Being an “abomination” is pretty great

For the past few years, I’ve had the chance to hear all sorts of amusing remarks from people who seemingly have nothing better to do than work themselves into a froth over the fact that trans people exist. Even though I’ve only identified as trans for a much shorter time, these people don’t really care to recognize distinctions like that. It certainly hasn’t stopped them from telling me I’m a “freak”, or an “abomination”, or that I’ll “never be a real woman”. Misguided and irrelevant as these claims may be, it’s still worth charting out what’s going on here.

Unfortunately, there’s a reason why people often choose this particular route of attack. Some of us do feel insecure and dissatisfied about the fact that we had to become our gender rather than having it handed to us as a biological default, and about being seen by many as lesser than both men and women. We try to make the best of our situation, and we want nothing more than to go about our lives without trouble, but we’re denied that when people focus on this one aspect of who we are to deem us “freakish”.

Consider what it means to be seen as somehow being monstrous, or an abomination. What sort of things come to mind? Artificial, constructed, mangled, lacking in internal consistency, shattered and repaired, incomplete, inauthentic, and unnatural. Contrast this with being seen as organically grown, an unbroken whole, the real thing, seamless and without defect. This maps almost perfectly onto how trans people and cis people are commonly viewed.

Keep in mind how both religious fundamentalists and random internet busybodies often claim that trans people are “in conflict” with nature or “denying nature”. Of course, “natural” and “unnatural” are never pinned down to concrete criteria, because there aren’t any. But here, these words are used to describe some of the most obvious differences between the histories of cis people and trans people.

You can’t really avoid noticing how being cis is prized by nearly everyone, trans or cis, bigoted or accepting. Why? Because it means having a body into which your gender will always fit, one with all of its masculinization or feminization generated internally without supplement or assistance, and one which will always reflect who you are and allow you to be seen, unquestionably, as yourself. It’s just easier.

On the other hand, being trans means becoming who we are through a patchwork process of intentional interventions. Our lives, our identities, and our very bodies have boundaries where the past and the future did not line up. Socially, physically and legally, we don’t have the option of a single unbroken gender that’s consistent over our lifetime. We have no choice but to be something that people will often regard as monstrous.

Ultimately, this can mean being exiled to a kind of gender demilitarized zone. I’ve abandoned life as a cis man, and yet I’ll never be a cis woman. My life is never going to be as seamless and organic as that of others. And when you’re disappointed with your own body for falling short of that idealized cis standard, it’s easy to feel like it’s a disappointment to those around us as well, almost like it’s something we need to apologize for. While I can hardly begrudge other trans people for feeling that way, it really is monstrous for people to home in on that sore spot and jab at it for all it’s worth, using what’s often a source of deep and enduring hurt as a weapon against us.

Maybe there’s more to it, though. People who either don’t know or don’t care about the scientific consensus have often claimed that our bodies are normal and healthy, so being trans isn’t something that should be treated physically. But what if we could be more than just normal? Why should we settle for what’s supposed to be good enough, when we have the option to become something even better? Others may see this as choosing to reject what’s “normal”, and in doing so, relegating ourselves to being abnormal. But I don’t see this as a choice between normal and abnormal. I see it as a choice between average, and awesome.

Over the past two months, HRT has improved me in ways that I didn’t even know needed improvement. My skin isn’t rough anymore, and it’s better than it’s been in years. My libido is under my control now, instead of controlling me and intruding into my awareness when it’s not needed. My chest is visibly growing more and more every day – they actually stick out, where there used to be nothing but flat skin. And instead of either feeling totally numb or abruptly bursting into tears, I have a whole repertoire of emotions available to me now. I can be calm and content, I can cry without it overwhelming me, I can be happy and sad at once without any contradiction, and I never run out of emotions to the point of numbness anymore. These aren’t mood swings – they’re mood symphonies. This is all unbelievably cool, and I wouldn’t have known what I was missing without experiencing it firsthand. Some people might look at my patchwork self of hormone pills and mix-and-match anatomy, and call it monstrous, freakish, an abomination. You know what I call this?

Upgrades.

Since the dawn of humanity, there have been certain features of our existence that were considered fundamental, unchangeable, and definitive of what it means to be human. For almost all of history, it was an unavoidable fact that those who were born a certain sex would remain that sex. Sure, living as another gender had sometimes been feasible in a social sense. But bodily? That was simply impossible – until it wasn’t. Now, that assumption has been pulled out from under us, and some people aren’t happy about that. They want us to go away. They want to be able to go on assuming that every woman they see is a cis woman, regardless of what the reality may be. They want us to deny ourselves this life-affirming treatment for the sake of some empty platitudes about “nature”.

Similar reactions have been seen in the case of hormonal birth control. Fertile cis women simply had to deal with the possibility of pregnancy resulting from unprotected coitus – until they didn’t have to anymore. Fertility is no longer mandatory. It’s optional, and it doesn’t have to be a part of our lives unless we want it to be. Many people don’t like this, either. They think it’s interfering with how the human body is “supposed” to work, by taking control of something that we have no “right” to change. But with these developments, the reality of what it means to be human has shifted. However loudly some people may object, the fact is that these new possibilities are just as much a part of life as inevitable fertility and unchangeable sex once were.

Even just a few hundred years ago, this would have been unimaginable. Now, I have the ability to choose this for myself, for no reason other than that this is what I want out of my life. I once called this “a taste of apotheosis”, and that’s exactly what it is. We stand at the frontier of transhumanism, where what was once dismissed as mere futuristic fantasy is now realized in the present via technology. I saw myself growing up into a man, and I did what I had to do to wrench my destiny away from the blind whims of biology. Some people might call this “defying nature”. But that’s not a problem – it’s exactly the point. That option was there for me when I needed it, and I’m not letting it pass by. If they really think that’s an abomination, then I’ll be their abomination. I’ll be their monster. And I’ll know that it was worth it.

The false dichotomy of the afterlife

It’s fairly straightforward to point out that belief in an afterlife can have the effect of devaluing this life, causing various misconceptions about its purpose, and influencing people to act for the sake of an imagined eternity that will never take place. This much is obvious. But not so much thought has been given to the impact that beliefs in an afterlife have had on the views of atheists. All too often, the repudiation of an afterlife is accompanied by various proclamations about how important it is that we live a limited life and experience genuine death. We see it in the shallow aphorisms claiming that “death gives meaning to life”, as though finding a meaning for our lives is only possible if everyone eventually dies. Such a stunning lack of imagination about how to find personal meaning barely deserves the time of day, but it’s interesting to consider where this notion might come from.

In many ways, it seems that the recognition that there is no afterlife can lead people to endorse the negation of numerous aspects of that belief. When religious people claim that the prospect of permanent death is nihilistic and renders life hopeless, many atheists reply that this mortality is precisely what gives their lives value. When religious people proclaim the glory of eternal life, atheists instead fear that this would eventually become boring. When religious people are frightened by the reality of actual death, some atheists reassure them that there’s nothing to be afraid of, and it’ll just be like taking a very long rest – as if they’ll even be able to experience a state of restfulness ever again.

But just because an idea is wrong or bad doesn’t mean the reverse of that idea must be right or good. If it were that simple, the most ignorant among us could become a source of unparalleled genius, simply by inverting everything they believe. This is clearly no guarantee of rightness or truth, and common atheistic views on death actually end up sharing certain similarities with their religious counterparts. Both religious followers and many atheists ultimately agree that death, whatever its nature, is a good thing that’s very important to our lives, and nothing should be done about it. And in both cases, their beliefs serve as a way to cope with something frightening, incomprehensible, and unavoidable, and instead spin it as somehow beneficial to us. It’s just another comforting tale to soften the impact of the utter obliteration of human minds.

This is some of the most overlooked damage of belief in an afterlife: simply for the sake of contradicting religion, so many atheists are willing to abandon any desire, let alone effort, toward actual immortality – an immortality born not of supernatural magic, but natural technology. Even after understanding that we exist completely within the natural world, many people still resist any attempt to use that knowledge to do something about the myriad vulnerabilities of our current existence. Sure, science is great for curing diseases and extending lifespans – at a slow enough pace that no one’s too uncomfortable about it – but dethroning death itself and eliminating the universal inevitability of our demise is apparently a step too far.

Here we can see how the rightly despised fantasies of religion have thrown the very idea of life without end into disrepute. These hollow, meaningless, imaginary fates have repulsed so many people that when the real thing is finally within our grasp, it’s treated as no better than the religious delusions that came before. It takes some effort to work past the well-worn tendency to dismiss the possibility of eternal life, and make it clear that this really is something different. The nonexistence of an afterlife is obvious and trivially easy to recognize, but objections to true immortality end up being much more tenuous.

Our present mortality may influence how we live our lives, but that doesn’t mean it must be our only source of purpose. People might say death is what gives meaning to life, but no one is especially eager to optimize for this alleged source of value by seeking to bring about more and earlier death for everyone. After all, if this life is really so important, then why should we have less of it when we could have so much more? Why not seek out the most joy, the most love, and the most discovery we can possibly achieve? Why not enjoy life as much as we can, for as long as we can? And why should this ever have to end? It doesn’t – if you’re ready to do something about it.