I was 18 when I encountered my first transgender person: Kevin was a sweet young man with a petite frame, high-pitched voice, and feminine mannerisms who hung around the common area of my all-girls’ dorm to avoid harassment and bullying from peers in his all-male dorm across the street. Kevin called himself a “pre-op queen,” and talked constantly about his desire for sex reassignment surgery. His plan was to become a woman, get married to an accepting man, and adopt a couple of kids so he could “be a mom.”
During those rare times when Kevin wasn’t talking about his future sex change, he was an engaging, intelligent guy that I enjoyed being around. We lost touch after he moved to a co-ed dorm across campus for safety reasons–someone had set off a small bomb in his dorm room.
Before Kevin, I’d never given the transgender issue much thought. And honestly, I didn’t give it much thought after I met him, either. When Kevin told me he wanted to cut off his genitals, grow breasts, and change his name to “Emily,” I privately thought that was a sad, extreme course for him–or anyone, really–to take. But having witnessed his abuse at the hands of male peers, the last thing I wanted to do was make Kevin feel rejected again.
So I supported Kevin’s decision; I even called him “brave” for being true to his “real self” by becoming a woman. It never occurred to me that I was offering him a false compassion or that I could affirm him as a person without supporting what I instinctively knew was a self-destructive path.
As rumors have swirled around Bruce Jenner over the past year, I’ve found myself thinking more about Kevin and wondering what happened to him. Did he ever have the surgery? Did he get married? Or did he commit suicide like many transgendered youth? If he is alive, does he still believe he’s a woman? Did he rejoice or weep when he saw Bruce Jenner on the cover of Vanity Fair as a woman?
Facing the transgender issue every time I went by the tabloids this year made me realize how little I really understood about transgender issues. I figured it was time to educate myself, so I started reading everything I could about and by transgendered people. More than anything, I wanted answers to two questions:
- How does a person know he’s transgendered?
- What’s the most loving way to deal with transgenderism when we encounter it in our brothers and sisters?
Transgenderism: Pure Descartes
I noticed that no matter how many transgender articles I read, not one could explain how a person knows for certain he’s transgender. (And knows so certainly he’ll go through surgery to prove it.) My research led me to The Transgender Support Site, where I spent countless hours reading its pages, including the 1,200-page, 20-year journal of Melanie Anne Phillips, the site’s founder. The journal intimately details the emotional, social, and biological impact of Phillips transitioning from an ordinary married man and father of two kids to a full-fledged, anatomically-correct woman.
So exactly how does a man know he’s really a woman when his body is clearly male? Surely (I reasoned), if doctors are performing radical surgeries to turn someone into the opposite sex, then there must be an objective means of verifying a person’s claim that they’re really the opposite sex on the inside.
What I discovered is that transgenderism actually is purely subjective; in the famous words of Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” If you think you’re a man, you are, regardless of what your biology declares. In fact, reassignment surgery doesn’t even have to be a part of the process anymore; transgender advocates are increasingly demanding that society accept–and accommodate–a person’s “true gender” based solely on the person’s subjective belief that they’re the opposite sex.
A vet in my own hometown highlighted this expectation in an editorial a few years ago, in which he blasted the state’s DMV for demanding evidence of sex-reassignment surgery before changing sex on driver’s licenses. According to him, the DMV–and every other government agency–should just take your word for it.
I sincerely have to wonder where this logically ends. If the only thing that’s necessary for a person to be accepted as the opposite sex is their belief that they’re the opposite sex, then on what basis do we have for denying anyone their subjective reality?
What if an adult says he’s actually an 18-month-old child on the inside, as this man does…does that mean we can’t hold him legally responsible if he commits a crime? What about the people who believe they’re animals, like this man in Pittsburgh? Does he have to pay taxes if he’s really a dog? What about the “tran-sabled,” who genuinely believe they’re disabled people trapped in a healthy body? And who, much like the transgendered, will physically alter (i.e., mutilate) themselves so that their body matches their interior reality? If a person insists he’s trans-abled, is he entitled to disability payments?
These aren’t facetious questions, folks. If a person’s subjective reality must be accepted by all of us as the objective social reality, then we need to ask ourselves how far down the rabbit hole we want to go.
In every other case of body dysmorphia–in which a person’s perception of themselves doesn’t match the biological reality–we understand that the person is mentally ill. The adult who thinks he’s a toddler, the man who thinks he’s a dog, the healthy woman who insists she’s paralyzed…these are psychologically unhealthy people who need serious therapy, perhaps even medication, to correct their skewed perceptions of themselves. We wouldn’t call them “brave” or laud them for living according to their “true self,” would we? And anyone who encourages those perceptions would never been seen as offering them true compassion, but actually as further harming them psychologically.
Why, then, are so many people applauding for Bruce Jenner right now?
In wrangling with transgenderism as a society, however, we can’t lose sight of the fact that at the heart of this issue is a person–a child of God. In Part 2, which will be posted later today, we’ll look into the heart of the Kevins and Caitlyns of the world, which will help us answer the most important question of all: what is the most loving way to treat transgenderism when we encounter it in our brothers and sisters? Stay tuned!