Transgender, transgressive: “Vested interest masquerading as a moral principle”

comments form first comment

Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who until recently was the Spokane chapter president for the NAACP, “identifies as black,” she says. Bruce Jenner, now Caitlyn, apparently identifies as female. Dolezal was pressured to give up both her pretense and her position. Jenner made the cover of Vanity Fair, and was honored by our President and by ESPN.

Conservative bloggers have pounced on the irony of the two cases. If Jenner can be a woman, why can’t Dolezal be black? What’s the difference? And can I decide to be a squirrel if that’s what I think I really am on this inside? (Don’t laugh too quickly: have you ever witnessed a “furry” convention? I happened to be at a hotel where one was underway. It was quite bizarre.)

Usually I’m quick to jump on irony myself, but I sense something more important going on here this time. Paul McHugh alluded to it in his recent expert Public Discourse piece on the medical debacle that is “sex reassignment surgery,” which he concluded thusly:

But gird your loins if you would confront this matter. Hell hath no fury like a vested interest masquerading as a moral principle.

Vested Interest and Moral Principles

There is indeed a vested interest at work here. It’s most easily seen by examining the moral principles that might seem to be involved, but which are not.

A. Courage?

Let’s begin with ESPN and President Obama, both of which have honored Jenner for his “courage.” (I am using the masculine pronoun for Jenner, for reasons I will explain presently.) Theres no doubt that it takes a certain amount of chutzpah for a man, especially an athlete, to publicly deny any desire to be a man. Merely doing something dangerous does not mean one is courageous, however. Once I saw someone carrying an 8-foot long 2″x8″ across Interstate 4 in downtown Orlando, in fairly heavy traffic. It was extremely dangerous and foolhardy. I’ve never been able to imagine any reason he would have done it other than maybe to win a large bet. That’s not courage, that’s stupidity, possibly with some greed attached.

Real courage, it seems to me, is the willingness to do what’s right even if it’s frightening or difficult. To call someone courageous is to say they have done the right thing when others might have balked at it. What then is the right thing that Jenner has done?

B. Self-Determination?

In another day, under other cultural climes, one might have thought it was that he acted on his own self-determination. He decided to be who he was, no matter what others might think of him. That was the moral value a whole generation was raised with, starting at about the time I was studying “values clarification” at Michigan State in the 1970s. To be one’s own authentic self was (in those days) to rise to the heights of moral praiseworthiness.

It might have been natural, then, for people to have praised Jenner for that, so I looked to see if that were what was going on. My search for anyone applauding him for “the courage to be yourself” resulted in just one hit, however. I’m sure if I’d looked harder I could have found more, but it doesn’t seem that “being himself/herself” has been touted very loudly as what Jenner did right.

C. Supporting LGBT, Standing Against Judgmentalism?

We may not know what ESPN considers most praiseworthy in Jenner’s transition until the ESPY awards night on July 15. Someone at CNN, however, thinks what Jenner did right was that he publicly supported the trans community.

Barack Obama praised him for his part “in the fight for LGBT rights.”

Nicholas Kristof, writing at the NY Times, stood up for Jenner’s contra-judgmentalism: “Come on, Wheaties. It’s time to put Jenner back on the box!” May I indulge in my moment of irony here? Need I even say it? If being judgmental is wrong, then just what is it that Kristof is about here?

D. None Of the Above

So let’s take note of what’s being presented as bad here, as not particularly good, and as very good. It’s bad for a white person to act as if she were black, even if she is very actively supporting black causes and if she “identifies as black.” It’s attracted no particular attention that Jenner has acted to fulfill his authentic self. It’s very good (supposedly) that Jenner has supported LGBT causes.

Is Dr. McHugh’s “vested interest” coming into clear enough view now?

Supporting Sexual Transition…

But let’s examine this further. What are people supporting when they applaud a decision like Jenner’s?

… In Disregard of Mental Health Evidence

President Obama has lifted up Bruce Jenner for submitting to a medical procedure that’s been shown—in Sweden, of all places—to result in almost a 20-fold increase in suicidal behaviors. This can’t be about what was best for Bruce Jenner. It can’t be about him finding his authentic self, if the theory is correct that being self-authentic leads to mental wholeness. (I could say a lot about that theory, but this isn’t the time or place.)

Jenner’s case isn’t about authenticity, wholeness, finding oneself, or any such thing. It’s about something else.

… With Clear Hypocrisy

The New York Times has a new Op-Ed up today titled Black Like Who? Rachel Dolezal’s Harmful Masquerade. The author writes,

Some people have pointed to this strange case as an illustration that race is malleable. I submit that Ms. Dolezal is a reminder that it is not. Racial identity cannot be fluid as long as the definition of whiteness is fixed. And historically, the path to whiteness has been extremely narrow.

I’m not sure what Nicholas Kristof is going to say about the judgmentalism soaked into that opinion piece. Well, actually I can guess: If he were to write anything, it would be in support of it (and in this case rightly so, for sometimes it’s right to judge).

The point is, Jenner’s case isn’t really about judgmentalism after all. It’s about something else.

… In Spite of Women’s Concerns

Call me pessimistic, but I’m not expecting the NY Times to run any op-eds titled “Female Like Who? Bruce Jenner’s Harmful Masquerade.” If I’m right about that (and you know I am), then this is odd, given feminism’s strict rejection of masculine incursions into its space, or (in another version, which this form of feminism also shares with certain genderqueer manifestations) its rejection of any sexual identification whatever. It’s especially strange given feminism’s visions of male violence against women; and if you think being transsexual automatically means setting aside all that testosterone-laden violence, think again.

This isn’t about supporting women’s issues. It’s about something else.

… In the Teeth of the Facts

It’s not even about Jenner becoming a woman. Dr. McHugh, who has more expertise on the subject than perhaps anyone else, has made it clear that sex-reassignment surgery doesn’t make a man into a woman, but into a feminized man.

Bruce Jenner’s legal name might be Caitlin now, and he might wear dresses and makeup, but he is still a he.

Sexual Freedom Above All Else

He is a he who has transgressed sexual norms, and who has supported others who transgress sexual norms. This, I believe, is the “vested interest” of which Dr. McHugh was speaking: absolute freedom to violate the received normality and morality of a man being a man, a woman being a woman, a marriage being the union of the two opposites, and the identification of any other sexually intimate behavior as sinful.

Remember, it isn’t about self-authenticity. It isn’t about mental health. It isn’t about anti-judgmentalism. It isn’t about women’s rights. I don’t know what else it could be about, except for sexual freedom as an end in itself, which necessarily leads to what we once knew as transgressive sexuality.

For that, President Obama will praise an act that’s known to increase suicidal behaviors by as much as 1800 percent.

It’s that important, right?

top of page comments form

33 Responses to “ Transgender, transgressive: “Vested interest masquerading as a moral principle” ”

  1. Let me hasten to clarify that this isn’t about any persons’ struggles with gender dysphoria. Their pain is real, even if the surgical solution is ineffective in relieving it, and even if “transitioning” is essentially endorsing a sad internal dichotomy rather than resolving it.

    This piece is just what it presents itself to be. It’s about the vested interests surrounding these persons. I’m not sure some of them aren’t being used, though in their hope for relief they probably do not see it that way.

  2. Bruce Jenner is right if Bruce (or “Kaitlyn”) Jenner is god… the same is true for Rachel Dolezal if she is god (or a goddess, but maybe that is a sexist distinction.) But notice I did not say that either Jenner of Dolezal is capital G God but rather a god. But a god for whom? For himself/ herself… herself? Or, for everyone? But clearly it cannot be for everyone. Don’t I have the right to be god—a god, like Jenner and Dolezal? But if I’m a god and everyone else is a god then there is no basis in either morality or epistemology for capital T Truth… we only have small t truth or truths relative to every individual god. How could my truth or Jenner or Dolezal’s truth apply to anyone (or everyone) else?

    This is where the secular progressives employ bait-and-switch tactics and sleight-of-hand shifts with rhetoric. Anti-judgementalism is raised to the level of a moral absolute where only those who subscribe to a particular kind of group think can be and act like gods… Obviously ths is hypocritical if a capital G God and capital T Truth actually exist. You certainly cannot use moral/epistemological relativism as a basis of any kind of absolutism or universalism.

  3. I think that one day the courts will be forced to sort this out in a consistent manner in order to avoid a complete breakdown of society.

    How can a state have a law that says a person can identify with a certain gender no matter what their actual biology is – and then attempt to enforce laws that are predicated on gender being a specific thing regardless of what the person identifies with?

    It’s a small step to then press that convoluted thinking into other areas of the law where race, marriage, etc is whatever a person identifies with.

    Given the current twisted state of legal affairs, I actually think Dolezal might have a legal case as a minority “black”.

  4. No, Dolezal’s story isn’t comparable to Jenner’s. Dolezal’s is, in fact, more credible. Culturally and biologically, she’s blacker than Bruce Jenner is female.

    Read more here.

  5. I think this is the critical point of French’s article:

    Both Dolezal and Jenner mark themselves the way they want to be seen by embracing stereotypes. Ironically, however, Dolezal is the one who adopted the correct stereotypes — liberal, oppression-minded, and activist. She “passed” for a very long time. Jenner — and many other transgendered people — embrace a big-breasted, hyper-feminine model of living that often looks like a caricature of exactly the kind of women that feminists love to hate. Most transgendered people can’t “pass” for nine seconds. So why does the Left embrace the person who adopts the wrong stereotypes and reject their NAACP ally and longtime fellow-traveler?

    The difference here is ideology, specifically the ideological demands of the sexual revolution. So long as consenting adults are involved, the sexual revolutionary reasons backwards from transgressive sexual morality. The heart wants what it wants, and the rest is details (plus a healthy dose of angry activism directed at dissenters). The argument has long been that much human pain is the result of denying the heart its deepest desires, that the path of indulgence is the path of human flourishing. So if Bruce Jenner wants to be a woman, then he’s a woman.

    Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/419786/rachel-dolezal-blacker-bruce-jenner-female-david-french?target=author&tid=1048

  6. Let me rephrase your words slightly:

    Real courage, it seems to me, is the willingness to do what [seems necessary] even if it’s frightening or difficult. To call someone courageous is to say they have done [what they believed to be] the right thing when others might have balked at it.

    Humans don’t get certainty about what’s right or wrong. Some things are effectively certain, but most things we have to do the best we can. German and Japanese soldiers were fighting for evil causes, many of them still displayed a lot of courage in battle.

    They may well have been cowardly in how they evaluated the policies of their own governments, of course. That’s not the same thing as not possessing any courage in any area.

    Consider, say, Satan. Has a lot of goods – power, intelligence, etc. – that are put to bad ends. Courage is a virtue, but it’s not always put to good use. On the other hand:

    Once I saw someone carrying an 8-foot long 2″x8″ across Interstate 4 in downtown Orlando, in fairly heavy traffic. It was extremely dangerous and foolhardy… That’s not courage, that’s stupidity, possibly with some greed attached.

    Exactly. Courage is not letting fear stop you from attempting something. This guy failed to appreciate the danger involved – without fear, there can be no courage. Or else he lacked the courage to do the right thing: find another way to get the board across, even if it took longer or more effort.

  7. A comment from the French article said:

    “How long before people can start claiming they “identify as a teenager” and then get away with having sex with children?”

    If plastic surgery can make you a woman, then….

  8. Ray, I don’t have a lot of difficulty with what you wrote there. Does it affect any of the implications of what I wrote? The article was an extended examination of what people apparently consider to be “right” in this instance.

  9. Tom, you asked, “What then is the right thing that Jenner has done?”

    What I attempted to point out is that Jenner may well have done the right thing by… her… own lights, and displayed courage thereby. You don’t have to agree about the rightness of the course of action to acknowledge courage in taking it.

    C.f. Otto Skorzeny. Can’t admire what he did, but no one can deny he had big brass ones.

    Me, I dunno what to do about gender dysphoria. I’ve not seen any evidence of a really effective treatment for it. If they’re not hurting other people, though, I won’t second-guess their coping mechanisms.

    As to race, I do think that’s different – because that really is socially constructed, there’s no biological basis for it. Frankly, I think Dolezal shows how stupid the whole concept of race is.

    Racism is real, of course, but that’s not the central issue there, it seems to me.

  10. Ray,

    Frankly, I think Dolezal shows how stupid the whole concept of race is.

    Not to stray too far away from the topic, but this comment left me wondering if you have the same opinion of marriage? I won’t pursue it here, but I’d like to get an answer for possible use later 🙂 .

  11. Tom –

    No, the research design is not merely correlational. See the links.

    Wait. Unless I’m missing something, that study compared people who’d undergone sex-reassignment surgery with people who had no gender dysphoria. (“A person was defined as unexposed if there were no discrepancies in sex designation across the Censuses, Medical Birth, and Total Population registers and no gender identity disorder diagnosis according to the Hospital Discharge Register.”)

    Surely, if you were trying to detect the effect of the surgery, you’d compare people with gender dysphoria, but who didn’t get sex-reassignment surgery? Indeed, the authors themselves state “In other words, the results should not be interpreted such as sex reassignment per se increases morbidity and mortality. Things might have been even worse without sex reassignment. As an analogy, similar studies have found increased somatic morbidity, suicide rate, and overall mortality for patients treated for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. This is important information, but it does not follow that mood stabilizing treatment or antipsychotic treatment is the culprit.”

  12. Ray @12, of course he did the right thing according to his and others’ opinions.

    Now, does that change any of the implications of what I wrote about his and others’ opinions?

    As for the studies, see also the other links.

  13. If you’d really been interested to know, this wouldn’t have been that hard for you to find, too.

    You won’t hear it from those championing transgender equality, but controlled and follow-up studies reveal fundamental problems with this movement. When children who reported transgender feelings were tracked without medical or surgical treatment at both Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic, 70%-80% of them spontaneously lost those feelings. Some 25% did have persisting feelings; what differentiates those individuals remains to be discerned.

    We at Johns Hopkins University—which in the 1960s was the first American medical center to venture into “sex-reassignment surgery”—launched a study in the 1970s comparing the outcomes of transgendered people who had the surgery with the outcomes of those who did not. Most of the surgically treated patients described themselves as “satisfied” by the results, but their subsequent psycho-social adjustments were no better than those who didn’t have the surgery. And so at Hopkins we stopped doing sex-reassignment surgery, since producing a “satisfied” but still troubled patient seemed an inadequate reason for surgically amputating normal organs.

  14. Tom@15,

    As for the studies, see also the other links.

    What links is this referring to? It seems to me that Ray@14 is correct. Unless I’m missing something.

  15. By the way–a 19x suicide attempt rate may not prove anything in itself, but good gracious, it sure ought to slow down the crashing wave of pro-SRS good feelings until someone finishes finding out!

    I’m not sure if that occurred to you. You have an oft-noted habit of finding something to disagree with in whatever I write, no matter how picayune or irrelevant it may be. In this case you’ve placed yourself in the position of saying, “Hey, it’s just correlational, and Tom didn’t identify it as such, so rather than noticing the tragedy it loudly suggests, let’s make sure Tom can’t be allowed to forget that bit of a mistake.”

    It’s not that I mind having my mistakes pointed out, Ray, it’s that your ongoing mission to find them in my blog posts has blinded you to what’s really important. You point out a gnat and can’t see a camel.

  16. Tom –

    By the way–a 19x suicide attempt rate may not prove anything in itself, but good gracious, it sure ought to slow down the crashing wave of pro-SRS good feelings until someone finishes finding out!

    I’m afraid you’re missing the point. That suicide rate is definitely a cause for concern, but it’s not evidence for what you claimed.

    The study compared people with no gender dysphoria, with people who do have gender dysphoria. The way it found people with gender dysphoria is by looking for people who’d had SRS. (To provide evidence that SRS itself caused the suicide rate, you would have to compare people (a) with gender dysphoria, who (b) either got, or didn’t get, SRS.)

    Indeed, here’s your one of your own links arguing against your claim about SRS elevating the risk of suicide! McHugh writes, “…most of the patients he tracked down some years after their surgery were contented with what they had done and that only a few regretted it. But in every other respect, they were little changed in their psychological condition. They had much the same problems with relationships, work, and emotions as before. The hope that they would emerge now from their emotional difficulties to flourish psychologically had not been fulfilled.”

    I definitely “notic[e] the tragedy”. But, so far as I can tell, and from what the evidence I’ve seen suggests, the problem is that people with gender dysphoria suffer a lot. They have serious problems, and – as I said – “I’ve not seen any evidence of a really effective treatment for it.” Of course, including SRS.

  17. Now, does that change any of the implications of what I wrote about his and others’ opinions?

    Well, yeah. Let’s see, I’ve disputed:

    1. The bit about Jenner not displaying ‘courage’. (9, 12)

    2. The ‘disregard of mental health evidence’. (14, 21)

    3. The bit about ‘hypocrisy. (12)

    4. “In the teeth of facts” (12, 21)

    I’ll now add “In Spite of Women’s Concerns”. I am aware of no recorded case of any transgendered person attacking anyone else in a public bathroom or any other ‘women’s space’ ever. There are lots of examples of violence against transgendered individuals, but essentially none the other way around. (Except perhaps in prisons, but those are highly atypical environments. Lots fewer atheists there, for example.)

    I think the media attention to this story has been wildly overblown, too. I mostly find it sad. But I don’t draw the same conclusions you do, especially your repeated claim that SRS elevates suicide risk.

  18. hat suicide rate is definitely a cause for concern, but it’s not evidence for what you claimed.

    Yes, actually it is. It’s not proof, but it’s strongly suggestive of a concern that ought to give a person reason to pause before committing enthusiastically to a solution of unknown effectiveness.

    But hey, far be it from you to let go of a bone once you’ve got it in your teeth.

  19. Tom to Ray @ #18:

    It’s not that I mind having my mistakes pointed out, Ray, it’s that your ongoing mission to find them in my blog posts has blinded you to what’s really important. You point out a gnat and can’t see a camel.

    Maybe Ray is nitpicking because that’s all he’s got. Ray seems to have ongoing problem engaging what Christians are really arguing. How can someone who has been posting here for several years be so clueless about what Christians really believe? Either way Ray continues to show the bankruptcy of atheism of any variety—new or old. Just a suggestion, but maybe we should stop enabling him.

  20. Tom –

    reason to pause before committing enthusiastically to a solution of unknown effectiveness

    No, you didn’t claim SRS was “a solution of unknown effectiveness”. Instead you claimed – direct quote, here – it had “been shown—in Sweden, of all places—to result in almost a 20-fold increase in suicidal behaviors” and was “known to increase suicidal behaviors by as much as 1800 percent.”

    Those are very different claims from “a solution of unknown effectiveness”.

    I actually explicitly agreed with you about the “unknown effectiveness”. I will repeat – for the third frigging time – that “I’ve not seen any evidence of a really effective treatment for [gender dysphoria].” But I pointed out that your own links disagree with your specific, unambiguous claims about SRS directly quoted above.

    JAD – If challenging five of nine points is ‘nitpicking’, then, well, okay. I guess it’s a fair cop?

  21. Ray, yes, thank you. “It’s not proof.” I agree.

    “But it’s strongly suggestive of a concern that ought to give a person reason to pause before committing enthusiastically to a solution of unknown effectiveness.”

    Didn’t I say that already? Do you disagree with it?

  22. Tom – Actually, what I’m pointing out is that not only is it not proof, it’s not even evidence for what you first claimed – that SRS elevates suicide risk. And the study’s authors agree on that, and said so explicitly, as I quoted.

    I agree that SRS doesn’t have much evidence for its effectiveness. As I’ve said repeatedly.

    That doesn’t mean it does the harm you claimed. Nor have you modified your original claims even after I pointed out that – and why – they are unfounded. If you’re going to cite research, I’m afraid I am going to insist you do so accurately.

  23. Ray,
    It would seem that you are technically correct, but I think Tom is trying to get you to stop focusing on the gnat.

    Would you agree that the evidence cited suggests SRS does nothing to fix the 20x increase in suicides?

    Furthermore, given that evidence, would you agree that it’s neither wise nor courageous for a person to think SRS opens the door to a more satisfying life when studies show that that it likely doesn’t?

    If so, would you also agree that society shouldn’t be cheering these people on as if SRS opens the door to a more satisfying life?

  24. SteveK –

    Would you agree that the evidence cited suggests SRS does nothing to fix the 20x increase in suicides?

    Well, no. Because, as I pointed out, the study compares two groups – (a) people without gender dysphoria, and (b) people with gender dysphoria who also had SRS. It does not include people with gender dysphoria who didn’t get SRS.

    Imagine a study that compared (a) people without depression, and (b) people with depression who took anti-depressants, and it found that group b had an elevated suicide risk. Could you conclude that antidepressants increased the risk of suicide? Of course not.

    For that, you’d need to compare the suicide rate of (c) people with depression who didn’t take anti-depressants and (d) people with depression who took anti-depressants. It’s entirely possible that antidepressants decrease the risk of suicide, just not all the way to the level of people without depression.

    As I already said, “To provide evidence that SRS itself caused the suicide rate, you would have to compare people (a) with gender dysphoria, who (b) either got, or didn’t get, SRS.” I know of no study that makes that comparison.

    would you agree that it’s neither wise nor courageous for a person to think SRS opens the door to a more satisfying life when studies show that that it likely doesn’t?

    As I said, I don’t know of studies that establish “it likely doesn’t”. Of course, as I said already, “I’ve not seen any evidence of a really effective treatment for it.” If you do know of studies along the lines I outlined above, please do let me know.

    And then I went on to say, “If they’re not hurting other people, though, I won’t second-guess their coping mechanisms.” I have insufficient data to decide whether they are wise, though as I noted above they can potentially be courageous.

    If so, would you also agree that society shouldn’t be cheering these people on as if SRS opens the door to a more satisfying life?

    As I said, “I think the media attention to this story has been wildly overblown, too. I mostly find it sad.”

    I don’t know how to make all this any clearer, I guess.

  25. Ray,
    Even if SRS is an improvement to the rate of suicide should we be applauding it as a solution anyway?

    I say no because in Jenner’s case (as far as I know) there is nothing wrong with the physical body that the surgery is *actually* fixing. The gender confusion is mental/spiritual. The body cannot be the wrong biological gender by any medical standard so SRS is like having a face lift. Just as you don’t become younger after a face lift, a man doesn’t become a woman after SRS.

    The purpose of SRS is to make the patient feel better. That same outcome can be accomplished a lot of different ways.

    If we wanted to help these people actually *fix* the problem AND feel better, we would be championing treatments that focus on the mental/spiritual.

  26. But hey, far be it from you to let go of a bone once you’ve got it in your teeth.

    Ray has the patience of a Saint. Ironic, really.

  27. SteveK –

    The purpose of SRS is to make the patient feel better. That same outcome can be accomplished a lot of different ways.

    For the fifth time, I’ve not seen any evidence of a really effective treatment for gender dysphoria. What are the “lot of different ways”, and what evidence do you use to evaluate their effectiveness?

  28. Ray
    I’m not a psychologist or in the medical field so I’m not sure what treatments are most effective. Christianity does have something to say about the spiritual treatment.