: The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate by Daniel Harris :

Daniel Harris

The Sacred Androgen: The Transgender Debate  

[here is the entire article]

 

The Sacred Androgen:

The Transgender Debate

by DANIEL HARRIS

 

Those who choose to alter or even mask their gender merit full protection

under the law merely because their decisions, while they may

divest them of breasts and birth names, do not strip them of their humanity.

TGs face violence, murder, mass unemployment, homelessness,

poverty, rampant HIV infection, inadequate healthcare, depression,

and, at alarmingly high rates, suicide. Many commentators have

singled out tolerance for this most vulnerable part of the population

as the final frontier of civil rights, a new contest against bigotry and

homophobia, one it would be irresponsible for both politicians and

everyday citizens not to address.

 

And yet just as the issue has come to the fore of public awareness,

TGs have ambushed the debate and entangled us in a snare of such

trivialities as the proper pronouns with which to address them, protocol

as Byzantine and patronizing as the etiquette for addressing royalty.

They insult us with the pejorative term “cisgender,” which they

use to describe those of us who accept, however unenthusiastically,

our birth gender, as opposed to the enlightened few who question their

sex. Moreover, they shame us into silence by ridiculing the blunders

we make while trying to come to grips with their unique dilemmas,

decrying our curiosity about their bodies as prurience and our unwillingness,

or even inability, to enter into their own (often unsuccessful)

illusion as narrow‑mindedness.

 

A case in point is the now infamous episode of Pierce Morgan

Live in which transgender activist Janet Mock objected to the headline

that appeared at the bottom of the screen, “Was a boy until 18”—a

fact that, while incontrovertible, was apparently tactless and naïve, the

correct caption being that she had always been a woman and had been

born, not a boy, but “a baby.” Mock organized a kind of witch hunt in

which she accused the liberal and tolerant Pierce Morgan of having, in

her words, “misgendered” her merely because he had questioned her

about her past and leapt to the conclusion—medical records would

surely bear this out—that she had in her youth changed her gender.

Such bullying interception of public debate should alarm anyone

who seriously wants to understand the issues involved, which, while

they may affect the transgender community most directly, are by no

means their exclusive province, to be broached only by those on whom

they most intimately impinge. TGs cannot expect to dictate to us the

terms of the discussion, for we are thinking people, too, and nothing,

notwithstanding many activists’ attempts to embarrass us into uncritical

consensus, can stop us from thinking our thoughts.

Here are a few of mine:

 

While I fervently support TGs’ rights to transition and to do so without

fear of reprisal, I believe that the whole phenomenon of switching

one’s gender is a mass delusion.

For one, the physical manipulation involved in transforming oneself

into a man or woman is apparently different in kind—or so the

transgender community presumes—from the nips and tucks undertaken

by the trophy wife or celebrity, anti‑heroes of a materialistic culture

with whom the TG, having taken advantage of the same merchandising

of the body promoted by commercialized medicine, bears a strong

and unfortunate resemblance. The general public almost universally

disapproves of plastic surgery and laughs derisively at celebrities who

present a face “different from the one they rode in on,” as one commentator

referred to their futile—and often ruinous—efforts to roll

back the hands of time. The obscene trout pout of Donatella Versace,

the misshapen nipples and oblong breasts of Tara Reid, the Joker’s

grimace of Kim Novak, are all fair game for that most American and

democratic of blood sports, the desecration of the rich and famous in

tabloids and gossip blogs.

 

And yet what is the actual difference between Michael Jackson

whittling his nose down to a brittle sliver of bone and whitening

his skin with alpha hydroxy acid and arsenic in order to efface his

blackness and the TG sanding down her brow bone and hacking off a

 

sizeable chunk of her mandible in order to efface her gender? Why is

the one decried as a racially reprehensible instance of self‑mutilation,

self‑denial, and self‑loathing and the other extolled as a celebratory

instance of self‑liberation? Why is it not only okay but valiant for

Caitlyn Jenner to liberate her inner woman through rhinoplasties and

laryngeal shaves while it is deplorable and pathetic for Michael Jackson

to liberate his inner Caucasian through bleaching and cleft chin

augmentation? When Rachel Dolezal goes to the Palm Beach tanning

salon for her weekly $30 dip, she is committing the unconscionable

crime of appropriating blackness (or, in her case, as the Gawker put

it, not blackness but “Medium Brown Spray Tan”), but when Laverne

Cox, one of the breakoutperformers on the television show Orange Is

the New Black, slaps on a transdermal estrogen patch, she is lauded as

a hero and role model. All of the arguments against plastic surgery—

that it is dangerous, even fatal, often botched, and symptomatic of either

extreme body dysmorphia or a lamentable effort to accommodate

Hollywood’s chauvinistic ageism—can be leveled against those who

transition from one sex to another. The trophy wife and the TG swim,

it seems, in the same surgeon‑infested seas.

 

Genetic women often sacrifice themselves to unrealistic standards

of beauty, of thinness, of eternal youth, of huge bosoms and

tiny, pinched waists. TGs likewise sacrifice themselves to outmoded

standards of femininity, attempting to achieve an hourglass figure with

gigantic breast implants that cantilever out from their chests like traffic

cones and injections to their hips and butt of silicone—or, for the

down‑and‑out, superglue, Fix‑a‑Flat, Slime Tube Sealant, and cotton

balls. In an effort to become a “body goddess,” famed Florida transsexual

Tatiana Williams inflated her buttocks with no less than eight

pounds of silicone (an entire gallon!) for each butt cheek. Such blackmarket

inoculations, delivered by medical impersonators at “pump

parties,” turned her spindly twenty‑five‑inch male rear end into a

sixty‑inch monstrosity, that of a goddess indeed, the Venus of Willendorf.

TGs do not model themselves on the average hipless, braless,

triple-A‑cup coed in jeans and T‑shirts, but on such vacuous female

fantasies as Kim Kardashian, Pamela Anderson, and the English singer

and fashion model Katie Price.

 

But just as genetic women develop eating disorders and low

self‑esteem from the omnipresence of images of the voluminously upholstered

bombshell, the TG is subject to a whole host of perils in her

transition from virago to vamp. Dissatisfied with the meager paps she

developed after hormone treatment, Rajee Narinesingh, a TG featured

on the television show Botched, sought help from a scam artist and

alleged murderer who injected her face and breasts with industrialstrength

liquid cement, a substance that over time turned her breasts

into ulcerated saddlebags and blossomed into stony excrescences on

her once fashionably chiseled cheekbones. Many spokesmen for the

transgender community posit a whole range of socially subversive interpretations

of gender, but even a glance at the advertisements on

Craigslist reveals a clichéd image of a hyper‑sexualized odalisque who

exists solely for men’s delectation—an enchantress who sacrifices her

health to her admirers: lungs punctured by syringes, second-degree

burns from laser hair removal, amputated breasts, and vaginoplasties

that create, not orifices, but fibrous lumps. Far from challenging conventional

sex roles, the TG seems to exist in a pre‑feminist dystopia

of rigidly stratified behaviors that hark back to an age of Hollywood

femme fatales, gold‑digging temptresses whose anachronistic beauty

routines attract heterosexual males dissatisfied with their wives’ Spartan

toilettes and sexually undistinguished casualwear.

 

In some less educated and more homophobic cultures, being gay

is by definition wanting to be a woman or, in the case of the lesbian,

a man. The lower class misunderstands effeminacy and mannishness

not as behaviors but as manifestations of an ersatz man or woman, an

anomalous composite of the genders. The state of being a homosexual

is simplified and to some extent rendered less objectionable as merely

another form of heterosexuality, another permutation on the acceptable

polarity of the genders, one that denies the homosexual his or her

autonomy as an individual existing outside this obsolete antithesis.

While only some 30 percent of the transgender community is gay, it

is not unlikely that a large sector of this demographic has internalized

the homophobia present in uneducated assumptions about homosexuality

and, in transitioning, are attempting to re-create themselves

in this intellectually obtuse image of the man or woman manqué, a

chromosomal chimera of sorts, a creature that has somehow fallen

short of its true identity and who must go on a prohibitively costly

quest to overcome its shortcomings. If we allowed greater latitude in

the accepted behaviors of the sexes and recognized that effeminate

men and masculine women are not just unstable subsets of heterosexuality,

many people would not need to correct this perceived genetic

malfunction. The message of the 1960s and 1970s was androgyny,

and yet the TG regresses to an age before androgyny. A culture that

 

recognizes only two possibilities of sexual response, either Adam’s or

Eve’s, gives the TG only one alternative, an ultimatum to reconfigure

her entire physiology in accordance with blunt, indiscriminate nomenclature

that dulls our understanding of gender.

 

The implications of this covert homophobia are particularly distressing

for children. More and more, parents are encouraging their

sons and daughters to transition when they spot even the slightest hint

of effeminacy or boyishness on the grounds that such behaviors indicate

desires to be the opposite sex when in fact their desire to play

with dolls and throw footballs may reflect the desire to be something

less exotic, even banal, namely, gay. Tolerance disguises a latent uneasiness

with homosexuality and an urgent parental need to shoehorn

the uncomfortable issues of children’s sexuality into pat rubrics. Children

now begin hormone therapy as early as the age of four. Laverne

Cox was recently confronted by a seven‑year‑old who professed that

she, too, is “trans,” to which Cox replied by, as one news outlet put

it, “shar[ing] some sweet words”: “remember, honey, transgender is

beautiful.” Her mother, who blogs as “Gender Mom,” may very well

have been nudging, if not unconsciously importuning, her effeminate

son into making an irreversible decision, one that he might later regret,

as, evidenced by a study from the University of Toronto which kept

track over time of 109 boys with gender identity disorder, only 13 of

whom sought to change their genders as adults. In the climate of permissiveness

developing around the public discussion of transitioning,

well‑meaning parents, unsettled by the unorthodox behavior of their

precociously gay and lesbian sons and daughters, could easily coerce

their children into something like a false confession, badgering them,

in a self-congratulatorywealth of good feelings, into decisions that

neither they nor their children are capable of making.

The discussion of transgender issues is dominated by the metaphor

of the imprisoned male or female, a belief in whose existence

requires an uncomfortably wide leap of faith. Such a theory is reminiscent

of largely discredited ideas about multiple personalities which, as

in the case of the two most famous case studies, that of Chris Sizemore

and Shirley Mason, Eve and Sybil (the latter of whom later recanted

her story), posit the existence of a whole cast of internal characters,

all struggling to shove their clamorous siblings off the soap box. The

imprisoned male or female argument also harks back to the superstition

of demonic possession, of an inner fiend, except the terms of the

exorcism have been reversed and it is the body that is the entity to be

expelled, and the demon the blameless Rapunzel locked away in her

tower. Such a crude dichotomy harks back even further to late antique

and medieval allegories of the psychomachia, the battle of body

and soul. This polarity provides the ideological underpinnings of pop

psychology, which defines the apogee of mental health as that point

in an individual’s history in which emotions and complexes supposedly

trapped within—pent‑up rage, frustrations, inner children, Oedipal

appetites—are released and thus neutralized, presumably by mere

exposure to the oxidizing effects of chitchat and air. Pop psychologists

describe the body as a pressure cooker in which tensions build,

stresses surge, blockages obstruct. Inhibition of any kind is viewed as

a dangerous form of self‑suppression that manifests itself in an array

of neuroses, deformations, and, especially in the case of women (an

example of the misogyny of pseudoscience), uterine and breast cancer,

a form of rot from within (according to this etiology of disease, men

do not rot but, in an empirically more plausible interaction of body and

mind, explode, spontaneously combust with strokes and heart attacks,

deaths far swifter and less painful than women’s slow, guilt‑ridden

malingering). This odd notion of inverting the self like a glove, of

getting the inside out, underpins the new craze for transitioning. The

myth of the imprisoned female and her chivalrous rescue on the operating

table is a fable of a disclosure culture, one in which all secrets

must be spilled, all impostures exposed, all latencies made blatant, lest

the toxins generated by inner pressures slowly corrupt the organism,

destroying both the mental and physical well‑being of the host body.

In resolving one conflict, however, aren’t TGs creating another?

In liberating the archetypal Andromeda from her chains, aren’t they

in turn suppressing their male or female selves even more violently

than they did their inner genders before they came out, creating an

internal embargo as psychologically devastating as the one they suffered

before they transitioned? Why is one gender more viable than

the other? In being true to themselves, aren’t they being false to their

own bodies? Physical evidence suggests that there may indeed be a

slim genetic component behind the desire to transition, but isn’t there

even more prepossessing data against it, namely, male or female bodies

themselves, the preponderance of a person’s genome, which is suppressed

at great cost to the individual’s peace of mind?

 

If gender reassignment surgery is the latchkey for the imprisoned

male or female, once he or she has been freed are they happier, have

they achieved the serenity that is the fundamental goal of a disclosure

culture? An attempted suicide rate of a staggering 41 percent suggests

that many TGs experience profound disillusion over the fact that their

problems were not resolved during their transition and that they are

still as out of sorts with their bodies and their failure to pass as they

were before they underwent hormone replacement therapy. High percentages

resort to prostitution to pay for their feminizing surgeries,

alcohol and drug abuse occur at higher rates, homelessness and unemployment

are rampant. Certainly much, if not most, of this unhappiness

can be ascribed to social disapproval, but it would be disingenuous

to say that the cruelty of stigmatization is the reason for all of it.

If TGs initiated this journey to find mental health, there is no evidence

whatsoever that they achieve it or, indeed, that they even marginally

improve their lots in life.

 

Many TGs insist that they were “born in the wrong body” and that

only a sex change, to use an out‑of‑date expression, or “sex reassignment

surgery,” to use a newer, more cumbersome one, can correct nature’s

blunders. The word reassignment presumes that there is an “assigner,”

that there was agency, someone making the decisions, rather

than one’s gender having just been an accident, the roll of the dice, and

since nature was so maladroit, so incapable of fulfilling its responsibilities,

TGs themselves assume the role of commander‑in‑chief and

rectify this gross oversight with amputations and implants. The entire

scientific community disagrees, however. Gender is not “assigned,”

apportioned like a sum of money or bequeathed like an heirloom. It is

revealed, first by the transducer of an ultrasound machine massaging

a besmeared and distended belly and then by the obstetrician as he

dangles the wailing infant by its feet.

 

TGs, however, are, like all of us, products of a self‑help culture

in which the will is all-powerful,

in which one can be anything one

chooses simply by dint of effort, leaping over such obstacles as fate,

destiny, tragedy, necessity, and chance to create “an entirely new you.”

Biological facts are mere opportunities to strengthen this hypertrophied

will, hurdles to overcome on one’s “journey” toward “self‑actualization.”

As the eponymous Laura in the transgender blog “Laura’s

Playground” puts it, transitioning is simply a matter of “disassembling

[the] old self, reassembling [the] new,” a kind of culinary rebirth in

which one follows one’s own chosen recipe: “More, more, now stir.

Now add new ingredients. What kind of person do you want to be?”

Unfortunately, there are too many cooks in nature’s kitchen. One can

no more change one’s gender than one’s species. However strong

one’s will, walls cannot be walked through (pace L. Ron Hubbard,

who invented the ultimate human potential religion whose adherents,

simply through the power of positive thinking, can correct blurred vision,

levitate, cure their own maladies, and—imagine the savings on

cleanings—grow new teeth). Transitioning is a collision in which the

human will slams into the hard, cruel, irrefutable facts of the body.

Let us assume for a moment that the TG really was born in the

wrong body. Is this internal male or female so gullible that it would

be fooled by vaginoplasties and scrotoplasties, by gonadectomies and

mastectomies? Is the inner man or woman such a sucker, so brainless,

so dimwitted, that it would believe that these cosmetic changes constitute

a real reversal of gender and thus feel any happier in its new

silicone shell? Wouldn’t he or she still feel that, while the penis and

breasts may have been cast away like so much medical waste, the arms

are still the same, the legs, the torso, the neck, the feet—all still chromosomally

identical to the body that existed before they went under

the knife? The internal male or female is never really freed from its

prison; its cells have simply been redecorated.

 

Pop psychology may provide the philosophical rationale for the

TG’s transformation, but postmodem theory provides the modish rhetoric.

Many TG activists believe that gender is a “social construct,” not

a physical reality but a set of attitudes and prejudices, of inhibiting

conventions that contain and entrammel our infantile polymorphousness.

As C. Carter says in “Sex/Gender and the Media,”Biology is no less a cultural construct

than gender socialization into masculinity and

femininity. While the point is that biology, like gender, is thought to be socially constructed,

that does not mean that there is no such thing as biology… . Identity critique

seeks to disrupt the very categories we have constructed between the sexes,

and to demonstrate how such categorization results in a narrow range of biological

differences… .

 

While science teachers across America can all breathe a sigh of relief

that Carter recognizes that biology is a real thing, the tone of the

passage suggests that its author feels that “identity critique” is a far

more compelling study than watching things grow in petri dishes. The

social construct” theory of gender dematerializes the body, which

becomes that of a sexless seraph, too sacred and ethereal to be either

male or female, a Barbie or Ken Doll whose pubis is a rounded

bulge of thermoplastic polymer, the genitals having been magically

expunged with the vanishing cream of a few meaningless shibboleths.

The “social construct” theory provides a kind of instantaneous,

out‑patient sex reassignment surgery performed not by a “genital reconfiguration

specialist” with a few sharp incisions of a scalpel but by

a gender studies adjunct with an onslaught of paper cuts from his copy

of On Grammatology, for why does anyone need to submit to the knife

if one can change one’s gender simply by exploiting the malleability

of reality itself? The brave face with which postmodernists confront

both empirical reality and their colleagues in the sciences, like Don

Quixote tilting at windmills, is one of the great farces of contemporary

academia, a turf war with a pitiably foregone conclusion. In the case

of the transgender community, such ravings create a certain linguistic

elasticity that fosters the illusion that the borders between the genders

are more porous than they are.

In most instances, TGs cannot afford the feminizing surgeries and

haute couture wardrobe, to say nothing of the bevy of make‑up artists,

hair stylists, and celebrity photographers of the stature of Annie

Liebovitz, that turned Caitlyn Jenner, with her $100,000,000 fortune,

amassed while the spokesman for the Breakfast of Champions, into

the fairly astonishing success that she is. With a number of exceptions,

men’s noses are too big, shoulders too broad, jaws too square, voices

too deep, brows too beetling, and gait—at least in heels—too lumbering.

When the public sees most TGs, it sees either Mrs. Doubtfires

or Victor Victorias, and yet these incomplete figures, these arresting

amalgamations of sexual traits, insist that we not only call them “he”

or “she” but that we treat them as if they were indeed men or women

when all of our training, from the time we distinguished pink from

blue, tells us otherwise. The political agenda of the transgender community

often seems to demand that we be complicit in their convictions,

that we humor them, pretend that we view them as the genuine

article when in fact they seem to be staging a kind of masquerade,

dressing in a costume, playing at make‑believe. We are not asked just

to follow the humane policy of live and let live, exhibiting acceptance

and tolerance as well as fighting for their rights as human beings, but

we are required to act as their enablers, enter into their fantasies, protect

them from the truth of a devastating fallacy. We are expected both

to support them politically, an easy task for most liberals, and affirm

their deeply guarded conceptions of selfhood, something that lies well

outside the province of the struggle for equal protection under the

law—in truth, that lies firmly in the field of counseling or psychotherapy.

I know of no other human-rights movement in which supporters

are adjured, not only to advocate for the greater civil liberties

of a minority, but to aid and reinforce its self‑delusions, to guard those

who harbor them from the truth. When we fail as the chaperones of

these misapprehensions, we open ourselves up to criticism that we are

narrow‑minded bigots, that we have somehow failed the transgender

community, been derelict in our psychological duties as its caregivers,

the nursemaids of its inventions. Politics has acquired a psychological,

indeed, an aesthetic dimension, a deeply personal judgment of a

man’s or woman’s looks, of their passability or ugliness, a determination

many of us are too polite—indeed, too compassionate—to make.

To support the transgendered community is to profess to admire the

aesthetic adequacy of their transition whereas to attack them, in a discussion

in which disagreement is tantamount to hate speech, to hurling

ethnic slurs, is to admit that their “journeys” have not succeeded and

that, absent tens of thousands of dollars of surgery and a doctor skillful

enough to perform procedures on everything from scalps to earlobes,

are not likely to succeed.

 

For a minority group that expects us to subscribe wholeheartedly

to its usually insufficient illusion of malehood or femalehood, it is

shocking to discover how unkind TGs are to crossdressers and transvestites

whom they view as dilettantes and epigones, failed women,

indeed, as daffy gay men, whereas they are genuine heterosexuals,

über women of the most refined genetic stock. When I myself experimented

with crossdressing (as recounted in my book Diary of a Drag

Queen), I made many of my contacts with men in an AOL chat room

devoted to TGs and their admirers, an electronic brothel of sorts in

which transgender prostitutes met their johns, not infrequently members

of the online Vice Squad who entrapped these streetwalkers of the

information superhighway. It is possible that I stumbled into a unique

nest of snakes, but the behavior I witnessed there was so deplorable

that each “chat” started as mere emojied palaver and quickly escalated

to a crime against humanity. Each of our AOL profiles came

with a portfolio of photographs so the entire chat room knew precisely

how we looked, a type of exposure that, in the case of the crossdressers

or the unpassable TGs, led to countless exhortations that we kill

ourselves, that we jump off the Brooklyn Bridge or the Empire State

Building—injunctions that struck me as at best cynical for a community

with such astronomical suicide rates. The bodies of the TGs were

also scrutinized for imperfections as if by Nazi phrenologists armed

with chromed calipers searching for the perfect Aryan, racial impurities

that were broadcast to the room as fodder for sadistic mockery, the

badinage of Internet scoundrels who held up their own pulchritude as

an edifying contrast with the hideously disfigured bodies of would‑be

women. Much of the stigmatization TGs experience comes not only

from heterosexual boors and hooligans but from other TGs, who shore

up their self‑doubts through the ruthlessness of their own constantly

appraising tribunals. The crossdressers present in this chat‑room‑cumcourt‑of‑physical‑fascism

received by far the brunt of the coven’s

malice because they were openly gay men, whereas the TGs were heterosexuals

who had an innate prerogative to wear dresses and who indeed

harbored incongruously homophobic attitudes toward men who

violated the sacred taboo against transvestitism. Through such open

self‑deceptions, TGs at once allay their insecurities and escape the

onus of their own self‑hatred as gay men.

 

A key aspect of the impersonation of women was missing from

the abominable manners of the TGs I encountered: the milk of human

kindness, that most stereotypical component of the female personality,

which, while possibly learned—indeed, “constructed”—or just

as possibly a genetic prerequisite of maternal responsibilities, often

makes women much more pleasant to be around than men. The chat

room was a dog‑eat‑dog world of male aggression, of inane braggadocio

and bellicose jockeying for power, a bully’s playground in which,

in the very act of flaunting their feminine bodies to their customers,

they betrayed their true gender, that of quarrelsome Alphas playing

an unhinged game of King of the Hill. TGs claim to have released

their inner female, but in the case of AOL’s chat room they simply

gave their inner males wider latitude to dominate and oppress. Their

mimicry of women extended only to the most superficial aspects of

femininity, the reproductive and secondary sex characteristics, from

vaginas to curvaceous hips—in short, a man’s interpretation of what it

means to be a woman, a misreading made all the more belligerent by

the disruptive effects of hormonal fluctuations, which cause irritability

and moodiness in TGs similar to PMS or menopause.

 

Not only is the TG a heterosexual woman, her boyfriend is a heterosexual

man, a hemale to her shemale, a stud of such incontestable

virility that there isn’t a gay bone in his body. The TG and her admirer

engage in a deeply subjective folie à deux in which they affirm each

other’s sexual authenticity. Many gay men are beset by the fantasy

of being the submissive partner of a straight man, whose masculinity

is more legitimate than their own. By remaking herself in the image

of the straight man’s desires (or for that matter, in the case of the lesbian

transitioner, in the image of the straight woman’s desire), the TG

engages in the ultimate act of self‑sacrifice, self‑suppression, not the

brave act of self‑liberation that she flatters herself she is performing.

Clitorectomies in Africa and the Middle East are in part performed to

prevent women from enjoying sex and giving erotic pleasure entirely

to the all‑powerful male who ravages an inert and unresponsive partner

who must simply endure his lusts, acquiesce in desires in which

she is physically unable to participate. There is a sense in which transitioning

is also a form of genital mutilation, in that the gay man seeks

to transform himself into a mere vessel for the heterosexual’s impulses

whereas his own libido is depressed to the point of extinction by the

gelding effects of hormone replacement therapy.

If one of the motivations for transitioning is the submissiveness

many gay men feel to heterosexuals, there is another motivation for

by far the majority of TGs: straight and bisexual men, who constitute

some 70 percent of those who transition. “Autogynephilia” is a

controversial theory, abhorred by the transgender community, that explains

many men’s longing to transition as a response to a fetish, to

the erotic pleasure they receive from seeing themselves as women, as

having a woman’s body and interacting with other women as lesbians,

Caitlyn Jenner being the most famous and, of late, most photogenic

example. Sex reassignment is the logical outcome of an excess of heterosexuality,

of a love for women so intense that the straight TG tries

to transform himself into the object of his desire. The theory has a

great deal of psychological plausibility, but it is violently condemned

by the transgender community on the ground that it defines gender

dysphoria as a pathology, an illness, a “paraphilia” or sexual perversion,

and this is indeed the case if you accept the idea that fetishes are

illnesses, maladies as pernicious as the desire to caress feet or hair,

to wear leather or soft fabrics, to worship muscles or stiletto heels,

to sleep with older women or stuffed animals—calamitous practices

known to simply tear apart the social fabric.

 

In response to this attempt to pathologize and sexualize their decisions,

TGs attempt to neuter their desires and reconstrue them as a

healthy form of self‑expression, salubrious and psychologically nourishing,

not “sick,” not “degenerate,” not “depraved,” but nice. Transitioning

is nicefied, denatured, its motivations cleansed of base sexual

desires, and instead TGs assert that they pursue their quests out of

fidelity to an asexual ideal of pure male‑ or femalehood, to that “inner”

man or woman who is emancipated, not to have sex for heaven’s sake,

but to comport him‑ or herself in accordance with some ascetic standard

of gynic or andric perfection. The fetish theory suggests that TGs

transition in order to accomplish a selfish and ignoble sexual agenda,

that they are in fact having a kind of sex in front of us, but the “inner”

man or woman theory makes their efforts more palatable by presenting

them as part of a spiritual quest, a valorous act of self‑disclosure, a

demonstration of the guts and glory of the sacred androgen.

In my eyes, she is sterile, too virtuous, a eunuch martyr to a cause.

Why are sexual motivations considered inadequate as justifications for

the procedures TGs undergo? Why is a fetish not a legitimate reason

for modifying one’s body whereas a mythic character bound in chains

of muscle and bones is? Only a sexually puritanical society would

condemn people seeking their own unique form of erotic fulfillment.

All of the other motivations TGs ascribe to themselves seem like so

much temporizing, so much prevaricating with a culture that finds sex

out of wedlock, let alone sex out of gender, disgusting and wrong.

In desexing him‑ or herself, the TG follows the same route that

homosexuals have been forced to take in order to achieve assimilation.

The public is willing to tolerate, even accept, anything provided that

anything” is in essence indistinguishable from themselves, shares

the same values and aspirations, raises the same families, exhibits the

same sexual reticence, patriotism, and religiosity. Acceptance is no

more onerous than glancing in a mirror. Gay men have become caricatures

of bourgeois respectability: they are soldiers who return home in

the same flag‑draped coffins, spouses who pledge to each other eternal

love, dads who coach Little League teams, Cubmasters who award

Fire Safety Badges and medals for kite flying and conscientious tooth

brushing, and pastors who shepherd their flocks. The cost of conformity

to the individual is decimating, but this is a price that many, both

homosexuals and TGs, are willing to pay.

 

 

Daniel Harris is the author of Diary of a Drag Queen, The Rise and Fall of Gay

Culture, A Memoir of No One in Particular, and Cute, Quaint, and Romantic: The

Aesthetics of Consumerism. Previously published in our pages, Harris draws, reads,

and writes in Brooklyn, New York.