Monday, June 11, 2007

Treatment of the "Others" Among Us

In recent months, there have been quite a few discussions in the blogosphere around the fundamental notion of transsexuals - particularly focused around the situations that Susan Stanton and Julie Nemecek found themselves in.

What has been particularly disturbing has been some of the commentary from various so-called conservatives regarding how transgender people , and in particular transsexuals, should be treated (or not).

There is an amazing amount of hostility that ranges from blatant to veiled behind the mists of ignorance (and/or blind ignorance based on theology that I would call questionable).

From "Americans For Truth":
We must pray for these poor souls who are so confused that they would destroy their healthy, God-given bodies to assuage their inner conflict.

Or from a religious apologetics blog:
My personal view is that the transgendered operation should only be embraced by those who are born hermaphrodites or whose sexual genitalia are opposite their genetic endowments. I do not currently buy the view that being “mentally” or psychologically a woman and “physically” a male (or vice-versa) somehow justifies surgical change. The mental phenomenon may or may not be legitimate, but that’s irrelevant to me. For a believer, I don’t believe the experience justifies the surgery.

By analogy, a mental or genetic predisposition to violence doesn’t justify abuse. Similarly, a mental or genetic predisposition to thinking like the opposite sex, or being attracted to the opposite sex, also doesn’t justify cross- dressing, transsexualism, or homosexuality.

Or from a rather rednecky blog:
*(And personally, I would argue that no matter what sort of mutilation you subject your genitalia to, you can't change the fact that if you were male you were born without the same plumbing and you will die without it, too. In my humble opinion, Steve should always be referred to as a "he" even if he goes through with the sex change operation.)

*Note: I choose not to link to these sites because I feel that their content is fundamentally hostile to other human beings' life experiences.

The commentary carries a common theme throughout that I find quite objectionable - namely that transfolk, and transsexuals in particular, should be denied not only basic courtesy in the world, but worse, denied treatment for their conditions.

Perhaps the greatest irony comes from the religious blog I mentioned earlier, the author of which asserts:

My personal view is that the transgendered operation should only be embraced by those who are born hermaphrodites or whose sexual genitalia are opposite their genetic endowments.

Just consider the logic here - if someone has a physical ambiguity, it is perfectly reasonable to allow medical intervention; but in contrast, if someone's psychological gender is ambiguous relative to their body, it is not acceptable to provide treatment?

This kind of non-linear reasoning astounds me. On one hand, imposing a gender on intersex babies is argued as acceptable (even though the baby is neither aware of, nor able to participate in, the decision being made on their behalf. (For cross reference, consider the case of David Reimer to get some sense how wrong things can go if such a decision is made for the wrong reasons)

Meanwhile, most transsexuals that ask for medical assistance in making a gender transition are adults - not merely of legal age, but often old enough to more than fully appreciate the implications of the steps they are taking. Further, if we have medical treatments that are constructive for these individuals, I see no compelling moral or ethical reason to deny them treatment. To date, all such "moral" arguments I have seen rely upon interpretations of biblical scripture, applying that scripture to a situation that could not have been understood or

Interestingly, the advocacy around intersex children is towards waiting until they are old enough to make a choice intelligently, rather than simply imposing a surgical gender on the child while they are still infants.

My assertion in this regard is quite simple - if nature can provide the diversity of expression to produce (albeit rare) physical ambiguity, there is no reason whatsoever to believe that psychological gender may similarly be highly diverse. The argument that because we are talking about a hard to verify condition in the case of transsexuals (it's hard to know what someone is thinking or feeling beyond what they provide words for), that we should not provide them with access to treatment is fundamentally unreasonable. (Please note that both the HBIGDA SOC and the DSM IV are quite clear about the need for demonstrated persistence, a key point in establishing whether one is dealing with a "fleeting fantasy" or a more persistent condition - as well as a demonstrable ability to adapt socially to a new social role)

Other arguments, such as insisting that a post-transition transsexual that no longer presents in their birth gender should be treated as though they do are simply demonstrating a fundamental disrespect for other people. As soon as we allow ourselves to see someone as "Other" (different, and somehow apart from "us"), we create a serious problem in society. The "Other" is always the "alien" - incomprehensible to the greater masses. Whether we denote otherness based on someone's religion or ancestry (as Bush has done with Muslims in the US), language or behaviours doesn't matter. As soon as we provide that tag of "Other" to be applied, we create a serious problem where society can condemn without actually knowing.

This is the fundamental tactic being applied by "family values" adovcates throughout North America - by portraying GLBT people as essentially "aliens among us", they dehumanize that population, and then proceed to tar them with blame for all of the ills they see in society. Of course, when you get a little closer to these people and see them as human beings with lives little different from the rest of society, it becomes much more difficult to judgmentally push them to the margins.

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