) would transfer you to your actual identified gender (girl for trans woman, guy for trans men) without the need for complicated surgery and hormonal treatments for life, sort of a second pick for your gender when you hit puberty.

    But then I read what the laser actually, hypothetically, did, and damn, I don’t know if I’ve been reading your blog for awhile but why would someone who would go for the not-quite-so-easy path of transitioning want to go back?

    It’s equivalent to telling a black/jewish/add-minority-of-your-preference person in a particularly racist state/country/etc “would you take a pill that makes you white?”. How can this not be seen as insulting?

    • says

      Believe it or not, the whole “race-changing pill” is something I’ve thought about a lot. Whether, knowing what I know about how much easier it would be not having to deal with racist bullshit all the time. Every time I entertain the thought, it never succeeds at tempting me. I like being black, it’s who I am. Racism doesn’t make me want to change who I am, it makes me want to change the way the world is. I’d imagine Natalie feels the same.

      Interestingly though, many mixed-race black folks have chosen to “pass” in times and places where the law made being black a severe disadvantage with official legal consequences. There may be quite a plurality of opinion. I’d imagine, though, that if we reduce anti-trans bigotry, we’ll see fewer people taking the hypothetical “cis pill”.

      • says

        Yeah, and of course most trans people who are able make the decision to pass as cis in some way or another pretty much every single day. But those kinds of negotiations or adaptations at surviving in a hostile world are of course a totally different thing than actually giving up a piece of who you are.

  3. Megan says

    The same people who pose this hypothetical “cure” pill that would effect a self-annihilation of trans identities to us always seem to be the same ones who aren’t particularly concerned at the high rate of trans people who attempt and often succeed at a total self-annihilation through suicide. Just goes to drive home your point that this awful thought experiment is more about their desires to preserve their comfort than us achieving ours.

    • Anders says

      Hello?

      As you may remember, I was fairly upset about the suicide rates, self-mutilation and general crappy lives of trans people. And I have posed a variant of this question on the Gitp boards.

      It was motivated by watching a documentary about bipolar disorder, starring Stephen Fry. At the end of the documentary, they ask this question about bipolarity. Almost all say they would keep their disorder, because its part of who they are.

      That made me think about my own depression an anxiety disorder. Would I want them gone? I don’t know. To what extent would I still be me? What makes a person the person ze is? What is personhood and how do we determine it?

      Wittgenstein asks in “On certainty” whether I can doubt that my hand is, in fact, mine. What would he have said of disorders like neglect, where a person can deny just this, or claim that an obviously paralyzed hand functions perfectly well? And what would he have said about trans people, who know that they are ‘born in the wrong body’ (imprecise, but you know what I mean)? It is not often that a philosophical question can be so decisively answered by empirical means.

      So I asked this question in the LGBTA thread on Gitp, and I got my answers. The vast majority would not take the blue pill. That included most of the non-transitioned people.

      Gender is something totally completely intrinsic to self. It’s one of the very first factors through which we articulate a self at all.

      Now, this is probably right but it is still an empirical question. Many things that seem self-evident turn out to be wrong. And if you, Natalie, has reached this conclusion as a result of your own struggles with your sexual identity then you must acknowledge that that fact is not apparent to a cis person. Part of our privilege is to never have to realize this fact. And to make assertions about what cis people want and do not want from this question, based on your experience as a trans person, may lead you to the wrong conclusion. Just as making sweeping generalizations about what people do or do not pose this question, Megan, may also lead you to the wrong conclusion.

      I asked this because of philosophical questions about personhood, and only after I had asked similar questions of myself. My motivations may place me in the minority of the people who ask this questions, but that does not excuse pretending I do not exist. I should not have to remind you – of all people – of this simple fact.

      • Anna says

        You might want to think about what Natalie said and why she said it instead of getting defensive about having asked the question yourself. You are correct in that you have the priviledge not to have to be confronted by the question and be forced to think about it. Us trans folks do have to hear it and think about it and its a highly offensive question whatever the motives are for wanting to learn it.

        http://freethoughtblogs.com/nataliereed/2012/02/03/how-to-ask-a-trans-person-questions-without-being-insensitive-about-it/

        Thats a good refresher to read.

        • Anders says

          What can I say? I get cranky when people say I don’t care when in fact I do.Yes, I would not ask that question again. I’m not stupid. But that wasn’t my point.

          My point was this. Cis-people do not have the experience of questioning their identity in the way that trans people do. So it is unwise of cis people to talk about what trans people think and mean. But this sword cuts both ways.

          To reiterate – it is unwise to make sweeping generalizations about what other people think and do not think, mean and do not mean. Especially when all you have is anecdotal data from people who lack crucial information about the inner state of the subjects. I should not have to say this on a skeptical blog.

          • Jason says

            As valuable as it was to know how this experience felt to her, I agree with you completely. I also tried to dig up the stats she cited in her post and I can’t find them anywhere. I’ve tried multiple angles of investigation (google scholar, etc.) and come up with nothing. You wouldn’t expect to see 100% agreement on anything, is the thing, so that stuck out to me as a really fishy thing.

            I like Natalie’s writing, and she does a great job of explaining the perspective of a transwoman and even gives me good things to think about, but I don’t find it to be very skeptical in general. I regularly notice a real lack of citations and sloppy, unprovable assertions.

          • says

            By the way, how incredibly unlikely an 100% result is sort of my point. The rate at which trans people report satisfaction with transition is not only well within what would prove it to be a reasonable course of treatment, but goes above and beyond all expectations.

            Thanks for your assumptions and insults, though.

          • Anders says

            Oh, she’s skeptical. It’s just not the same kind of skepticism that you’ll get at, say, Science-Based Medicine. They’re researchers – Natalie is more of a journalist. Both are perfectly valid forms of skepticism.

            Transsexuals’ life satisfaction after gender transformation operations (in German): http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16437228

            Results: Of the TS studied, 85-95% were “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the results of their gender transformation operation in respect to gender identity.

            That could be one of the articles. The abstract I linked to is in English.

          • karmakin says

            I was going to come and make a comment kind of along the same lines of what Anders is talking about, although to me it makes Natalie’s point even more I think.

            I’m in the same boat. Depression, and General Anxiety Disorder. The way these things manifest themselves in me are things that make me me. Without these things, I am no longer myself, or at least I VERY strongly feel this way.

            So for me, who is very wary about giving up something that I KNOW hurts me, what can we say about something like gender identity, something which really is much more intrinsic and strictly non-harmful?

            Yeah. It’s self-annihilation, really.

          • Anna says

            @Anders

            Firstly, Natalie did not make any generalizations she used specifically the words “typically” and “tend to” which do not imply all people. Sh\He was speaking to a specific type of persons answer.

            Secondly, I was not talking about your reply to Megan I was talking about your use of the question and it was not clear that you would not use that question again from what you said, You seem to be defending your right to ask it. Which is not me accusing you of being stupid either btw so please dont go there.

            Thirdly, Megan said “always seem”. She didnt say it as universal. Jumping all over someone for stating there experiences derails and invalidates those experiences. Listen, then add your experience. She clearly did not mean you personally either way.

            @Jason perhaps you could have asked Natalie for said data before disparging her blogging skills and saying her data sounded fishy. She provided them for you anyway but it was a clearly unwarrented statement.

          • says

            @Jason: “Notice” is the key word there, I think. Most people don’t “notice” the lack of citation in articles that fit their existing views.

        • anna says

          Not sure how the Sh\He thing got in there. As a trans person I would clearly never deliberately type that. If you could edit that somehow I would appreciate it

          • says

            It’s okay. Earlier today I was reading this article on a trans woman here in Vancouver while tweeting to Crommunist and they were using male pronouns for past tense, then I ended up doing the same in a tweet. So… yeah. Happens to everyone sometimes. :p

          • says

            It’s ’cause the \ is directly underneath the delete key. Deleting one of an accidental double H failed. (And yes, of all the typos in all the world this has to be one of the worst.)

          • Anna says

            Althea,

            thank you thank you thank you.

            I could not quite figure out how I did that. Now I can crawl out from under my rock.

      • Megan says

        I’ve never been on Gitp, so I wouldn’t have seen your version of the “cure” question there. Please don’t take my comment as a personal dig at you – it wasn’t targeted at anyone on here, and I know based on your comments on this blog that you’re not at all apathetic about the trans community. It’s just that when you’ve heard that question from anyone and everyone who thinks they know who you are better than you do yourself, it’s easy to assume that people who do ask it are more interested in putting you in your place than they are about your actual well-being.

  4. says

    I find it hard to believe people would actually suggest annihilating part of yourself would be a win-win solution (to clarify, I’m not doubting that people tell you things like that, I just can’t understand what’s going on in their heads).

    It seems to me that an actual cure for GID would be more like a reverse of that pill, like bspiken suggested – something that could change to physically to the point where your body matched your identity. After all GID is fundamentally a physical disorder not a mental one.

    • Movius says

      This is what I thought too. Though no doubt it over-simplifies matters.

      Given that identity, including gender/sexual/sporting team orientations, is entirely within and spread throughout the brain . you’d need a pretty violent intervention in the brain (stroke, aneurysm, brain tumor, etc.) to change these things. Makes side-effects to “changing the body” with HRT or SRS look tame in comparison.

      Starts to show how obscene the view of those advocating ‘curing’ LGBT individuals is. Even when ‘magic’ is invoked.

      • Anders says

        I’m sorry, but that does not follow at all. Drugs, fever, sleep deprivation, etc. can have profound effects on your mental state without altering the physical structure of the brain.

        • Movius says

          don’t know of any drugs that can permanently change someones orientation at least not without taking a good chunk of cognition with it.

          Anyway my point was that people that propose this magic cure normally claim to be worried about the severity of the physical changes of transition. When they are trivial compared to the extreme changes proposed by magically zapping away part of someones identity.

      • says

        While this is a good point, the repugnance of the “change your identity” pill is less to do with how much is being changed as it is to with what specifically is being changed.

        I may be showing my bias as an economist here, but I’m of the view that our preferences and desires are the most fundamental parts of our identity, and the stronger the preference the more foundational it is to who we are.

        (As an aside, I should make it clear that I’m not trying to trivialise GID by calling it a preference, in an economist’s terms wanting to breathe instead of suffocate is still a preference, just a very strong preference. Based on the price (financial and social) transgendered people are willing to pay to transition, I fell confident in suggesting the desire to be of your true sex over your assigned one is a preference of similar strength.)

        I would be willing to change many of my mental characteristics – I would like to be smarter, have a better concrete memory, be better at socialising and be less inclined to feel rage when I get frustrated. Some of those things would probably requiring changing my brain quite a lot. But I don’t think of those things as me, but rather as capabilities I have. I would therefore be willing to at least consider taking a pill that improved those capabilities. But I wouldn’t dream of taking a pill that changed what I wanted out of life, that would change me and not just change what I can do. It therefore comes as no surprise to me that Natalie would feel insulted when it is suggested to her that changing her desires, and thus her identity, would be a good fix to GID.

  5. says

    “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…?”

    The ignorance and prejudice are obvious in those two words, “assigned sex.” AIUI, a lot of trans people are “trans” because physiologically, they’re not fully “assigned” to either sex — they have some features of both sexes (not necessarily hermaphrodism), so they choose to do the “assigning” themselves. It’s not just about identifying with one sex or another, it’s about identifying (or failing to identify) with one’s own body. I don’t need to be an expert to at least have a grasp of that concept. Seriously, the question is based on so much unspoken falsehood it’s not even worth any answer, except maybe smiling and saying “What do you mean, exactly?” and watching the questioner squirm.

    Or maybe you could just ask the questioner if he/she would take a magic pill to make him/her more accepting of trans people…

      • Anders says

        If there was a pill that could make me experience gender dysphoria for a controlled period of time (say an hour), I would probably take it. It wouldn’t be the same, because I would know that it was temporary, but I’m a curious sort. Probably not the full-blown panic attack type but the low-grade itching at the back of your consciousness type? Yeah.

  6. says

    This is really interesting – thank you for writing and posting it. As a middle-aged, 30-years-married cis person (hetero woman) who never really thought much about gender issues, I have a lot to learn. After years of ignorance (but never bigotry), I’ve come to see gender as a continuum, where each person can find a spot that feels right. And that spot can change over time. Some people are born to the place where they feel right, others may have to travel a bit, or a lot, to find the place that feels right. And I’ve come to see that many cis people deny that they themselves could ever possibly be anything other than 100%+++ straight, that is, at the extreme end of the spectrum. For these people, it really is either-or, and nothing in between. In order to keep themselves in denial about the possibility that they might actually NOT be at the very end of the continuum, they have to force everyone else into their either-or pattern. It is limiting and arrogant.

    Nature is rich with variety, and it’s neither good or bad – just rich and diverse and interesting.

    Thanks again for this essay, and for others along the way. I live and learn.

  7. Lucy says

    I’ve been mulling on this one recently too…wondering whether I’m wrong to want to start HRT even though I haven’t (yet) been driven to the brink of suicide. I know it’s stupid. I know those who have been suicidal would wish they had done something about it before, but transition *is* put forward as a “last ditch” option, so I feel a bit odd that I’m trying to avoid another year or two of waiting and getting more upset/depressed/pissed off with my body.

    Oh, and with the gatekeeping…I know I want to start HRT now. I’ve spent the last (too many) years feeling deep down that I probably should do something about this and stop trying to make it go away, and I’ve been thinking about it hard (like almost all of my spare time, and a lot of my non-spare time) since October. But still, it’s going to be at least four months more before I can do what I now know I need to do. “Grr” doesn’t really cover it.

    Sorry, rant over. A few bits of interest though:

    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

    You might be interested to read Candace Pert’s “Molecules of Emotion” – it’s about how there is no such thing as mind and body, more a “bodymind”. The first half is pretty good, then she goes all woo and stops questioning her ideas so I gave up about 3/4 of the way through. Worth reading the first bit though.

    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).

    Added to this, because so few people would transition, trans people would be *much* less visible and the stigma would be many times worse than it is now.

    • Anders says

      The ‘bodymind’ idea seems reminiscent of Damasio’s idea of consciousness in The Feeling of What Happens. Briefly, the raw material of consciousness is the mapping, via certain brain centers, of things like proprioception, what the viscera are up to, body temperature, blood glucose level, blood pressure, etc., etc. As these changes from moment to moment, these changes generate information of how the organism responds to objects in the environment. That information is used to create a feeling of the subject in relation to the object.

    • HFM says

      Lucy…you shouldn’t need to be suicidal before you’ve earned the right to be yourself. Do you want to transition? Enough that you can look at the medical unpleasantness and the bureaucratic unpleasantness and so on, and think “eh, still worth it”? Do you have the stability and the personal resources, or a way of getting there? If so, you can tell anyone who doesn’t think you’ve suffered enough to fuck right off.

      I’m grateful that we’re making a world where (some) kids can come out in elementary school; they’re not suffering enough, and that’s something to *celebrate*. If you can be what you are with relatively little fuss, then you’re fortunate, but that’s nothing to be ashamed of.

      Perhaps the cis shouldn’t be ranting in this thread, but Lucy’s comment reminded me of what the gay kids were told when I was growing up: shut up about it “until you’re sure”, not just that you’re gay, but that living in the closet would be worse for you than the discrimination you would face for being out. It pissed me off then – even if it wasn’t bad advice for a minor in the South – and it pisses me off now.

      And for the record, though I’m cis and straight, I wouldn’t take a pill to make me feminine. (I’ve got the “dude” personality – I’m the engineer in practical clothes who likes to scratch and fart and tell dirty jokes.) If I had any feminine wiles to speak of, I’d make a lot of people more comfortable…but damn it, I’m not here to make simpletons feel comfortable. I like what I am, and I think other people should have the chance to like what they are too.

    • says

      Lucy,
      I don’t know you but I send you an Internet hug: that is, good wishes. Regardless of your decision, if it’s guilt that is making you feel odd, you know, guilt is often useless and poisonous and paralyzing. Useful guilt requires at least that one actually know one did something wrong.

  8. johnlordofzombiehordesandcats says

    Do you have a link/reference to that study? I think it would be a very useful resource to have aces to.

    It’s not just refusing the hypothetical transbegone pill that bother people, either. I’m severely dyslexic (as in, one of the advantages of transitioning was that I could pick a full name I had hopes of spelling correctly), and folk used to ask me if I’d accept a ‘cure’ every time the latest psudo-science SEN cure was peddled into the media. I’d tell them no, because I wouldn’t be me, and some people would get so worked up over the idea that I’d expect them to read bad spelling and give verbal instruction really slowly rather than, you know, erase a fundamental part of myself.

  9. Sebor says

    The hypothetical “cure” reminds me of the “Death of personality” punishment from Babylon 5. Mindwiped to be a productive member of society. And tomorrow we’ll begin reeducating those damn commies about the merits of free enterprise. Or something like that.

    But those numbers are really impressive. Can you provide the source? Might be an interesting read.
    If there was a treatment this effective for more widespread issues like say depression that would be incredible.
    To be fair though, the chances of malpractice are probably greatly reduced by the gatekeeping in place, would be enlightening to contrast that with the numbers of those who are denied effective treatment because of the gatekeeping. Maybe that could convince people to change these policies.

  10. David Bergkvist says

    In my opinion, it’s just the second sentence, that implies that the answer is “yes I would take this ‘cure'”, that’s offensive. If asked without any suggestion what is the correct answer, the question itself is no more offensive than the question if one would use a Star Trek style teleporter if those were available.

    In fact, the weeks prior to my realization that I had GID, I asked myself almost exactly this question (the question that I aksed myself was: “do I want this unknown mental disatisfication, that I’m currently experiencing, cured by some therapist?”). And answered it in the negative. I was totally un-offended by my question.

    I totally agree that the warnings about transitioning are way exaggerated. In fact, I really don’t see what real harm there would be if someone who was actually cis mistakenly decided to start HRT. Wouldn’t they just realize their error when they see they dislike the changes that HRT brings, and discontinue the treatment, long before any permanent changes sets in?

    However, playing Devil’s advocate, I’d like to point out that isn’t the reason why there is such a high satisfaction rate probably related to the harsh restrictions regarding who gets treatment? If I had my way, and the only tests needed before being allowed to have HRT were medical ones, I’m pretty sure this would come at the small cost of lower satisfaction rates.

  11. Dalillama says

    Cartesian dualism and body/mind feedback aside, the vast majority of what makes you you and me me is housed in the brain, as evidenced by the fact that people can lose any nonvital organ or other body part without change in personality/behavior, but damage to the brain routinely results in massive personality and behavioral changes. In re: the hypothetical magic brain pill, I more or less arrived at the place Natalie is at on my own a few years ago, after a series of very frustrating conversations with a friend regarding my husband’s transition. Prior to that, I had taken the tack that a) it was hypothetical, b) messing about in the brain is a good way to screw someone up but good, and medical caution dictates that the option less risky to the patient is generally preferable (i.e. transition) and c) it’s not my bloody decision anyway, since it’s not my brain or body on the line, now is it?

  12. says

    I didn’t know that was something people said.

    I guess I’m not really shocked – I know there are more vile ideas than that out there, I just didn’t know about that one.

    It’s amazing how dangerous ignorance and privilege can be when combined…

    • Fox says

      I’m shocked. My jaw dropped and stayed there through most of the post. I guess it’s a sign of my privilege that I’ve never come across thus horrible, horrible question before. :( Uggh people are AWFUL.

  13. clamboy says

    “If you could take a pill that enable you to get a clue, would you take it? Or do you prefer to live in ignorant bliss, assuming that anyone not ‘normal’ must yearn to become so?”

    The question you face is also constantly put to people with disabilities. The medical model of disability is the dominant one in the U.S., so I guess it is not surprising that people would assume that, for instance, a blind person would always and automatically choose to be sighted if given the option.

    • David Bergkvist says

      Wouldn’t a blind person who wants to keep being blind be more like a trans person who refuses to have transition (which of course would be their right, since it’s their bodies)?

      • Cassandra Caligaria (Cipher), OM says

        Erm, I believe that the implication of what you’ve just said is that blind people are actually sighted people and identify as sighted. I… don’t think that’s true.

        • David Bergkvist says

          How do you figure? My reasoning was that neither being blind nor having GID is a condition of the brain. So a person who wants to keep being blind would be like a person who would want to keep having a body of a sex that doesn’t match their gender identity.

          (Although I guess blindness can be located in the brain, for example being born without the parts of the brain that would have been needed to process information from the eyes. But that would have been comparable to me being born with a female body that I found perfect but couldn’t move as others can due to me not having some brain function. And that situation wouldn’t be GID at all.)

          • Fox says

            I think you’re looking at this the wrong way. The question is really “Would you like to be ‘fixed’ to meet society’s model of what is normal and healthy?” In that way, the disabled individual choosing to become abled is like the trans person choosing to become cis, if they consider their disability part of their identity. Then they’re giving up part of their identity in order to be “normal.”

            But I don’t think ALL people with disabilities would view it that way – as an analogy, think of a lot of fat people (I say this as a neutral descriptor, being a firm advocate of HAES) who feel like they’re “really” a skinny person trapped in a fat body. In that instance, I doubt that many would appreciate being offered a magic pill that made them, rather than skinny (or the trans person’s desired sex), comfortable and accepting of their own body. In this instance societies’ expectations are the opposite of in the trans case. Since the person’s identity matches up with what society would prefer – a skinny person – it’s not a perfect analogy, which is what is causing your confusion, I think. The similarity in the premises is the questioner assuming that the individual being questioned would want to be “normal,” with the unspoken assumption that normal is always superior to “abnormal.”

            And you’re not going to get a universal response. If someone offered me an instant cure for depression, I would take it – not to be “normal,” but because depression sucks, and I personally feel that mine HINDERS the real “me.” Obviously many commenters feel differently. But even in saying I would take the pill, I would be unbelievably pissed off to discover that the offerer was doing it not from compassion to help me lead a happier life, but out of a desire to have everyone be “normal” so they personally never had to deal with people with mental health problems.

            Phew. Long comment is long. But I hope that all makes sense.

          • Fox says

            So a person who wants to keep being blind would be like a person who would want to keep having a body of a sex that doesn’t match their gender identity.

            Not sure I addressed this clearly enough – you’re assuming, as another commenter pointed out, that all blind people feel like trans people: like they’re in the “wrong” body, like they’re really a sighted person. That is simply not true. It may be unfathomable to a sighted person, but someone who is blind (especially from birth) does not necessarily spend their whole lives wishing they could see.

            Consider some other analogies and I hope you’ll see why this assumption is the same one people make about trans people and why it is offensive. For instance, achondroplasia carries with it numerous health problems and is not viewed as “normal,” to the point where some people still have no problem pointing to a little person and snickering, or making leprechaun jokes, or whatever other asshattery (dwarf-tossing, anyone?). But many little people are accepting or even proud of their identities and would probably find your offer to make them “normal” quite bigoted and distasteful.

            I think you’re also implicitly suggesting, I assume accidentally, that being trans is a problem with your brain not matching your body and not the other way around, by equating the “cure” of blindness with the “cure” of being trans. (Otherwise your analogy only works if the trans pill makes someone their DESIRED, not assigned, gender.)

          • says

            You’re completely missing my point. My point is that me being offered a cis pill is NOT the same thing as a disabled person being offered a undisability pill. IF you want the comparison to hold, it would have to be in an IMAGINARY society where trans people are ASSUMED to transition (or else be considered abnormal) and the question was if they would take a pill that would CHANGE THEIR BODIES.

            And in this imaginary society, some trans people would say “screw you, I’m not taking the pill!”. For example, if I was offered a pill that would make my body conform to society’s idea of the ideal female body, I’d be hesistant to take it, because I’d prefer my female body to be different from society’s ideals. And therefore I can see why someone with achondroplasia would refuse a pill that would make them taller.

            But you CANNOT make a direct comparison between a cis pill (that kills your personality and replaces you with someone else) and a undisability pill (that forces you to conform to society’s norms). Say you woke up one day and discovered someone had “cured” one of your disabilities. Then you could swear to take revenge on anyone who did this and demand they change you back. But if you woke up one day and discovered that someone had made you cis, the old trans you would be dead and thus be unable to swear to take revenge, and the new you wouldn’t want to go back to being trans again.

    • Cassandra Caligaria (Cipher), OM says

      At first I was headdesking going “Why would anybody ever ask that?” Then I remembered that I’ve seen the question asked about people with autism. Especially to parents of children with autism. It’s understandable but also unsettling to see that sometimes parent-bloggers I respect, neurodiversity advocates who truly love their children, say yes. You know they’re agonizing, wanting the easiest life for their kids, knowing how much their children struggle in a world that is often hostile to them, but as a person who is mildly impacted myself, I can’t help but hear “Yes, please annihilate who my child is and replace him with another.” And honestly, it hurts and scares me.

      I guess what I’m saying is, Natalie, I empathize with your frustration. Thank you for alerting me to the fact that this happens to trans people. And I hope I never ask you anything that offensive and headdesk-worthy.

      Regarding the point you made about how the culture of shame and bigotry would encourage a sort of genocide-by-magic-pill, I wonder if it would be too far to draw a parallel between the high rates of suicide among trans people and a sort of stealth genocide. Maybe somebody’s already done that.

      • says

        I certainly do notice the parallel. I think there are several “stealth genocides” current going on in our culture. Trans people, yes, with the enormous rates of suicide and violence. But also others, like every time I go down to the Downtown Eastside I leave with the feeling that the genocide against First Nations indigenous people never actually ended. It just became more subtle. And for that matter the genocide-by-complacency against all groups afflicted with addiction. Sort of like how the USA’s prison system functions as a “new Jim Crow”… institutional racism in the United States never actually ended, either. Also just got more subtle, easier to hide, easier to keep quiet.

        • alliecat says

          As a trans Aspie, I’ve never come across this particular suggestion with regards to being trans (I dunno, maybe I’ve been lucky), but because a “cure” for autism is something important sections of the “autism advocate” community actively campaign for (typically those sections that consist mostly of scientists and sometimes relatives of autistic people, rather than autistic people themselves) it’s something I’ve had to deal with in depth with regards to neurodiversity, and most of this article pretty much applies perfectly to that as well. So I’d like to say thank you. And if I ever see a trans person parroting the “curebie” narrative (as “cure” advocates are referred to in the autistic community) I’ll know where to direct them :P

      • says

        I knew this subject was going to come up here.

        My issue with “neurodiversity” is that not all of the problems associated with ASDs would go away with universal societal acceptance. People with more-severe ASDs experience profound difficulties communicating with other human beings in a commonly understandable way. That is immensely frustrating, even if all other human beings are or were infinitely patient and understanding.

        This post, when it went up on Tumblr a while ago, absolutely appalled me. “Allistic supremacy” isn’t making Symaaa’s brother burn himself, hit himself so hard he leaves bruises, and be unable “even go to the bathroom by himself without smearing his own shit all over the bathroom walls.” None of these behaviors are desirable or even neutral in the absence of stigma.

        (And the shaming of the mother, who must be utterly exhausted at this point, is to me typical of the intersectionality fail I see all the time among “neurodivergence” types. Virtually all caretakers of other people are women; the majority are poor; a lot are of color. But I digress.)

        I speak as someone with autism in the family and possibly an undiagnosed ASD myself. Quite honestly, were that not true, I probably would have led a much easier and healthier life and be a much happier person now.

        Other people with ASDs or other disorders may be content to embrace their suffering as “part of them.” Not the same thing as saying that suffering builds character, but not entirely unrelated, in my opinion.

        • Sas says

          As someone who is autistic, I have to say … I’m on the fence about this. I feel for people whose autism presents severe difficulty with everyday functioning, but at the same time, I can understand the frustration and hair-triggers of the neurodivergence types because so much of the concerned parents’ message gets channeled into shit like vaccine denial, abusive alt-med cures like chelation, and parents calling their children “soulless” or “empty” or “the light went out in his eyes” or whatever. That shit’s not on.

          I would in no way take a transbegone cure; that would be, as Natalie said, the death of me. The part that squicks me out about a hypothetical cure for my autism is, we don’t know how much of our basic personalities are tied in to our neurology wrt autism. Sure, I would love being able to easily interact with people and deal with job interviews better and not get frustrated with social difficulty, but what if a cure took away other things we weren’t expecting? Since a lot of autistic traits are exaggerations of NT traits, we couldn’t be sure what we’d be giving up.

          My mother is NT, and she talks all the time about crushing loneliness that drives her to depression, and she’s shocked that I actually love being alone. My siblings are all NT and they all react to loneliness the same way, what if the autism cure suddenly made me lonely all the time? What if I couldn’t focus on things as well, or didn’t enjoy the things I do now, or didn’t like my friends as much? What if my autistic traits are somehow helping me cope with my gender dysphoria? The fact is I can’t know how much of me would be going away, and even if I got rid of the bad things I might be just trading one bad situation for another.

          Now, if instead of a “takes autism away” pill it was just a “boosts and speeds up development to help low-functioning individuals become more independent” pill, that would be a lot less objectionable to everyone involved. In that case I might even take it myself.

          • anat says

            Neurotypicals who are introverts like being alone too, don’t worry :)

            Autism appears to come with pluses and minuses. Yes, ideally we’d like to only cure the negative aspects, as defined by the individuals themselves. In an ideal world people should have access to tools that allow them to improve their lives to the maximum of their desires.

          • Sas says

            Yeah, I do know that NTs can be introverted and ASD folks can be lonely, I only use that example because it’s possible that my preference for being alone could be connected to my autism. There’s just no way to know for sure until I took the magic pill, and then it would be too late. So it would be like playing russian roulette with my mental health.

  14. says

    I have never asked a trans person if they would take a pill to “cure” GID, but if I did, my motivation would not be to present a “solution” to transness, but to determine whether a person likes who they are.

    It’s a question I would ask myself (about orientation, not gender). Early on, my answer would have been yes, but my answer now would be no. Perhaps it’s because I’m more enlightened, or I’ve seen more of the benefits to being queer. Also, at first, it did not seem to be a part of who I was, it was just this question that intruded on my “normal” life.

    There’s a common political soundbite which goes, “If it were a choice, why would I choose to be queer and go through all this oppression?” This statement suggests that people really would prefer to take the pill if it existed, though I’m sure many of the same people would reject this interpretation. I always felt uncomfortable with this rhetoric.

  15. says

    Very interesting post as always. As a pre-op transwoman who has not taken HRT (yet?), I’ve had ironically similar thoughts about it as you do about the hypothetical trans anihilation pill. Specifically about the mental effects of HRT. If I take HRT and it causes me to cry much more than I do now and have the various other effects you described, haven’t I in a sense become a new person and thus destroyed/altered the current me? It’s certainly different in degree, since gender is more primary than any mental effect HRT has, but would you agree it’s qualitatively the same idea? It’s this that has made me weary of starting HRT, though I might just to get the physical effects. I’m happy with my mind as it is, as much as I’d want my body to change.

    • says

      No. Transition is not about becoming a different person. It’s about becoming more yourself.

      And the mental effects really aren’t all that dramatic. You’re still you, definitely. How much you cry doesn’t really have much bearing on who you ARE. I mean, if tomorrow you started sinking into depression, would that not be you? You’d cry more. If anything, the whole emotional sensitivity thing about HRT helps one get more in touch with oneself.

      • says

        Well, the physical parts of transition are certainly about becoming more yourself. We agree there.

        I still don’t see the qualitative difference with the mental parts though. If I took pills that caused perminent intense depression, the resulting depressed person would not really be me, just like somebody who is identical to me except they want to be a man isn’t me. Sure my gender is a bigger part of my identity than depression is, or emotional sensitivity, but you listed lots of other mental changes too, and I fully admit the gender example is quantitatively different than the HRT mental effects question. Surely you wouldn’t say you were actually a person who loved ice cream so much all along, and HRT merely manifested it and brought out the true you that eats ice cream as a staple. So if I’m going to say someone identical to myself except for greater emotional sensitivity, greater awareness of touch, different sexuality, lower libido, different tastes in food, etc. is still me, just me exposed to a different hormone regime, to be consistent I’d have to say someone identical to myself except for wanting to be a man is still me, just me exposed to the trans-annihilation pill.

        The alternative is that we place some arbitrary divider that says a certain amount of change makes the resulting person no longer you, and that seems quite subjective. Would I still be me if I didn’t want breasts and just wanted to dress in public? How about if I only wanted to dress in private instead of in public? Or if I wanted to be a woman, but no longer liked makeup, fashion, girly pop songs and the various other stereotypically femme parts of myself? How could anyone say?

        Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t take the trans-annihilation pill either, since I have no desire to be male. But I also don’t have any particular desire to change my taste in food, for example, though my current tastes are not something I value anywhere close to how much I value my gender. And thus I’d be willing to change them in exchange for physical changes, while the exchange for taking the trans-annihilation pill would have to be saving a friend’s life or something else drastic.

        • Sas says

          I think that part of the problem is that the effect of HRT sound much different than they actually feel. It sounds like you’re altering your mental processes, but you’re really not, the processes are all there, but the wrong chemicals are going through them and making everything feel awful. Part of this is just because I think people have trouble (myself included) communicating what’s actually going on, and because it’s a subject where we really don’t have accurate words for it.

          Before I was on HRT (and during a period where I couldn’t afford it and had to go without) it felt constantly like everything was off, like my body was working as it shouldn’t, my dysphoria was stronger, and my emotions felt awkward or off somehow. Once I got on HRT, it was like everything just settled in a way that felt right and offered profound relief. My sexual urges went to a level I was comfortable with, my emotions weren’t different but now they felt appropriate. I started crying more, but not because I suddenly felt more need to cry, but because now crying offered an emotional relief that it hadn’t before.

          It’s like, if you spent your whole life petting a shark from tail to head, the skin feels rough and your hand gets rashes and bleeds a lot, but you don’t know any other way. Then suddenly you start petting the shark from head to tail and it’s smooth and no longer hurts and it’s great. It’s so different from what you knew before that you may be tempted to speak of it like a huge fundamental change, when in reality the situation is exactly the same shark skin and the same hand, but now you’re just petting it the proper way.

      • Lyra says

        As someone who has suffered from severe clinical depression, I object to the idea that I destroyed myself when I sought and received (successful) treatment for my depression. Yes, there were aspects of me that were very different when I had depression (constant fatigue, feeling worthless, etc) but I am still me without depression. My taking pills to get rid of my depression didn’t create a new person, it helped fix the illness of an existing one.

        • says

          I’m glad you’re no longer depressed! I certainly didn’t mean to offend with my point. Personal identity is a complex issue and there’s no right answer to what defines an individual. So I have no qualms with you thinking of yourself as the same person after depression, or Natalie thinking of herself as the same person after HRT. My concern is just being consistent in an objective manner with whatever definition of personal identity we choose.

          • says

            We can maintain a consistent definition (like “self” being more rooted in the conditions of the mind than the conditions of the body) while also being open to understanding degrees, and the different between what is a fundamental and determinant aspect of identity (that would cause the hypothetical other self to not even be you anymore) and what is simply a quality of identity.

            The kinds of changes of selfhood that accompany HRT are the kind of changes of self that we constantly, inevitably experience in life ANYWAY. If you fear those possibilities as a loss of identity, then you’d have to be terrified of simply existing in so far as those kinds of changes occur throughout our lives regardless.

          • says

            I suppose our difference is that I don’t think any characteristics of us can objectively be separated as fundamental or determinant.

            As you say, we change a lot over our life anyway. Below, David thinks the difference between the TA pill and HRT is one of intent, in the former you’re intending to change your mentality while the exact mental changes the latter causes are more like side effects. While below that, Anders takes a different view and posits the meaningful difference is how gradual the change is, but then realizes a slow acting TA pill negates that (I know I wouldn’t want to take a slow acting trans-annihilation pill any more than an instantly acting one). So there seem to be a range of views on why TA and HRT are different.

            For what it’s worth, I think I agree with David. But this means I can no longer use the argument that the TA pill would create a new person. Instead, the problem is simply that I don’t want to be that new person, so I wouldn’t go through the process purposefully. Whereas HRT mental effects aren’t particularly unwanted and come as a side effect to a result I do want to pursue. So there goes that reason for being wary of HRT :)

          • Anders says

            That’s a good answer. It’s a question of autonomy – and the same autonomy would, I guess, lead you to accept other peoples’ decision in this question?

            If I discovered the TA pill, would I be morally obliged to publish my results? Or to suppress them? We assume that if I suppress them, the same discovery would not be made by another person for some time.

          • says

            “It’s a question of autonomy – and the same autonomy would, I guess, lead you to accept other peoples’ decision in this question?”

            Indeed it would. If someone like Brynn in this thread wanted to take the TA pill, that’s their choice.

            “If I discovered the TA pill, would I be morally obliged to publish my results? Or to suppress them?”

            I suppose the worry is that governments might use it to change trans people? Or that people might be convinced to take it in times of weakness by their family or church. Of course by supressing the TA pill, you’d also be hurting people like Brynn who want to take it. I guess my answer would be that we already trust governments with far more dangerous technology than the TA pill, and it hasn’t led to genocides (trans or no) in the majority of the cases. Plus any government that has the means and desire to force the TA pill on its citizens probably also has the power to just kill them outright. The family or church issue is more troublesome though. As a scientist and societal optimist, I’d want to say you should publish, but knowing how emotionally troubling it can be to be trans, and how naive most people are about it, I worry my optimism might be misplaced.

          • Anders says

            Mmm… we’re getting closer to the question of research on the causes and mechanisms of GID. Is it ethical? These are disturbing questions, because they touch on areas like autonomy, the pursuit of truth, etc.

            According to the Helsinki Declaration (2008):

            Medical research involving a disadvantaged or vulnerable population or community is only justified if the research is responsive to the health needs and priorities of this population or community and if there is a reasonable likelihood that this population or community stands to benefit from the results of the research.

            Given this, I think someone like Natalie could plausibly argue that human research directed towards a TA-pill would be illegal in all countries that have signed the declaration (i.e., the Western world and Japan). And someone like Brinn could argue that it’s perfectly legal.

            Interesting.

    • David Bergkvist says

      When I was a kid, I had different emotions than I do now. Does that mean that child me died and was replaced by adult me?

      Let’s hypothetically say that the answer is yes: I’m really a new person and the child me really died. Would that matter? I’d say, no it doesn’t matter because the death of the child me was an accident that nobody planned or caused or could have prevented, and then there’s no reason to fret about it.

      I would argue the same thing with HRT (which I’m too planning to start with soon): The reason why I’ll take HRT isn’t so I’ll become a new person, nor do I expect to (because the changes are small). But if I do inadvertedly become a new person to such a degree that you could say the current me has died, then my death will be an accident rather than suicide and thus I have no problems with it.

      • Anders says

        It’s the problem of gradual changes, first formulated by Plutarch thusly:

        “The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned [from Crete] had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.”
        —Plutarch, Theseus

        So if you replace a ship plank by plank, when does it become a new ship? If ever? In the case of HRT, the changes are ‘plank by plank’, slow and gradual. The blue pill would be like tearing down the old ship and building a similar one from new wood.

        Which of course raises the philosopher in me to ask – what if we had a pill that initiated a gradual change? One which took, say, 5 years to manifest? But I’ll leave the question there. That can contains too many worms for my taste.

        • David Bergkvist says

          Actually, I don’t see how gradually killing myself with a GID-“curing” pill would be different compared to the effect happening all at once. Sure, it would pose the philosophical question of exactly when my death happens, but I would still know that if I start taking it, I’ll be dead in five years.

          • Anders says

            But your gender identity could change on its own in 5 years, right? It may not be common, but it happens. Aren’t some genderfluid people whose gender identity fluctuates on a short timescale?

            Is it the fact that it’s an outside intervention that makes it creepy? Or is it the change itself?

          • David Bergkvist says

            If my gender identity were to change on its own in five years, then my death would be an accident that there was no possibility of preventing, and therefore there would be no point in worrying about it.

            But it’s not just about preventability: if I knew my gender identity would change in the next five years because I was diagnosed with temporary GID (a hypothetical condition I just made up), then I would be very unhappy about that. But I’d still much prefer that fate over knowingly taking a pill that would change my gender identity (i.e. suicide). And I would prefer both these options over someone else forcing me to change gender identity (i.e. getting murdered).

            However, I don’t think gender fluidity is the same as having one gender identity and then dying and being replaced by someone with a different gender identity. I’m pretty gender fluid myself and don’t view myself as dying all the time. But I guess it’s a matter of definition and perspective.

          • Anders says

            Interesting. I’ll think about it.

            And yes, I might very well have screwed up on genderfluid, but aren’t there people whose gender identity shifts from time to time? Apologies if there aren’t.

          • David Bergkvist says

            I can only speak for myself, but I have the same identity all the time. It’s just that this identity involves different preferences on what sex I want my body to have depending on my emotional state. But I don’t know if this is actually gender fluidity; it could just be something temporary that will disappear once my transition is complete. So you shouldn’t use me as primary source of info regarding gender fluidity.

          • Anders says

            I ran and asked Natalie for a clarification in the new dictionary/etiquette post she has posted.

          • Happiestsadist says

            WRT gender identity actually changing over time: there’s at least one. And it’s uncomfortable.

    • Cara says

      I used to worry about the loss of identity with psychoactive drugs, to the point I didn’t take them when I probably should have. Part of what changed my attitude to them was contemplating EEI (endogenous endocrine intervention): I knew that going from testosterone-dominated to estrogen-dominated would probably have psychological effects, but I wanted those psychological effects. This forced me to reevaluate how I saw identity, and I abandoned my rigid view in favor of what I might term a pragmatic view, as I don’t think I have a philosophically consistent understanding of what identity is anymore, and I’m not sure such an understanding exists. _The Robot’s Rebellion_, a book taking a broad view of human psychology as evolved, talks about bootstrapping: given that we can choose (to any extent) our future desires and values, we don’t really have any choice but to decide what we will want in the future based on our best evaluation of what we should want. I find this a useful way to understand a decision to take or not take psychoactive drugs. On the one hand, I feel like I have changed under the influence of life experiences, but also EEI and other psychoactive drugs. On the other hand, I feel like EEI and psychoactive drugs have made me more like myself than going without them.

      I can speak only for myself, but just like I’d always been alienated from aspects of my body since puberty, I’d always been alienated from parts of my psychology. The invasive level of sexual desire that testosterone forced on me never felt right and often made me feel out of control and imbalanced. EEI brought this down to a level that felt comfortable and appropriate for the first time since puberty. Testosterone made me feel disconnected from my emotions: when I was severely depressed, I knew I was in terrible emotional pain but it seemed remote, I couldn’t express it. No one thought I was in trouble because I seemed so calm, even though I was breaking down inside. When EEI lifted this emotional deadening, I felt reconnected, like I was living my own life again and not experiencing it a remove. Both of these aspects make me feel more like myself than I ever did on testosterone.

  16. katie says

    Thanks for sharing your perspective on that!

    I had a similar question for you, if you don’t mind. How do you feel about scientific research aimed at understanding the causes of trans identity? I always thought this was a great thing when applied to understanding homosexuality (Look! See, it’s part of who they are, not a “choice”!). But some gay friends of mine said they found it worrisome to think maybe if whatever caused it could be identified, it could be “cured” (a straight pill, I guess).

    I’m always pro science, and pro learning about the things that make us human (and all the diversity that entails). But maybe are there things that are better not to investigate until we progress a little as a society?

    • David Bergkvist says

      AFAIK, there is a scientific theory as to the causes of GID: namely that the hormone levels when the brain is formed being different from what they where when the body was formed (sorry, the only URLs I could provide are in Swedish).

      And I’m totally happy about having been presented with this theory: there is no way I could ever have come to terms with the idea of having GID if I would have been forced to live my live without knowing there is a perfectly reasonable explanation why GID can exist. In fact, I spent the first 31 years of my life denying my GID, but after I stumbled accross this theory by accident, it only took me two weeks to figure out how it applied to me.

  17. julian says

    “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?”

    All I can think of is ‘a gram is better than a damn.’

  18. Lyra says

    The thing that vexes me about this pill question is that I don’t understand the point of it. I mean, what if the answer was “yes?” What would be accomplished by deciding this? There is no such fucking pill, and there will never be such a fucking pill. The human brain is a massively complicated organ, one that we basically don’t understand and are not good at messing with. Changing the foundation of a person’s very self is WAY beyond us, and attempts to do so seem likely to fail in an incredibly harmful way. One would think that we would want the answer to be “no” because we don’t want the best answer to be “sorcery!”

    I get all snarky at hypothetical scenarios that don’t actually hook up to reality but are meant to prove some reality based point. Would you go back in time and murder baby Hitler?! *twitch*

    • says

      The Daily Mail recently published a letter to the editor with someone saying that trans people should be given brain surgery.

      The thing that made this especially appalling is that for decades, lobotomy WAS practiced as a “treatment” for GID.

      Although the brain is complex, and there’s no way we ever could isolate gender identity and “fix” it, don’t let your guard down thinking that people wouldn’t try anyway, consequences-be-damned.

    • says

      Having sat this thread out for a while before biting, I think it is a perfectly horrible hypothetical question to ask. It’s not as if there’s even an easy way out, via either the magic trans-begone pill or the ridiculous instant sex change depicted in the film version of Myra Breckinridge. There is no use in asking such a question. I fully approve of the “answer a question with a question” responses, like the one which went, ““If you could take a pill that enabled you to get a clue, would you take it?”. :-P

      But to be serious, I also happen to disagree with Natalie’s presumption that transitioning or post-transition people would always answer one way, pre-transition the other. That seems like a [citation needed] assertion (and I am fully aware of the percentages of trans people who confirm being satisfied with their post-transition status: between 90% and 100%). Contrarily, someone down the thread has already stated they would prefer the trans-begone pill, because of the gender dysphoria really badly impacting them. It happens. One common thing about trans experiences seems to be that no trans people share exactly the same experiences. I don’t share that person’s view, probably largely because gender dysphoria has never impacted me to that negative an extent.

      I think that a trans-begone pill would be horrific, to be frank. I don’t want to be a nice little zombie, and deliberately modifying my brain so that I would become incapable of recognising either myself or the things that I like about myself is too horrible to contemplate. (The Myra Breckinridge sex change? The film is utterly appalling by the way.)

      In case this isn’t clear, consider the bigots mentioned in the thread a couple of days back who described gender transition as “Frankenstein(ing) your body”. That’s entirely the wrong metaphor guys, since my body is still mine; what would be horrible beyond words is being McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and having one’s sense of identity entirely obliterated by a lobotomy – which as Natalie points out, was not fictional: it was used as a treatment for GID. (For both aspects of body horror combined, the classic series Cybermen in Dr Who had the emotions cut out of their brains and their bodies gradually amputated, in much yuckier fashion than the New Series.)

      • Anna says

        I would like to point out that Natalie said almost and most in regards to pre and post op answers not always. Its a very important distinction so based on her numbers of about 90% + satisfaction I would say its a fair hypothesis to make and she certainly didn’t claim it as definitive proof.

    • says

      (Outdenting for wider column width.)

      Thanks, Anna, for pointing out that I did actually misrepresent Natalie.

      If editing were possible I’d be inclined to substitute “mostly” for where I wrote “always”, which I think would have… mostly avoided making such a strawman of my argument. I had no issue with the during or post-transition part of the assertion, especially since the statistics so firmly back up the real and obvious benefits of transition. My objection was to the answer of pre-transitioners being inclined to the reverse (quote: But I’m sure almost everyone who has not yet begun transition would say “yes”.).

      “[A]lmost everyone” sounds like a pretty strong claim to me, and to support it in the OP Natalie then followed it with a generalised picture of what pre-transition trans experiences are like. However not everyone has the same trans experiences, or suffers gender dysphoria with the same intensity, and so I can’t help being somewhat sceptical about the truth of such a picture.

      To go strictly to personal anecdote: I can directly agree to the truth of being horribly conflicted for long years about my identity; but the dismissal of inner conflict by swallowing the forget-me pill “without really thinking it through very much (if at all)” – now that has an insulting ring to it. For all these years, it’s that I haven’t really thought through things! I’ve been such a shallow person up until now! etc.

      Anyway, the question that is being arguing over is so ludicrously hypothetical in the first place, it really doesn’t deserve further scrutiny in my book. I just feel this topic is a blunt hammer to hit on people’s self-esteem, which is why I didn’t want to engage with it – and am regretting having done so now.

      (Also, I just noticed that I managed to mangle the italic tags so that a sentence dropped out entirely: after “The Myra Breckinridge sex change?”, I put “Maybe…” in italics, but it’s not there now. The idea of such a thing is just as ridiculous as the awful trans-begone pill.)

  19. Lyra says

    Oh, and if we are going to start looking for magic pills, maybe we can just start looking for magic pills that will make transition easier/cheaper/better/etc. That at least has some basis in what is possible.

  20. says

    For what it’s worth, my gut reaction IS, “HELL NO!”

    Like, it would be great if they found a way to cure Cerebral Palsy, but… that would also change who I am. My disability is as much a part of me as your gender identity is a part of you.

    But maybe there are people who would want that option for themselves, so I can’t say it would be necessarily be a bad thing.

  21. Brynn says

    Natalie,

    I have been on HRT for over two years. I have already undergone some surgery, and untold hours of electrolysis and LHR. I am 21 days from FFS, and FT.

    And I would happily take the cure.

    Why would I say this? Because there is absolutely zero advantage in life to being trans. You’re in agony before you transition, you’re in agony as you do it, and at the end, even if by some miracle you still have some people left who love you, you’re a pariah, an American untouchable, and a 5th class citizen. The reason 41% of trans people try suicide is because we can’t decide which is more soul crushingly awful: living as the wrong gender or transitioning and suffering all the consequences.

    The argument that the only properly lived life is lived only for ones’ self is tripe: any parent can tell you otherwise. So is the argument that we should change for no one. Again, any parent can tell you that they have irrevocably altered their lives in order to make the lives of their children better. A parent sacrifices their money, their interests, their relationships, their time, part of who they are for their kids. How many games of Candyland have I played? Would I have done that if I didn’t have children?

    Beyond that, there’s the costs, and monetary ones (as huge as they are), are the least of our expenses. There is the pain our friends, families, wive, and children endure as a result of our transitions. The concept that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few is a simple one. The recognition that living without empathy for those who are being hurt by our affliction is much harder to internalize. If we could spare the people we profess to love the most deep emotional duress, but we refuse to to serve our own self interests, and on top of that feel no guilt, remorse, or sadness, what does that say about us?

    Someone very close to me once observed that many people go through transition with nary a thought for those around them, and adopt a “accept me now or get the **** out of my life,” attitude. They also come through transition and wonder why they are now utterly alone.

    Preferring to be cured isn’t about some sort of self loathing, or internalized transphobia. It’s about empathy for people we love, and we are hurting. It’s the wisdom to realize we don’t live our lives entirely for ourselves. It’s about realizing that transitioning only makes our lives better than the slightly more awful alternatives of not transitioning or suicide.

    • says

      “Because there is absolutely zero advantage in life to being trans”

      a) I disagree.

      b) I disagree with your definition of “advantage”.

      and

      c) I don’t think “advantage” is what matters most in life.

      You’re welcome to your perspectives and feelings about the matter, I totally understand where you’re coming from and know your feelings are legitimate, and I don’t judge you for them, but for me, being trans is something I value intensely about myself, that I’m very proud of being, and while I recognize that there’s a HUGE amount of awfulness that comes along with it (mostly on account of the close-mindedness and bigotry of others), and recognize the huge amount of hassle and medical bullshit to deal with, I also recognize the blessings (metaphorically speaking) amidst the curses.

      I’m now happy with who I am and happy living my life (after a lifetime of hating myself and hoping to die), and love who I am, and since being a trans is a part of who I am, I accept and love that too, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      Of course other people’s feelings matter too. But so do ours. And we didn’t ASK to be trans, it’s just who we are, so it’s not like any of the hardship it puts on those around us is our fault. A suicide would be much harder on them. The hardship is “their fault” by way of their perceptions and attitudes as much as it’s “our fault” for being trans… but truthfully it’s nobody’s fault. Yes, it’s important to give the people you love time to adjust, and understand that it’s a bit of a transition for them too, but it’s not selfish to simply do what one has to do in order to survive.

      I don’t judge people like yourself for considering their family’s feelings of paramount importance, and taking a somewhat self-sacrificing approach to transition in order to help make things as easy for them as possible. That’s understandable. That’s what’s important to you. But I don’t judge those who cut themselves off from the people in their lives who aren’t accepting. That’s what THEY feel is important in order to protect themselves and make it through things. And I think implying “it’s all their fault they’re all alone” because the people in their lives couldn’t fucking deal with it is a pretty intense act of victim-blaming.

      We all need to negotiate this our own way, and do it in terms of our values and emotional needs. There’s no wrong way to transition or wrong way to feel about it.

      And.. I have been very clear that I don’t have any time or patience for those who won’t accept and support me (or at least for those who won’t even make the effort). And it has NOT left me alone. Instead it’s left me with a bunch of friends who I know I can trust, and whose friendship I know to be genuine.

      • Brynn says

        Natalie,

        Thank you for the kind response, even though I was vehemently disagreeing with you. Our backgrounds are very different, but they both lend themselves to very different types of analysis. I come from a a mathematical / statistical problem solving background, and my wont is to break things down into somewhat comprehensive categories. As applied to trans, here are a number of ways I can break it down.

        Happiness
        Does being trans make me happier? No.
        Does it make anyone else happier? No.
        Therefor me being trans does not make anyone happier.

        Societal Benefit
        Does being trans benefit society in any quantifiable way? No. My disorder ends up causing a huge amount of wasted time and resources devoted to fixing me, one way or another.

        My Quality of Life
        Does being trans improve my life inside the home? No, it is a giant source of marital stress and a time eating monster

        Does trans improve my life at work? No. It eats up time, and after transition guaratees I am stuck being the token freak, at best.

        Does it improve my life outside of home and work? No. All it does is exponentially increase the odds someone decides to beat me into a coma, as well as scare off most potential non-trans friends.

        Other People’s Quality of Life
        Does my transness improve other people’s quality of life? No, unless you count my surgeon, therapist,a dn electrologist. If you take into account that the money I spend on those people comes at the expense of my wife and kids,then there is no way to say it does anything but cause a net decrease.

        I don’t see wanting to cure trans people with “real” science in a thought piece as exterminationism. It’s like cochlear implants for deaf people or advanced prostheses for people who lost their limbs in the wars. Wanting to cure trans people is no more a war on the community than artificial legs are a war on wheelchair basketball leagues.

        • Anna says

          I’m going to give you how i see it with honestly no disrespect intended. Just a differant perspective.

          Happiness:

          Does being trans make me happier? Yes and no. For years I was miserable then I transitioned a learned I like myself this way, like the perspective i have gained on gender and the world and learned who my real friends are.

          DOes being trans make anyone else happier? Yes and no again. Now that im Anna my family and friends with a couple of exceptions like me better. I’m happier, im friendlier. If I wasnt trans would that be true? I can’t guarentee that. Also, my mom is really enjoying having another daughter who she is closer to.

          Therefore me being trans doesnt seem to objectively make anyone happier or less happy. It’s situational.

          Societal Benefit:

          Does my being trans benefit society in any quantifiable way? Yes, clearly. I have been able to enlighten my family and friends about gender and sexuality. They have learned a great deal about tolerance and what matters in life. They have said as much to me. It will make things easier for future generations in my family who are gay, trans, bi, or just gender nonconforming. Also I believe the world benefits from a variety of experiences generally. The cost of my transition is honestly a drop in the bucket for the health care system.

          Does being trans improve my quality of life?:

          That one is hard to answer. Would I have been healthy as a conforming guy? In my family all my brothers and my father had various degrees of obesiety and alchohal issues. If I fit in with them it is likely I would have also. When I started transition my mental health was such I got to a healthy weight I do not drink and my health and energy are quite good compared to my sibs. Now that im transitioning im also happy almost all of the time. I cannot deny however that I have taken on some risk factors being trans in terms of violence and such. I just try to be careful and minimize those.

          Does it imporve others quality of life?: I am currently going into nursing something in my gender traditional family I would likely not have done. Assuming I finish I think that may qualify as me improving others quality of life.

          I will have to strongly disagree with your last statement. If you had a cure and would take it thats fine for you, it is not up to me to decide whats right for you. Extermination is a real threat for me. I suspect such a cure would be the standard course of treatment instead of the treatment available now. I like who I am. I like my unique perspective on the world. I don’t want to be like everyone else.

          I am not selfish for wanting to be happy. If people don’t like who I am that is not my issue, lots of people don’t like me for being left wing politically either but I have no intention of changing that. I am a woman with a unique background. That makes me a valuable resource and a valuable human being. I don’t need that cured.

        • says

          Maybe this will help: one close friend who is trans has definitely improved my quality of life, and so has meeting other trans people here and there. It’s like Anna said about education about gender, but basically, there were three major effects:

          1. Decreasing my gender anxiety about other people (gender anxiety = perceiving gender boundaries and discomfort with crossing those), probably some internalized sexism, and helping me be comfortable with my own gender identity and expression
          2. A bit of really useful perspective on how misogyny actually works, and what one can do to disrupt that
          3. As a queer cis person, I get a lot of side-benefits from the work of trans activists, and trans people who are out for just being there, thus challenging attitudes and making spaces safer.

          I haven’t done enough to give back, and often I think the LGB community has hardly even tried, but we’ve benefited, just the same.

  22. says

    this is a great post. and, to be perfectly honest, it’s an aspect of my privilege with which I do struggle (moreso on the abled/disabled axis than the cis/trans axis, but still), so thank you very much for this; it’s one more tool I can use to get the fact that disabled and trans people actually really like being themselves past my stupidly stubborn privilege.

    and on another note, would it be stupid/privileged to point out that one of my favorite recent storylines in X-Men was the one where a “cure” for mutant-ness was developed and the different X-Men struggled in different ways with whether what they were was something that could/should be “cured”…

  23. Cara says

    I’ve never actually had someone ask me that question, which I guess means I just have’t met someone dumb and insensitive enough yet, but even having it posed puts me in a “die cis scum” mood. As much as I hate being trans sometimes, I’d rather kill myself than make myself into a cis male—from my perspective, it’s the same thing. The question I always want to ask back is, “How would you feel if someone wanted you to be a cis male or cis female, whichever you aren’t?” But I think that’s not quite the right question, because most cis people don’t have a visceral appreciation of how that would make them a totally different person. Maybe a better question would be, “How would you feel if someone asked you to give up whatever the most important part of your identity is?” Around here, how would people feel if there was a “cure” for atheism that made them into happy, faithful, believing Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, etc.?

    • Cara says

      I want to add that, speaking personally, even before transition I never wanted a “cure” that made me a cis male. Loss of my identity has always terrified me.

    • says

      Yes! That’s actually a perfect analogy:

      Cis atheists in this thread, how would you react to the question of whether or not you’d take a pill that would make you a confident believer in Christian dogma? You’d be happier, you’d have the security of “knowing” the truth, you’d have the comfort of belief in an afterlife, you’d have a nice easily concrete moral code, and you’d be free from persecution for your beliefs and instead fall into the accepted majority. It would make things “easier”, right? So would you take the pill?

      And more importantly, how does me asking that, and the underlying presumptions, make you feel?

      • says

        If someone were arguing that the problem with religion is that it makes people unhappy, I certainly would ask that. If someone doesn’t accept the pill, they are undermining this claim. Then, they have to either say the pill is more wrong and have to explain why identity has moral primacy for reasons other than freedom (as people would be freely choosing to take this pill) or think about why else religion might be wrong. This is a common practice in ethical philosophy.

      • says

        Well, I *used* to feel pretty guilty that I didn’t believe in God, and figured I was a bad Christian and such. But I doubt there was ever a point when I’d have taken the pill, because fundamentally I wanted to live my life around the truth.

        …so yeah, I guess that does line up pretty well. Change “live my life around the truth” to “be my authentic self”, and there you have it. *headdesk*

      • Anders says

        How it makes me feel? Thoughtful. Introspective. Does it creep me out? Not really. Would I take it?

        It’s basically the red pill/blue pill question from the matrix. A comfortable illusion or an inconvenient truth. And I’ve been there. I studied with the JW’s for a while and at one point my whole perspective of the world shifted. It was like a Necker cube – I saw everything from a whole new angle. I was, in fact, a believer. But my natural skepticism reasserted itself in a matter of hours. I was not cut out to be a believer. It was an interesting experience.

      • Brynn says

        In retrospect, yes, I’d be religious. My atheism likely cost me my Navy career. Religious people are happier, and they have a real sense of community. As a trans atheist… I have no community other than an online one… and studies show that sort of isolation leads to further depression.

        There is also a definite genetic component to religiosity. Given the breeding rates of believers and non-believers, I sort of wish I hadn’t passed that one particular gene along. Mostly because when the believers eventually run amok, the few remaining atheists are the first ones getting their heads cut off.

      • anat says

        I wouldn’t take the pill, but I’m not at all offended by the question. But then, I’m accustomed to playing with hypotheticals that make many people uncomfortable.

      • says

        The situations seem different for me. Atheism isn’t a part of me any more than my believing nothing with energy/mass or information can travel faster than light. If that faster-than-light neutrino thing turns out to be true, or God is discovered by science, I’ll still be me. I think a better parallel would be “would we take a pill that eliminated our skepticism?”

        Still, both the atheism and skepticism examples differ from trans/cis in that I think everybody SHOULD be a skeptic (and thus an atheist given our current knowledge), since I think faith is bad and religions are wrong. So I wouldn’t take an anti-skepticism pill in part because I don’t want to have traits I find undesirable in humans, not based on any consideration of what’s “right for me”.

        Similarly, I think a Christian would be justified in wanting me to take an anti-atheism pill, since from their view I would then believe the truth. Yet a cis person would not be justified in wanting me to take the TA pill.

  24. Kate says

    I remember an episode of Star Trek: TNG, “The Outcast,” that dealt with that exact question. And, sure enough, the individual who is forced to undergo the “treatment” emerges as a different person. She died, and someone else lived after.

  25. Shaun says

    What a horrible question! “Would you choose to live with yourself if you had to?” The only answers to that question I can see are “fuck you, I already ‘have to’,” or crippling depression and self-loathing. Confronting someone with the knowledge, or even suspicion, that if they had the choice they wouldn’t live with themselves seems unthinkably sadistic.

  26. Anat says

    ‘How would you like to become er, exactly like yourself, but the opposite gender?’ Er – what does this even mean? That hypothetical person of the opposite gender is some stranger, not me.

    ‘How would you like to become exactly like yourself but an extravert rather than an introvert?’

    ‘How would you like to become exactly like yourself but ten times more conscientious?’

    These are equally meaningless questions. There isn’t a ‘just like yourself except for this tidbit’ when the ‘detail’ in question has a much greater context and impact.

    In the autism community this sometimes causes conflicts between autistic people and their neurotypical parents, where (some of) the parents want cures while their children (especially the higher-functioning ones) want acceptance in greater society.

  27. says

    I do see this as a potentially important philosophical question about the nature of our identity and as a challenge to many constructions of utilitarianism or emotivism. Similar questions come up as to the ethicality of some real psychiatric treatments and of recreational drug use. It isn’t even just a thought experiment. Anti-depressants have been blamed for the radical movement losing steam. However, if you aren’t using it to challenge ideas about free will or the place of suffering in ethical theory, but specifically to undermine trans identities, it’s a jerk move.

    I would ask a related question, though. If such a treatment were possible, would you be opposed to it? That is, would you be upset if Canada’s equivalent of the FDA approved such a thing or a friend of yours opted to take it?

    • Cassandra Caligaria (Cipher), OM says

      In the original post, Natalie says:

      Even just having such a treatment would border on genocide

      I think it’s fair to assume from that that she would be opposed to it. And can you imagine the pressure and coercion that people would face – from transphobic cis relatives and religious traditions, for instance – to take it?

    • Shaun says

      It’s a pretty loaded question, from a philosophical viewpoint. How do you construct a rational system of ethics along the split between those conditions within human variation and, say, hereditary disease?

      Treating people as essentially, fundamentally broken because they don’t fall into the “normal” social construct is abhorrent behavior. The attempt to find a “cure” for such variation is morally questionable, at best. A cure (hereafter without scare quotes) seems likely to result in two classes of people: the normal (or close enough) and those who consciously reject the cure, and therefore normality. The second class are therefore even more vulnerable to being second class.

      Or, perhaps the cure is something that could be applied during pregnancy. All I see from that possibility is a deep morass of questionable choices. Do we really have the right to let a parent choose what type of body and/or psychology their child will have, even if it’s only within certain broad tolerances? What happens to the people who were born before this wonder cure? They inevitably age and grow fewer through attrition and cure-selection, losing political and social power to protect themselves as they die off. Are those good enough reasons not to try to improve quality-of-life for as many people as we can? If they are not, should we, collectively, reconsider quality-of-life as a guide to ethical medical R&R? Etc.

      Dammit, now I’m going to have to start over from “cogito, ergo sum.”

      • Anat says

        Do we really have the right to let a parent choose what type of body and/or psychology their child will have, even if it’s only within certain broad tolerances?

        Why not? Or should we stop giving deaf children cochlear implants? (Well, some of the Deaf believe that it is more important to raise a deaf child in Deaf culture than to do everything possible to improve hir hearing and hir functioning in the hearing world.) If there were a cure for blindness that can be applied in utero or infancy would that be wrong too? What about genetic treatment to cure, say, juvenile diabetes? There’s a huge difference between forcing a radical change on someone who has lived years with a certain type of brain/senses/body and doing so to someone who has yet to experience their own brain/senses/body. And of course, we have prenatal diagnosis and selective abortion which we apply to many conditions. Should we stop? When we allow abortion for other reasons? Is it right to force a life of suffering on an individual when the suffering can be avoided?

        Some years ago there was a poster with CF on IIDB (an atheist forum, now goes under FRDB). He has since died from his condition. He once posted about how wrong his parents were to have him when they knew they had an increased chance to have another child with CF. (His parents avoided prenatal testing because they were religiously opposed to abortion.)

        • Shaun says

          I’d like to start by saying I’m hardly against abortions.

          The problem with widespread in utero screenings, treatments and selective abortion is that it reinforces the idea that someone who has a condition that could be treated with those methods is less than fully human, that they’re broken and should have been fixed before they were born, or not should not have been allowed to be born at all. Avoiding additional stigmatization of children whose parents could not or would not seek those treatments could be a new problem; if so, careful consideration is needed to decide if it’s a problem we’re willing to accept for the solution. It’s not like we have a great track record for discerning quality-of-life conditions that objectively harm an individual (pain, shortened life expectancy, secondary medical conditions, etc.) from those that we simply find distasteful.

          Perhaps I’m simply having difficulty drawing a line between ableism (yes, it is a word, you stupid Firefox red squiggly line) and legitimate medical intervention.

      • says

        Do we really have the right to let a parent choose what type of body and/or psychology their child will have, even if it’s only within certain broad tolerances?

        Good question.

        I was about to say, “Yes, so long as the fetus is part of the mother’s body, it is hers to dispose of as she wishes,” but obviously anything done to negatively affect a future child she plans to birth is ethically dubious.

        Personally, given some of the utterly wrong-headed things I’ve seen written on the topic of “ableism,” I’d be as worried about certain parents choosing to give their future child spina bifida as I would about certain parents choosing to purge “teh ghey” from their fetii.

  28. JayGrrl says

    If there was a pill to cure homosexuality, would it be a suppository?
    If there was a pill to cure stupidity masked as ignorance, would “they” take it ?

    • Anders says

      If there was a pill to cure homosexuality, would it be a suppository?

      Well, no. Then it wouldn’t be a pill. It would be a suppository. The word you’re looking for is formulation. And we don’t use suppositories unless a) it’s supposed to work locally, or b) the patient can’t take an oral formulation for some reason (extremely nauseous, unconscious, etc.).

      /pharmacologist

  29. says

    A year after surgery? That’s quite some gatekeeping selection bias in action, isn’t it? I thought something like 20% of trans women have surgery (and way fewer for trans men). This doesn’t actually take away from your point at all: of course, the women who have enough personal resources or medical insurance to have SRS or more minor surgery, can better deal with the problems society imposes. Someone *more* vulnerable to and victim of society might be more inclined to take the pill.

    I’m somewhat uneasy with how much the conversations above seem to be tilting towards comparisons with mental disabilities. I just think questions like “to be female or to be male”, though they are loaded and they come with body and brain-chemistry issues, are not at all loaded in the same *way* as are questions such as “to be mentally stable or to be bipolar”.

    I’ve asked myself (cis female, again) the question “would I be transsexual if I were assigned male at birth?”, and the answer, after days (weeks?) of the question being at the back of my mind, was “yes, 99% yes”. Even though I’m not so feminine, and I can tell how others’ expectations have gradually molded me to more feminine than feels quite right. I wish more people would consider that question, I think it gives you a healthier attitude.

  30. Yahzi says

    What if there was a pill that would make you totally OK with those extra 15 lbs, the left-over acne scars, and that voice that makes you cringe every time you hear it without the benefit of a jawbone bass line?

    In other words, what if there were a pill that make you OK with yourself, however you happen to be?

    I think that pill would sell out so fast, you wouldn’t even have a chance at it.

    I suppose it has a downside; what if the pill also made you OK with your moral short-comings, as well as your physical ones. Taking that pill would vastly more problematic.

    But I suspect it would sell out just as fast. :D

  31. embertine says

    I am not a trans person (IANATP?) but my initial response to the question was HELL NO. Trans people often choose to change their bodies to match their brains. To me, to change one’s brain to match the body would be effectively suicide.

    This may or may not be a rational response… *sideeye*

  32. donnamccrimmon says

    I admittedly don’t know much about the trans- experience, so I’ve never heard this question before. But as soon as I read it I could see that people would ask this and I could see why it would be so offensive.

    I have to ask, is it that hard to have a little empathy? Although I think part of the issue is that society has conflated ‘dissatisfaction with any aspect of your life’ with ‘depression.’ And depression, as every armchair Freud knows, is something to be treated with just talking to your therapist or taking some pills. Nevermind how complex and myriad the matter of mental health is. There are still people who think that homosexuality (and, by relation, transexualism) stems from some childhood trauma or some crossed wires in the otherwise perfectly rational human brain.

    Not to excuse any of that, but I don’t think most people with this view are intentionally malicious, just ignorant. Society, culture, media bombard us with an idea of what is ‘normal’ or ‘standard’ for people, completely ignorant of the fact that things like the ‘traditional’ family or gender roles are just societal inventions. I’m not that surprised that many people would blanche at the idea of the system being uprooted in any way, not when we’re all being constantly conditioned from birth to view things a certain way.

    But the question of ‘self’ is rather interesting, because as others have pointed out none of us are the same people we were 10 years ago, 20 years ago, whatever. Simply aging brings change, nevermind actually growing. So what we see ourselves as today will not be ourselves down the road, and if we are honest with ourselves we realize and understand that we do lose aspects of ourselves as we grow. A few years ago my identification as a Christian was important to me. Today, I’m not a Christian.

    Do I see the loss as a negative? No. It was growth. But it wasn’t about growing into something I had always seen myself as, as transitioning is for transpeople. It was about finding out who I am as I went along. And maybe that’s what confuses many cis people: they think transitioning is just a more permanent form of experimentation. Transpeople are just trying out a new identity, they think to themselves.

    I could be wrong about all this, though.

  33. donnamccrimmon says

    @Ms. Daisy Cutter and Happiestsadist

    My comments were not a dismissal (total or otherwise) of medication and therapy as ways to treat depression. They were directed as the common view that mental health was so simplistic that any issue could be treated with simple remedies the way the common cold is treated with bedrest and fluids. As I said, mental health is a complex issue, but people view it in the most simplistic of terms (aided by countless shows and movies depicting mental illness in the most childish of terms, building up to that ‘Eureka moment’ when they realize the serial killer puts dog hearts in the mouths of his victims because his dad once hit a dog with a car while driving drunk). This extends to thinking that any kind of sexual or gender identification ‘deviance’ is something that can be cured (the very word ‘cure’ (as in a total, complete recovery) being applied to any and all mental health problems underlines the simplistic understanding I’m talking about here).

    And if we’re going to bring up personal experience as a way to claim authority on this issue, then let me join in by pointing out that I’ve dealt with depression and thoughts of suicide for over half my life. Therapy helped me at certain points, and at other times I simply pushed through and waited for such bouts to pass, and they invariably did.

    Do I recommend that latter ‘ride it out’ approach to anyone suffering depression? No. I am not qualified to many any recommendation*, and common sense tells me there are some people who, without any attempt at treating their problem, would… Worst case scenario is suicide. Therapy can help certain people, medication can help others, and other avenues (I won’t list or try to speculate on) might help still others.

    This is my point, mental health is more complex than “I was feeling bad but I got some pills and now I’m better.” Hell, you two both mentioned that you’re on medication, but I’m willing to wager that you’re on different prescriptions with different doses, because you’re two different people.

    But apparently you both thought “Well I have my own experience, so I can snark at this person for what they apparently said.”

    *The reason I didn’t mention my own mental health problems above is because I hate it when people effectively say “Well I’ve dealth with something like this before, so I’m an expert or near-enough.” I still don’t claim any expertise, and the only thing I will really argue is that in issues such as this deference should be given to the people with credentials, not people with anecdotes.

    • Happiestsadist says

      It would have come off a lot less offensive if you’d actually talked about the nuanced nature of mental health, instead of using the most common anti-psych talking points right off the bat, then. It’s not the fault of multiple others for reading what you wrote and inferring that’s what you meant.

      • Anna says

        @ Happiestsadist I didn’t read her initial comment that way. I almost stepped in to say that but she decided to explain herself. Blaming her for you inferring something that wasn’t there is not particularily fair.

        And as for the other comment from Ms Daisy Cutter I thought she expressed herself just fine and its rude to talk about her using too many paragraphs and being unable to express herself when she is trying to clarify to you about your misunderstanding. Frankly the whole comment was rude and uncalled for.

        Also the bottom comments on a thread often have no reply button when they are too far across the screen. People have no choice but to start a new thread to reply directly.

  34. Chirico says

    I have a certain paraphilia that, given a pill or brain laser existed which would remove it, I would, regardless of how that affects “who I am” or if it would be annihilation. Even if I were more comfortable with who I am and had a strong sense of self, I’m sure I would still go through with it.
    Something that I thought about when reading this post was people that give their lives up for others, firefighters, soldiers, parents(either figuratively as another poster said above, or literally). These people end their lives, annihilating their sense of self, to give others a chance at life and happiness. It’s not a perfect analogy, and I’m not passing judgment either way, but it’s something I thought about.

      • Chirico says

        I wasn’t referring to gender identity. But people have been talking about various aspects of themselves and how losing them would change who they are. Sexuality and what people are attracted to is just as central to self as gender or disabilities.

        • says

          “Sexuality and what people are attracted to is just as central to self as gender or disabilities.”

          I disagree. It may be central to self, but I don’t see it as being AS central to self as gender, given that gender is about who YOU are, not who you want to fuck or how or not.

          • Chirico says

            I don’t doubt that for you, gender is a VERY central aspect of your sense of self, but surely you must realize that isn’t necessarily the case for everyone. I’m not trivializing the importance you place on gender in who you are, and I would appreciate you doing the same in regards to something that causes me a great deal of grief and emotional suffering.

          • says

            I think it’s important for everyone, but most cis people don’t notice that importance because they’re able to take gender identity for granted.

            I’m not saying your paraphilia isn’t an important part of your identity, and a serious issue, and something that you would change even if it meant changing something strongly connected to who you are. I’m just saying the comparison doesn’t feel quite direct to me. Though neither does the disability comparison, to be honest.

  35. paul says

    I have been mystified by transitioning MTFs embracing gender stereotype things like high heels that many cis-women would like to abolish. It has led me to ask a different clueless question:

    In a hypothetical future utopia without gender roles or a fashion industry, what would “transitioning” be like? Would it even exist?

    I am talking about future world where high heels, corsets, neckties, etc. are grouped together with foot binding, breast implants, and FGM in the public awareness and even the historical re-enactors don’t bother with them, any more than the SCAdians try to re-enact the bubonic plague.

    • says

      *sigh*

      Your entire premise is based on an offensive myth. There are PLENTY of trans women who don’t fall at all into hyper-femme stereotypes, and often when we do, it’s because we’re FORCED to in order to access treatment and meet cultural expectations and heightened standards of femininity and not be criticized (in typical catch-22 fashion) for being “too masculine” / “really just men”.

      You’ve also mistaken gender identity for gender expression. TWO. DIFFERENT. THINGS.

      There are butch trans women. Now take that fact, think about what it implies, and get back to me about your utopia.

      • Anders says

        *sigh*

        Have we so soon forgotten all the lessons we learned in our youth? The difference between boys and girls is not behavior, it is not genitalia, it is that girls have cooties. And pink socks.

  36. says

    Perhaps this is a question I have asked in some form internally. I find it interesting and you explanation more than satisfactory.

    I especially like the idea that gender is so intertwined with our whole existence that any magic pill that could change that our gender to suit our presentation, would ultimately change us. It make sense from what I have heard from brain scans of transgender people compared to brain scans of other people who may have an aspect of their physical body that is alien and out of sorts with them. (An example is someone like Christina Stephens’ friend who cut off his own toes and eventually wants his entire foot removed.)

    I will admit I know little about the causes for the Christina’s friend but in my head originally I had attempted to conflate his scenario with that of a transgender person. Discussing it a little with my friend I wondered aloud about possible distinctions and similarities between brains in the two. She explained that her understanding is that the differences you see between a transgender and a cis brain are not just in a particular area as you might see in someone like Christina’s friend. Instead the dichotomy of a person’s gender being at odds with their presentation is apparent in much of the brain.

    This makes sense with your description of the absolute pervasiveness of gender. So understanding it in those terms it makes far more sense to me why there is nothing remotely close to a magic pill or a magic therapy that changes gender to suit presentation. The problem isn’t actually in the brain. It is in the body. I would bet money that not only does the success rate based on satisfaction surveys after SRS show an astounding improvement but also that brain activity related to anxiety decreases a great deal from no longer having to deal with being forced to be someone you are not. Basically the magic pill is the SRS.

    Those are just musings based on my rudimentary understanding. Please correct me if I am wrong here at all.

  37. im says

    Obviously the transness-begone pill is usually a concept born of social hatred.

    However, I (basically THE CONFORMIST for anything related to gender and sexuality) have sometimes wanted one that would make me bisexual. (though I would only take it if the current state of bi/homophobia was ended).

    There are also a lot of things that are part of my identity that I want engineered away. The greatest part of my identity, and the part that must not change, is the desire to change other parts and make them better.

    There was a time when I wanted to kill my identity as a Westerner, because I believed that the West had fallen. I wanted to go to some foreign country and assimilate completely. Not anymore.

    On the matter of blindness: obviously if one spent all ones time wishing to see, one would never learn to read braille. However, I ask, what if one could have what I call an omnimax.

    The omnimax is an operation that gives you everything regardless of whether or not you have it already.

    -ability to see light of any wavelenght
    -Ability to resolve features as small as 1 uM at 5 km distance (that’s counting hairs)
    -Ability to run at 200km/hr without assistance
    -Ability to calculate floating point and integer math, plus integrate and perform matrix math, equivalent to a computer with 1GB memory and 1000 Drystone mips
    -Ability to understand social situations on par with the best human socializers
    -Looking like whatever you want to look like, generally a self-idealized form of your own body image.
    -And so on.

    Clearly the ability to see at all is a part of this. And it seems to me that if nobody offers you the omnimax, taking the ability to see would be a small step toward it. The assumption is not that all people want to be ‘normal’, but that all people wish to be strong.

  38. says

    I’m late here, but I’m glad I’ve never been asked that question by a cis person. I mean, holy crap, they do realize the brain is a physical organ, right?

    But this is where I’m sad that I’m late here, because an important point has been left of all of this: non-binary trans people. Because of the current medical establishment, genderqueers and agenders and all sorts of transly people have to lie our way through various systems moreso than “traditional” binary trans people. Nobody wants to risk having their transition denied because we don’t want to go “all the way” (an offensive term, to be sure). So many of us lie, and then when we get what we want, we jump ship, or “detransition” (for those who only wanted short-term hormonal tweaks) or other such things that imply we have regret. We don’t.

  39. Art says

    Not having GID, and generally figuring people adapt and express themselves any way they please, or at least that’s how is should work, your question strikes me as something of an imponderable. Gender identity issues are not something I have experienced. As a heterosexual male with a male body I’m kind of like the fish contemplating living on land. You can’t quite ‘get’ the meaning of ‘dry’.

    I will add, admittedly I’m outside looking in, that those few people I know with gender identity issues seem to be fighting a three front war with their mind, body, surrounding society. Thinking, feeling, and being accepted as a gender other than what your genitals indicate and keeping it together as a coherent whole is tough.

    A pill or tool that would zap the brain into alignment with the body seems easy enough but it does conflict with our self image as being brain directed. Sexual reassignment brings the body to the brain’s position. This hypothetical pill, the exact opposite. “I think therefore I am” (I think) … but, am I a brain? Am I what I think?

    Seems to me, based on very limited experience, that gender identity issues are as much about the issue, the struggle with the issue, than seeking a solution. Struggling with this issue is part of their identity. A solution, even a quick and easy solution, perhaps especially a quick and easy solution, may leave them feeling less whole. It is a classic question that was written about all the way back in the Peloponnesian War: if you dedicate your life to fighting what remains after the battle is over.

    After being an explorer, adventurer, and radical in the field of sexuality and gender how do you settle for a happy ‘plain vanilla’ existence?

    On an entirely different subject: It would be good if in future you would spell out any acronyms. Many professional journals suggest that the first use of any acronym in any article get spelled out. ie: GID (Gender Identity Disorder) All other incidences needn’t be spelled out. Yes, I know, for you and the intended audience it is old hat but doing so allows you to bring in a wider audience and, I’ve found, that spelling things out helps keep everyone on the same page. The issues you are dealing with are complicated enough without getting into what people might think you mean if they misunderstand what an acronym stands for.

  40. says

    Ironically, I was talking with a guy in my unit this past week and he proposed that we should cure all homo- and transsexual people. The guy also genuinely believed that these things were curable today because “it’s been done before.” Of course, he expressed the view that trans people weren’t “real (insert self-identified gender here),” which a few years ago would have annoyed me, but really pissed me off this time.

    In any case, aside from his glaring ignorance, I actually had to respond to something along this line. Now, I don’t think I would 100% agree with your reasoning that taking this magic pill would be tantamount to death, any more than I would agree that my mother’s continuing treatment for her bipolar effectively makes the untreated mother who raised me as a young child dead. Of course, the matter of identity is a bit metaphysical and philosophers have been debating that crap for years.

    What I found more pressing, and what I tried to impress on my poor fundamentalist colleague, was why should anyone give a crap about “curing” this kind of thing? You cure diseases and disorders; stuff that actually poses a threat to your and others’ well being. It’s tantamount to asking me if I want to take a pill so I would enjoy eating tomatoes. Oh, I know they’re healthy for me and it’s inconvenient to have to ask people to hold the tomatoes every time I go out to eat, but is it really such a big damn deal that I want to risk treatment, which always comes with risks? No. And should anyone else give such a damn about my dislike of tomatoes that they should encourage me to take this pill? Hell, no.

    Of course, the guy did try to argue some of the risks of being homo- and transsexual, but I also had to point out that all of those risks weren’t from those traits, but from other people being homo- and transphobic bigots.

    Not that the guy listened. He even pissed my girlfriend off, and she’s usually pretty patient. She’s also a psychologist, though, and he was abusing her field of study hard.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my recounting of my own encounter with this question. Don’t even ask why this guy asked me, of all people; he seems intent on starting some shit with me about every conservative christian talking point in existence (or maybe he wants to find some common ground of bigotry with me, as I think I may be the only guy left in the company who doesn’t treat him with naked contempt at this point).

    • Anders says

      As I understand it, transsexualism causes actual distress in the form of gender dysphoria. This is above and beyond what transphobia causes. Now, we have a treatment for gender dysphoria, and that’s called transitioning (as far along the path as you want). Is it ethical to search for other treatments? Is it ethical to search for something that suppresses gender dysphoria? I still think it’s a question worth asking, although I appreciate that this may have to do with me not feeling my identity assaulted once per week when someone tells me about this brilliant gedanken-experiment they’ve just concocted.

    • Rasmus says

      That’s the thing. Here’s a another thought experiment… Suppose we “cure” heterosexuality and procreate through in vitro artificial insemination and we make sure that most of the embryos that we implant are female. That way almost everyone in society will be a lesbian woman, except for a small number of gay men.

      Imagine how much the crime rates would drop. Sex crimes and severe violent crimes would all but disappear.

      (Since this is the internet I should probably add that I’m not seriously proposing this.)

  41. tashachemel says

    Very interesting discussion. I’m a cisgender female who has been totally blind since birth. When asked to describe my relationship with blindness, I often draw the comparison to the traditional trans narrative; I have always felt like a blind person trapped in a sighted person’s body. Fortunately, contrary to the point made by a commenter above, though I have spent lots of time wanting to see, I have also managed to learn Braile, to earn my MSW and start working on my PH.D., and to move across the country by myself. I’ve often been told by people in the blindness community that if I had better blindness skills, I wouldn’t want to see as much. But this is not the case: my desire to see is inextricably linked to my creativity. I am not doomed to living an incomplete life as a blind person, but I want to experience the world as much as possible, and sight is part of that world. It’s not everything, but it is nonetheless important. If someone offered me a pill to make my blindness dysphoria (a term I created) go away, would I take it? Probably not. My longing for sight is intrinsic to who I am, and it enriches my writing. Plus, my optic nerve is fine, and treatments for my retinal condition are on the horizon. However, if I were to find out that such treatments wouldn’t be available in my lifetime, that I had no option for transition as it were, I think I would take that pill. I am content to hold onto my longing, but only if there is an end in sight.

  42. ik says

    There’s a lot in that.

    I do think that denigrating something which engineering does not let you obtain is kind of a bad coping mechanism.

    One issue is that attempts to change gender, sexuality, etc in the past were often really physically/mentally abusive and cruel in a way that future technologies i.e. involving detailed neural manipulation hopefully would not be. This complicates the issue.

    Other related question: Suppose that there was no trans-be-gone pill or anything, but the root causes of transexuality/GID were determined and a method developed that would prevent any further babies from being born with gender identity different from their body. What about that? Even in a completely tolerant society, it would save people from the trials of dysphoria.

  43. ik says

    There’s a lot in that.

    I do think that denigrating something which engineering does not let you obtain is kind of a bad coping mechanism.

    One issue is that attempts to change gender, sexuality, etc in the past were often really physically/mentally abusive and cruel in a way that future technologies i.e. involving detailed neural manipulation hopefully would not be. This complicates the issue.

    Other related question: Suppose that there was no trans-be-gone pill or anything, but the root causes of transexuality/GID were determined and a method developed that would prevent any further babies from being born with gender identity different from their body. What about that? Even in a completely tolerant society, it would save people from the trials of dysphoria.

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