The medicalization of our lives
For several decades now, the idea of transitioning genders has been a minor, but accessible, one in the United States and other Western countries. To participate required surgical and hormonal treatments and the practice of actually living as the newly chosen gender for a significant period of time.
As I taught for many years in a large public university close to the Stanford campus and hospitals, I would often invite patients in the process of transition to speak to my classes in clinical psychology. I was teaching future clinicians about gender and here was a compelling, but minor, variant. Originally called transexual individuals, this term was rightfully changed to transgender based on some 50 years of development of gender study and research. With a modicum of interaction between them, sex was understood to be biological and binary, gender socially constructed and subject to change individually and culturally.
Transgender people have been around throughout history and throughout cultures, but they have been understood differently, sometimes as superior beings, other times as evil and inhabited by the devil and other times as two or three spirit people. Only in Western societies has transitioning genders become a medical and pharmaceutical issue ready to be plundered for profit by these industries.
My students and I learned a lot from these courageous and frightened early experimental subjects. One thing that they all said has stayed with me over the intervening years. They all knew that they had to say the words, “I was born in the wrong body.” That was the minimum standard that the medical professions had developed in order to make the life-changing decision to medically transition any individual. All of these patients knew that to start the process, they must utter these words and they did. They were a sort of “Open Sesame” that permitted entry into the inner sanctum of medical transition. I do not know what happened to those that could not or would not adhere to this statement.
As a pioneer in the field and an expert in psychology and gender issues, I can ask a few more questions. Transposed to any other physical aspect of the human body, let’s say a man who believes himself to be a wolf or a White person who believes herself to be Black, such a belief would be considered delusional and possibly diagnosable. Why then are being a woman or a man interchangeable by declaration? Why has a medical industry grown up to accomplish and maintain this distinction?
It is still the case that transgendered individuals are a small percentage of the population, estimated at 1 or 2 %, but they have hijacked the entire field and concept of gender. I can no longer say that I work with gender, an early code word for the less respected “women’s issues and rights,” because it has morphed into a code word for transition and its accompanying 40 or 50 gender identities.
In my previous article, I discussed the implications of men “becoming” women and promised, in this article, to discuss the very different implications of women becoming men. I divide this population into two groups, adult women and adolescents, as I believe that it is prima facie unethical and even abusive to administer irreversable medical procedures to pre-pubescent children. At any rate, that issue deserves an argument of its own and an article of its own.
Transitioning has become infinitely more accessible to the average person than it was when I interviewed those early patients of the carefully controlled Stanford program. It is in the news, all over the Internet and entire social networks for different age groups are a click away.
As a result, social contagion has become an important issue in this movement. Entire classes of girls, for example, have transitioned together. We are only beginning to get data on how many of them de-transition, but we know that it is a growing number. The fact that adolescents commonly have an identity crisis as a normal aspect of development is overlooked in the rush to medicate and to cut. Rather than allowing them this uncertain time, psychology and psychiatry, in collusion with medicine and surgery, narrow their options prematurely. Many of the aspects of transition are not easily reversed, leaving them with lifelong medical issues whether they detransition or not.
The majority of these adolescent females who attempt transition eventually would have continued to “come out” as lesbian or gay. With the transitional sleight of hand, they are now instead heterosexuals. In other words, for these individuals, transition is conversion therapy in disguise and serves many cultures by eliminating lesbian and gay people entirely. It is, in essence, a deeply conservative and homophobic cultural movement.
In major hospitals today, mastectomies are even bigger business than when they are necessary to save lives from breast cancer. These hapless lesbians are lined up alongside cancer patients. These mastectomies are obviously as irreversible as is the commonly experienced infertility resulting from taking male hormones.
All people were supposedly created equal in the United States unless they were women or Black. Just as that inequity is on the cusp of being rectified with the possibility of equity and reparations for Black people and the long awaited passage of an Equal Rights Amendment for women, the American Congress is considering a bill that would make some people more equal than others.
H.R. 5, styled the Equality Act, would redefine “sex” under federal civil-rights laws to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity,” overriding basic biology along with millennia of tradition. This isn’t only a question of semantics nor is it merely an attempt to prohibit employment discrimination against sexual minorities. A 2020 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court already does that.
The Equality Act would go much further by making it illegal to distinguish “identity” from biology and thereby prioritize transgender people over women. By erasing sex as a distinct legal category, the measure threatens to open up female-only spaces and opportunities designed to increase representation for girls to biological men, which can endanger the safety of women and girls.
The Equality Act would threaten the existence of women’s prisons, public-school girls’ locker rooms, and women’s and girls’ sports teams. It would limit freedom of speech, freedom of association, accurate data collection, and scientific inquiry. It would threaten the rights of physicians who doubt the wisdom of performing life-changing, reproduction-limiting procedures, and parents who seek to protect their minor children from such treatment.
The entire deck would be reshuffled instead, leading to we know not what. Before that happens, we need much deeper thought and wider experimentation and we need to question the medicalization of our lives.