“In this fascinating exploration of the cultural models of manhood, When Men Are Women examines the unique world of the nomadic Gabra people, a camel-herding society in northern Kenya. Gabra men denigrate women and feminine things, yet regard their most prestigious men as women. As they grow older, all Gabra men become d’abella, or ritual experts, who have feminine identities. Wood’s study draws from structuralism, psychoanalytic theory, and anthropology to probe the meaning of opposition and ambivalence in Gabra society. When Men Are Women provides a multifaceted view of gender as a cultural construction independent of sex, but nevertheless fundamentally related to it. By turning men into women, the Gabra confront the dilemmas and ambiguities of social life. Wood demonstrates that the Gabra can provide illuminating insight into our own culture’s understanding of gender and its function in society.”
The transgender question spans the whole spectrum of human interest, from psychological to biological, social to cultural, religious to technological, political to spiritual. It would be hard to conceive of a hotter topic–or button–than the question of when–or if –a man becomes a woman, and vice versa. Wrapped up inside this question is a still deeper one of what makes a human being a human being, what constitutes personal identity, and how much identity is or can be made subject to our desire, and vice versa. Among the countless lesser questions which the subject raises, here are a sample few, some (though probably not all) of which I will address in the following exploration.
1) The question of biological sex and social gender roles
2) The question of possible causes for transgenderism or gender confusion
3) The question of what possible outside interests the “trans agenda” may be serving, whether corporate, military, governmental, ideological, or otherwise
4) The question of how transgenderism affects women and their position in society
5) The question of how it affects men and their position in society
6) The question of how transgenderism overlaps with/is compatible with transhumanism
7) The question of how children are being affected and possibly endangered by transgenderism as a social trend
8) The question of how transgender individuals are being discriminated against and abused in society
9) The question of class and privilege, and how transgender individuals may be themselves practicing discrimination and abuse
10) The question of whether ideology can be seen as a counter-measure or corrective to biology and psychology
11) The question of whether identity has any actual validity outside of group think and social constructs designed to control us and suppress our life force
12) The question of social and possibly biological anomalies within a community or species
13) The question of group identity and scapegoating
And so on.
Before we get into some of these questions, a few examples of the repercussions and manifestations of “transgenderism” in western society, in the 21st century, are necessary to set the scene. This is from “Rise in transgender children puts British primary schools under pressure,” 13 Jul, 2016:
“UK primary schools are attempting to enforce ‘trans-inclusive environments and curricula’ as the number of British children who want to change their gender is at an all-time high. British demand for sex change procedures booming. England’s only center for trans children and adolescents, the Tavistock Clinic, says the number of British children who want to change their gender has doubled in six months. According to the Guardian, the clinic says it is under huge pressure, with many of the referrals involving children under the age of 10, including one three-year-old and 12 four-year-olds, the Guardian reports. Schools are responding to the increasing numbers by creating ‘new gender neutral environments’ and holding ‘transgender days’ to encourage pupils to think about gender fluidity.”
This is from the UK Daily Mail, 30 July 2016, “March of the male mums”:
“Women having sex changes on the NHS are being given free fertility treatment so they can have babies after they become men. At least three British men who were born female are ‘on the brink’ of becoming parents using IVF techniques, according to a top doctor. And dozens more are now having their eggs frozen at NHS clinics before undergoing surgery or hormone therapy to switch sex.”
Trans individuals meanwhile are surprisingly well-represented (media-wise at least) in the military: “Abi Austen became the first British Army officer to transition from a man to a woman and is now the world’s first transgender foreign correspondent, featuring in a new documentary this week which sees her return to old territory in Afghanistan.” According to a Wikipedia page “Transgender people and military service,” “It is estimated as of 2014 that there are approximately 15,500 transgender individuals either serving on active duty or in the National Guard or Army Reserve forces within the U.S. Military. … A current issue for the transgender population is the use of military medical insurance to transition from one gender to another.”
The most significant social subset for a budding new identity movement is of course children. Here are few examples of how rapidly this new-old social phenomenon is being incorporated into the ideological, educational, and medical framework. From “Children could be taught about transgender issues using penguin story books”:
“The Gender Identity and Research and Education Society has called on schools to teach their children about trans issues by using the Penguin Land stories, which feature adult penguins reassuring younger penguins about transitioning. . . . In evidence to the committee, the society said: ‘The numbers of very young children transitioning in primary school are increasing rapidly, so information and reassurance needs to be given at the earliest stage. . . . The Gender Identity Research and Education Society also accused the Department for Education of not doing enough to promote transgender issues, and claimed that the concept of gender transitioning should be ‘included at all levels of the syllabus.’”
From the Daily Mail, Dec 2015:
“An eight-year-old pupil who was born female is locked in a battle with a primary school where staff are refusing to accept the child’s request to be treated as a boy. The school is one of more than a dozen across Britain facing a potential legal challenge for stopping pupils from changing their gender. Another pupil, aged 13, is at an all-girls school but now identifies as a boy, yet staff insist that wearing a skirt is obligatory as uniform policy.”
And from January 2017:
“Don’t call pregnant patients ‘mothers’: Doctors are banned from using the word over fears it will upset those who are transgender. Official guidelines issued by the British Medical Association says mothers-to-be-should be referred to as ‘pregnant people.’ The move aims to avoid offending and alienating transgender parents. The advice came in a 14-page booklet titled A Guide To Effective Communication: Inclusive Language In The Workplace.”
Also from the Mail, April 2017:
“Students lose marks for using ‘he’: Universities penalise undergraduates for ‘offensive’ gender phrases in essays and exams. Institutions are cracking down on the use of ‘offensive’ gender phrases. The terms ‘mankind,’ ‘manpower’ and ‘manmade’ are frowned upon. Now University of Hull is saying use of such language can impact marks.”
The following comes from an article written in November 2015, “7-year-old ‘trans activist’ used in campaign by Transgender Europe, a German NGO partially funded by US State Department”:
“President Obama issued a directive in December 2011 to heads of executive branch agencies (which would include the US Department of State): ‘I am deeply concerned by the violence and discrimination targeting LGBT persons around the world whether it is passing laws that criminalize LGBT status, beating citizens simply for joining peaceful LGBT pride celebrations, or killing men, women, and children for their perceived sexual orientation.’. . . Pursuant to the memorandum, the Global Equality Fund was established as a funding mechanism, ‘a collaborative effort led by the U.S. Department of State, bridging government, companies and NGOs with the objective of empowering LGBT persons to live freely and without discrimination.’”
As part of this humanitarian agenda, a seven-year-old boy was selected as a figurehead and presented in a 90 second video:
From the same article:
“What is the 7-year-old trans activist being used to promote? The ‘depathologisation’ of trans people. On its website, TGEU ‘calls on the World Health Organisation and governments to ensure that gender variant children are not labelled as sick.’. . . The Depathologisation Resources page links to this proposal by the GATE working group, which argues for abolishing the ‘gender incongruence’ diagnosis being considered for the next version of the international diagnosis codes (ICD-11). . . . depathologizing appears to mean dumping any ‘disorder’ diagnosis and just giving trans-identified people whatever they want. . . . Yet the very document TGEU uses in their depathologisation campaign states that the majority of these kids will desist and perhaps grow up to be gay or lesbian adults. That there should not be a ‘presumption’ that they are transgender.
“In addition, there is a body of evidence, originating with and continuing to this day, from the Dutch team who pioneered pediatric transition, indicating that social transition can be harmful. It can lock a child into a transgender identity and make it more difficult for a child to ‘desist.’ Not only that: Being a social media star and receiving plaudits from parents and other important adults for conforming to gender stereotypes is a powerful incentive and reward. And this particular child has had a law dedicated to him. Can anyone think it would be possible for him to change his mind, after all that? . . . . Transgender Europe operates campaigns—partially funded by me and other Americans–that promote the idea that a boy who plays with fairy dolls and wears pink dresses is actually a girl who should be ‘socially transitioned’ before the world on YouTube and Facebook, defined as transgender, and who, at puberty, will be ready for all the medical services that money (and the taxpayer) can provide.”
Lastly, this is from Business Insider December 2016, “Demand for transgender medical care is exploding”:
“The youngest patients receive no medical interventions, just counseling. Olson-Kennedy describes one 18-month-old, born a girl, who understood her gender before her grammar. ‘I a boy,’ she repeatedly told her parents. Many young children who experiment with gender roles end up reverting to their birth gender. But when the gender discomfort persists into adolescence, said Olson-Kennedy, it’s usually there to stay. And puberty, when secondary sex characteristics develop, can be a dangerous trigger. ‘I’ve had mothers call me who say their child tries to kill themselves every time they have their period,’ Olson-Kennedy said. ‘Parents come in saying, “My kid tried to cut off his penis with dental floss.”’ Olson-Kennedy’s first line of treatment for adolescents is stopping puberty so children and their parents can buy time to sort out what they want to do. Puberty blockers, GnRh agonists like the injectable Lupron [*Lupron is being used on autistic children and causes sterility, among other things. It may have been used by eugenicists in the past] or the implant Supprelin, suppress puberty by modifying hormone release. Such drugs have been used off-label safely for more than 30 years to stop early puberty. Trans doctors say it’s critical to stop puberty before the body morphs in ways that are difficult to change—the broadening of shoulders for men, for example, or the rounded hips of women. ‘Even 14 or 15 is too late,’ said Dr. Norman Spack, an endocrinologist who founded the country’s first transgender youth clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital.”
What all this points to is not so much a budding new development within the species as an ideological battleground. Many progressives see this as a war of the new against the old, of enlightened values struggling against outmoded beliefs and prejudices. But if looked at with a less “cultured” or ideologically entrenched eye, it appears to be more of a war of culture against nature, or mind against body. (In passing, it’s worth noting that the high culture phase of societies are often characterized by an interference with child development to make “properly” socialized adult bodies, as in the case of foot-binding in China.) As the opening quote shows, men aspiring to become women may be as old as culture itself (though not as old as human existence–we only have records of cultural history, for obvious reasons). Perhaps there is even a direct correlation between culture and the drive to transcend biology, and therefore death?
Though it may seem an unlikely source to turn to, Carlos Castaneda’s Art of Dreaming–the ninth in his famous series of anthropological novels about Toltec sorcery–provides a curious echo of this same basic drive, complete with a metaphysical rationale as deep and archetypal as the religious drive to escape damnation–or attain eternal life:
“‘I’ve said to you that the inorganic beings don’t pursue females; they only go after males. But I’ve also said to you that the inorganic beings are female, and that the entire universe is female to a large degree. So draw your own conclusions.’ Don Juan explained to me that sorceresses, in theory, come and go as they please in that world because of their enhanced awareness and their femaleness. ‘The first part of the dreaming lesson in question is that maleness and femaleness are not final states but are the result of a specific act of positioning the assemblage point. . . . And this act is, naturally, a matter of volition and training. Since it was a subject close to the old sorcerers’ hearts, they are the only ones who can shed light on it.’”
Castaneda’s don Juan goes further still, in claiming something trans activists would wholeheartedly get behind: that sorcery is powerful not only to change one’s gender but retroactively correct what gender one was born as:
“I have already said to you that to be a natural man or a natural woman is a matter of positioning the assemblage point. . . . By natural I mean someone who was born either male or female. To a seer, the shiniest part of the assemblage point faces outward, in the case of females and inward, in the case of males. The tenant’s assemblage point was originally facing inward, but he changed it by twisting it around and making his egglike energy shape look like a shell that has curled up on itself.”
Ergo, the self-transitioned sorcerer who makes the shift from male to female can legitimately claim to have been born that way.
Leaving aside the possible value of Castaneda’s accounts as anything but wild metaphors, within the narrative he spins, the final truth about the Tenant is that, via his-her elaborate manipulations of energy and identity, in an attempt to escape the clutches of inorganic beings, s/he ended up trapped by that very same identity. “She was the closest thing to permanent,” Castaneda writes, “while I was temporary. That was my advantage. The death defier had worked herself into a corner, and I was free.”
The neoliberal sorcery of identity politics revolves around an unquestionable belief in the sanctity of identity. Its aims have to do with endless ideological renovations, technological extensions, and cosmetic furnishings of the cage. What they never address is the possibility or desirability of leaving the cage behind entirely.
In the simplest psychological and social terminology, gender confusion that leads to a decision to “transition” from one gender to another is a question of a strong preference or desire being acted upon with or without the sanction of society. The question of whether or not society sanctions such desires or their fulfillment, and where the desires come from in the first place, are two separate questions. Ideologically, when it comes to sexual preferences (with one notable exception), it is today only really permissible to address the first question.
When it becomes socially unacceptable to talk about any sort of preference in terms of unconscious drives, neurosis, or pathology (unless it’s a crime, and even then, the law may change to suit the new preferences), then pathology, neurosis, and the unconscious cease to exist as categories of meaning. Yet as psychological phenomena they continue and, logically, can only proliferate for not being identified.
The notion that suffering is something that needs to be alleviated by fixing the externals is central to the transgender movement, as well as to neoliberalism, identity politics, and all modern Western values that elevate personal preference over every other factor. This turning away from internal states of suffering to external pseudo-solutions (which are often really distractions) creates the sort of messed up culture of exploitation we are living in. It is a world where no one wants to just sit in the distress of being poisoned by generations of abuse, but instead rushes to surgically remove the offending parts, or worse, take them out on–or put them into–someone else. The Trans Agenda does both, because as well as altering the individual’s externals (and internals) as a way to alleviate their distress, it also imposes this “choice” on others by forbidding all questioning of it. A man with a penis can legally oblige others to identify him as a woman–and gain access to women’s bathrooms–because he insists that this is how he identifies, and that for his belief not to be affirmed by others, will only cause him more distress.
My own sense, as I turn fifty, is that individuation–the quest for self-knowing–is a journey inward that eventually dis-identifies with everything but the Soul. It begins with your family, as the song goes, but soon it comes down to race, sex, even species. So the idea that we can be whatever we feel like being, biologically, through a mixture of desire and technology, is a literalization and hence an inversion of the truth that we are infinitely more than our biology. It is a way of insisting that what we are is not something we have to discover, but something we get to choose. This leaves out the rather obvious problem that, if we do not know who or what we are, our choices are going to be influenced, and severely compromised, by that same lack of awareness.
To erase the biological difference of the other–as trans ideology does–in this quest for identity is to eradicate the other’s identity while claiming it for one’s own. It’s psychic cuckoo-land. It is also the absolute inverse of self-discovery.
On the other hand, I recognize the need to be careful when using words like pathology or, its inverse, well-adjusted, because, in an exploitative culture, adjustment isn’t itself necessarily such a great sign, and “pathology” can be a necessary response to an unhealthy environment. But on the other other hand, when someone responds to confusion about their bodily identification with a literalized bid for transformation, it’s essential to recognize that this may be an unconscious cry for help, rather than a true, conscious step towards wholeness. Simply providing such people with the justification and means to act on their desire may not be the most compassionate or healthy way to address such a complex unknown as this.
The notion that people know what they need and ought to be allowed to have it is a central principal and value in the consumer capitalist mosh-pit of human exploitation which we live in today. Ironically, this same culture works 24-7, using every known form of technology and psychological manipulation to tell people what they need and give it to them. It thereby proves highly effective at preventing most people from ever discovering their true orientation.
The truth is we don’t know what we need: we have been cultured and conditioned to want all the wrong things and to turn to the ruling power structures to get them. We are given (or sold) anything and everything but what will allow us to move our attention inward, where what is of true value is to be found. All these solutions that are offered, as means to autonomy and self-empowerment, in fact lead to the opposite: increased dependency on the Dream State that is selling us its manufactured imago of being.
The following is from “Exiles in their own flesh: A psychotherapist speaks” by Lane Anderson (a pseudonym), “a practicing psychotherapist who has worked extensively with ‘trans teens’ and their families”:
“When I am suddenly and without warning discouraged from exploring the underlying causes and conditions of certain of my patients’ distress (as I was trained to do), and instead forced to put my professional stamp of approval upon a prefab, one-size-fits-all narrative intended to explain the complexity of my patient’s troubles, I feel confused. It’s as if I am being held hostage. No longer encouraged or permitted to question, consider or discuss the full spectrum of my patient’s mental health concerns, it has occurred to me that I am being used, my meager professional authority commandeered to legitimize a new narrative I may or may not wish to corroborate. It’s been perilous to simply admit to not fully understanding it all–let alone disagree with the trans narrative. There was no training or teaching. I was just suddenly told that some of my patients thought they were trapped in the wrong body and that was that.”
“There are so many complex forces, from many different realms, coming into play with this trans wave. Most people are completely unaware of these intersecting interests. Unfortunately the culture war has done a number on the concept of critical thinking. I have considered myself liberal my entire adult life, and I still am. But for a long time I couldn’t find anyone questioning this trans explosion who wasn’t on the far right. It made me feel like only conservatives were allowed to think, to consider this issue, but ultimately their thoughts were rendered meaningless due to their branding by the culture war. It’s essential that left-leaning people model critical thinking for the masses in this regard.
“It’s important to link people like us together, who have been silenced, so we can resume contact with our critical thinking skills and reduce our growing sense of self doubt. Divide and conquer is best accomplished through silencing, through calling into question those who speak out. There is so much of this attached to the trans movement. Even just wondering about a profound concept such as transgender is labeled transphobic. What I think has happened is that people are now phobic about their own gut responses to life. We are being systematically separated from our own intuition. This is fatal for a civilization, I think. Not that our intuition always tells the truth with a capital T, but it is a critical piece of who we are. Without it, we remain profoundly directionless, and more susceptible to coercion of all types. [Emphasis added.]
“What frightens me most about the trans movement is that the establishment has gotten involved and is leading it. I think that’s really weird. Clearly they are benefiting from it financially. So sad. It disturbs me to see how giddy my former medical director is to be part of this growing craze. We used to treat kids with mental health problems, but now it’s all about validating their emergent and shifting identities. As professionals, if we don’t loudly prioritize their identities as being the most important thing about them (and identities do shift constantly in kids and teens), we risk coming across as unsupportive and even immoral. Identity development has always been a teen task, but in the past it wasn’t necessarily supposed to become a lifestyle, or colonize the entirety of your existence. . . . What saddens me the most is the way children are being trained to think their parents do not love them if mom and dad don’t jump aboard the trans train. To me, this is a brutal aspect of a near-dictatorship being foisted on everyone.”
“One common trait I’ve noticed in nearly all the trans kids I’ve met has been their profound sense of being different, and too alone. They often have had little success with making friends, or what I would call contact with ‘the other.’ Because of their psychic isolation, they are prime targets for group think narratives. But in addition to looking for a way to belong, they are also craving protection and the stamp of legitimacy, perhaps because they feel a profound lack of it.
“Now that the government and medical communities are involved in the creation of who trans folks are, this class of individuals have finally found their safe havens. Now, rather than being merely invisible and awkward, they have been transformed into veritable leaders of a revolution. Now, rather than cower in the shadows, they have commandeered the narratives of others into a similar dark and brooding place where they once were. The tables, as they lived and viewed them, have now turned.”
“A large part of the problem comes with the revolution in health care. More and more, we are giving people the power to define their own treatments. This is good in many ways, but the trans movement is using this moment, and is actively recruiting young, psychologically undefined and frightened people to push their agenda through the medical community. It’s clearly not that difficult to do. These kids are just pawns. That’s how it looks to me anyway. The trans community needs more converts so that the narrative becomes more cohesive. I’m guessing the push for this comes from a need to further cohere so they will have more members to fully cement a fragile, constructed reality.”
From the comments section, the therapist responds to a question from a transitioning-gender person, as to how she would approach someone wishing to make the change:
“This development of the self would be a process whereby a client is assisted in the difficult task of creating a kind of consolidated sense of who they are. Personally, I think these core parts of us should function, or ideally function best when they are functionally somewhat autonomous, yet healthfully interdependent with others. I guess what I’m saying is, if a person doesn’t really yet know who they are independently, if they have a sort of ‘empty center looking to be filled from without,’ I would work with them until they were able to find some weight within their own psychic core before they engaged in any sort of drastic changes. Signs that this consolidation is happening would be the individual not requiring others to excessively validate who they are. Ideally the individual should not be excessively too dependent upon the thoughts and opinions of others to maintain their sense of self.
“. . . Unstable folks are neurologically incapable of observing others outside of how these others can fulfill their immediate needs (think narcissism, which is basically a sign a person is too dependent upon external others to construct the self. In being overly dependent in this way, the empty person uses others to create an image of themselves, they use others to literally ” feel” who they are. Obviously, this is all unconscious. Most people with a lack of a cohesive self are not aware they are using others in this way, but they will feel the effects of this habit and often not understand why they continue to have poor interpersonal and disrupted relationships with others).
“So, for me, to get back to your question, I would work to look at whether or not a person has accomplished basic psychological developmental tasks before I would encourage their transitioning. However, this is all a bit of a mute point [sic], for my exploring such with people who come to me saying they seek to transition will now classify me as transphobic and out of compliance if I explain what I’ve here explained to you. The fact is, not one of the kids I met with who wanted to transition was manifesting psychological health. They were very hurt individuals and had attributed their very real pain to the theory that their bodies and gender brains were misaligned. The vast majority of them had severe deficits interpersonally, experienced profound social anxiety, suicidality, to name just a few of the issues I saw emerging. These were souls fearing psychic extinction, living with the terror of being too different, too alone. They nearly all found their new identities, along with a whole new slew of friends, in others who experienced similar or equal psychic terror. How could I take seriously their sudden belief that they were trapped in the wrong body? How could I not see that they had stumbled upon a very viable and critical path to locating themselves amongst similar others. [Emphasis added.]
“Of course, I could not say this to any of them as they would claim, as they had been schooled online, that I too didn’t understand and was transphobic.”