Skip to comments.Questioning transsexuality
Posted on 08/24/2013 9:59:20 AM PDT by marktwain
In Bradley Manning Is Not a Woman, Kevin Willamson makes a case that feeling like a transsexual that is, that one is either a man in the body of a woman or vice-versa should be regarded as a mental illness to be treated by therapy rather than with sex-reassignment surgery.
The article surprised me by presenting a coherent case for this position that I cannot dismiss as garden-variety social-conservative chuntering. I found the parallel with what Willamson calls BIID particularly troubling. If we treat people who desire to electively amputate their own arms and legs as mentally ill, why do we judge people who want to amputate the genitals they were born with any differently? What makes one an illness and the other a lifestyle choice?
As a libertarian Im inclined to think that people have a right to mutilate their own bodies any way they like, provided that the surgical and after-care costs arent forcibly extracted from anybody else. But libertarian respect for autonomy cannot entirely banish the concept of mental illness either. Some people have minds that are broken and need treatment; respecting their autonomy too much to deliver treatment condemns them to lives full of needless and avoidable pain.
In the rest of this essay Im therefore going to ignore, on purpose, the question of how to reconcile libertarian values with a theory of mental illness. I feel justified in this by a particularly interesting feature of Willamsons argument.
Williamsons contribution is to show that its quite difficult to construct a theory of mental illness that includes BIID but excludes transsexuality. Given the high frequency with which post-op transsexuals commit suicide, Willamson even could have argued that people with BIID are less ill than transsexuals, evidenced by the fact that theyre less self-destructive. Tellingly, suicide rates are not significantly lower among transsexuals who cannot get reassignment surgery.
Thus: if libertarians are going to have a theory of mental illness at all, we will be required to grapple with the philosophical issues raised by transsexuality in the same way as non-libertarians for whom mental illness is a much less fraught and suspicious concept. And that is he last thing I will have to say about libertarianism here.
Ive known two transsexuals well enough to believe I have some idea of what their inner life is like; Ive met, I think, four others. Ive felt sympathy for all of them but Willamson reminds me that sympathy may be as easy but serious a mistake here as it would be with respect to a paranoid schizophrenic. (This is my thinking, not his; Williamson never discusses paranoid schizophrenics or whatever the DSM is calling them this week.)
How is Bradley Mannings expressed belief that he is a woman trapped in a mans body epistemically distinguishable from a paranoid schizophrenics belief that (say) he is pursued by invisible demons who compel him to burn his own flesh? Im a predictivist and judge truth claims by how they cash out as observations of future events; what Williamson forces me to recognize is that I cant really formulate a consequential test for either claim.
Furthermore, I cant trust what the transsexual Bradley Manning tells me about his situation any more than I can trust what the demon-haunted paranoid tells me about his. In neither case are the referents of their claims located anywhere but inaccessibly within their own skulls.
Accordingly, I cant find principled grounds to classify one as a delusional system and the other as not. Now, one might say: there are no such things as invisible demons! But: where is the evidence that there is any such thing as women trapped inside mens bodies or vice-versa?
Willamson reminds us that the concept of a psychological gender identity separate from ones physical one actually has about the same confirmation status as invisible demons. The only warrant for it is a gallimaufry of speculation based on reports from a population that by objective measures seems to be highly disturbed and dysfunctional (and the 18-20% suicide rate is only the the most obvious indicator).
So, why do we not treat self-reported transsexuals as insane and in need of treatment for a delusional disorder? I can anticipate a lot of possible replies; the trouble is that all of them apply just as well (or just as poorly) to the case of BIID or delusional paranoia.
One of the stupidest possible counters is also probably the most common one: if you dont accept transsexuals reports of their own condition, youre being nasty and unfeeling to them. Um, OK, how does this apply to paranoids? Am I required to believe in invisible tormenting demons on pain of being considered cruel to those people?
Another, possibly even stupider argument is that if I dont believe that physiological and physical gender identities can be opposed I am taking the side of Bad People conservatives, phallocrats, whatever. I dont really see this as being any different than the religious argument my ancestors might have been given for the existence of invisible demons. Its just as obviously fallacious.
Back in more religious times, belief in invisible demons was not helpful to people we would now categorize as delusional paranoids; a hefty dose of Thorazine, while not a cure, at least manages their condition, bringing down the incidence of suicides and self-mutilation and other violence.
I dont actually see, now that Williamson has slapped me upside the head enough so I notice the issue, that a belief in separated psychological and physiological sexual identities is any more helpful to transsexuals. The objective check is that acting on this belief doesnt seem to reduce their suicide rates significantly.
First, do no harm. Well know we have a rationally and ethically sound way of handling transsexuality when we find one with sequelae significantly less grim that doing nothing. Right now, gender reassignment surgery doesnt qualify Williamson quotes a British research group affiliated with NHS reporting no robust scientific evidence that gender reassignment surgery is clinically effective.
I think Williamson is right that its time to be much more critical about the theory and ideological fashions that led us to where we are now. A good place to start would be to ask how we might establish that transsexuality exists and what it means, after applying the same skepticism that we do to self-reports by other people who report an urge to lop off their body parts.
I’m wondering if this warped traitor is just trying to get into a women’s prison instead of the male one, figuring his time will be easier. First he can become a “lesbo” and second he would be more of a match physically if violence was required.
Should have just executed this one.
You might have to go to Thailand now to get your penis cut off, but you can use the girl's room in your local public school.
Kevin Williamson is correct it is a mental illness
When I see the phrase “as a libertarian I believe that....”
I have to stop reading the amoral bilge that’s next.
IMO, a lot of transgenderism in the prison system is a desire to avoid anal sex attacks within the men’s prisons. Manning would feel safer in a women’s prison/brig, I’m sure.
If that's what he thinks, he's mistaken IMHO.
Women's prison isn't like in the movies - it's not full of 110-lb lipstick lesbians. There are some hard cases there. I suspect Chelsea would get beaten up worse in women's prison than in men's. In fact, I doubt he'd live long unless it was in solitary confinement.
JMHO, I have no experience in either place.
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