On Transgender: A Letter from a Reader

On the evening news tonight I saw the reports on how Hollywood and politically correct corporations are blasting North Carolina for passing a state law that is ostensibly aimed at eliminating local non-discrimination laws for LGBT people, though the proximate issue is “bathroom equity,” that is, allowing anyone to use any gender bathroom regardless of his or her physical anatomy and going simply on how he or she “self-identifies.”

Which brings me back to my post a few days ago, “Trans-Insanity.” A regular Power Line reader, whose name was quite familiar to me, sent the following thoughtful note in response to that post, which she has granted me permission to post here (though I leave out her name):

Hi Steve,

I am a long time Power Line reader and sometimes commenter; less lately
since Chrome doesn’t show comments anymore.

This statement, like so many, is both amusing, annoying, and wrong. I had MtF surgery in 1983 when I was 30. The surgery took about 4 hours and the psychological adjustment about 20 years. I had liberal leanings/voting up until Clinton’s first term when his gun control support turned me off. After 9/11, appalled by Liberals response, I discovered Conservatism. I lost many Liberal friends afterwards.

I won’t speak for anyone but myself, but without surgery I would not
have lived to 30. Here’s what I know:
1. I don’t know what it feels like to be a woman but I know what it feels like to be treated as a woman.
2. I don’t know what it feels like to be male but I know what it feels like to be treated as male.
3. The biggest challenge after SRS [sexual reassignment surgery] was to undo the emotional damage I did to myself trying to conform to the male role for 28 years.
4. I chose SRS after I psychologists told me they couldn’t change how I felt and I no longer felt life worth living in the male role.

After 32 years living as female I have these observations:
1. The biggest disadvantage to female anatomy is longer bathroom lines and not peeing standing up.
2. I have a much fuller and satisfying relationship with people now than I ever had before SRS.

I suggest keeping an open mind that the broad brush painted by the statement is no more valid than the one wielded by Liberals. Painting our lives as inauthentic/delusional does remind me that now I am in the cross-hairs of Liberals and Conservatives.

Regards, [Name withheld]

Here is my response:

Thanks for writing in and sharing your story.

I know one other person like you: the economist Deirdre McCloskey–maybe you know her book Crossing (if not you should get it). One of my observations about McCloskey is that she’s clearly a happier and more fulfilled human being for having “switched teams” (as I sometimes like to say) in middle age, because her mature work is extraordinary. (I wrote a bit about McCloskey in this old post commenting on Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner.)

I’m a believer in the Law of Large Numbers–there isn’t actually such a law strictly speaking, but what I mean is that in a large country there is going to be considerable variance in human nature and human experience, and certainly we should be willing not just to accommodate that variance but respect it as well. Modern medical science makes it possible for someone like you to match up the physical reality with the psychological reality, which allows for human flourishing not available to anyone a century ago.

If the world were content with a “live and let live” philosophy, there would be little or no difficulty with the Jenners/McCloskeys of the world; or put differently, if this whole subject were governed by the sensibilities of the Jenners/McCloskeys of the world things would go more smoothly for others who are caught in between their physical characteristics and inner psychology. (By the way, I love how Jenner’s support of Ted Cruz is causing outrage on the identity politics left.)

What I’m reacting to is the kind of thing I see especially on college campuses, where “transgenderism” is in fact a full-fledged, deeply ideological “ism,” in which even the mention of the idea of “human nature” in the abstract marks you out as a bigot and hater.  If it sprung  from a libertarian point of view I would have little objection, but you see it connected with a lot of far-left ideology whose core seems to be a wider hatred and rejection of western civilization, hostility toward traditional family life, etc. I’m pretty sure that neither Jenner nor McCloskey have much sympathy for these aspects of the matter. (There’s an additional vector here that you can observe on campuses involving animal rights.  Some other day. . .)

I think it goes too far when, for example, it is suggested that birth certificates no longer state “boy” or “girl” on them, and the idea that children at a young age should be subjected to conformity (for this is a new kind of conformity) to the open-endedness of gender identity, let alone begin hormonal interventions at an early age. And don’t get me started in the whole bathroom controversy.

The American College of Pediatricians may not be the ideal organization to challenge what’s going on, but I am glad someone is willing to make some public arguments about this. Although it may involve some cognitive dissonance, I think it ought to be possible to believe that gender identity isn’t simply a matter of arbitrary choice or will, but has real objective relation to the order of nature, and at the same time recognize and respect the real exceptions that exist such as yourself–because human nature is mysterious in practice. In other words, I do not think the categories of “male” and “female” are arbitrary or just cultural artifacts, to be picked up and put down like fashion. One of the slogans I saw at Boulder, on the Gender Studies department bulletin board, was “Is Every Body Transgender?” Their implicit answer was “Yes.” I think that is doubtful, while allowing that there are cases like yours and McCloskey’s that are authentic, and therefore in a certain way natural–but rare. I note that Harvey Mansfield, Harvard’s leading conservative, thinks as I do on these questions, but has also hosted Deirdre McCloskey to lecture at Harvard under his program on constitutional governance. That’s because conservatives, more so than liberals, really do think of people as individuals and not as defined by their groups (or gender).

Thanks for reading and writing in.

Our reader responded as follow:

Hi Steve,

Thank you for your reminder regarding your column about Dierdre. I remember reading it. In May Ann Althouse posted a number of times about Jenner and I jumped into the fray anonymously. I was roughly handled in the comments and don’t recall influencing anyone to reconsider their biology is destiny/delusion/inauthentic viewpoint. I remember feeling out of sorts because I had enjoyed most of the folks comments on any other topic. Be that as it may.

I appreciate your sharing your perspective. I have never felt any negativity from my daily Powerline reading. I like your Law of Large Numbers and for the most part folks I have encountered fit that perspective. I was told I was the first to transition at [company name] and the process management used where I worked help set corporate policy.

I like the “switched teams” shorthand as a precise and succinct shorthand expression.

I am in complete agreement that the trans community has embraced Leftism to their and society’s detriment. Although I had Liberal leanings from college days through the first Clinton, I feel no resonance with the current GLBT or women’s communities. Their position on bathrooms, birth certificates, and lexicon appalls me.

Regarding bathrooms, I believe trans folks need to be respectful. During transition at work I used a single, locked visitor’s bathroom until after surgery. In public situations I carried a letter from my psychologist explaining my situation, but never had to show it. I know my experience doesn’t cover all the bases but I also never felt “entitled” or expected society to rearrange their affairs because of me.

There’s a lot more I could say but I am getting ready to leave out for work. I want to say that I am open to sharing on Powerline my email or other writing. I prefer to maintain my veneer of anonymity for now and don’t mind comments/feedback. I feel it’s important to hear what folks have to say, and engage,  even if I don’t change any minds.

Note to commenters: It is not possible to shut off the comment thread on individual posts on our software or I would close this post to all comments. So I shall be policing comments very strictly.

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