Guest Blogger

Would the World be Better Off Without Any Trans People?

Filed By Guest Blogger | February 11, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Austen Crowder, BDSM, birth, medical, relationships, transgender, transsexual

Editors' note: Alice Kalafarski is a law school graduate and transgender activist. She volunteers with Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), SpeakOUT Boston, and spent a month with Maine's No on One campaign. Of all the places she helps out, she proudest to be a Camp Trans cat herder.

Alice-Kalafarski.jpgIt's fairly common to find trans people who wish they were born cis, but it's particularly discouraging for me to hear that from a smart young trans woman on a progressive site like this. In a post earlier this week, Austen wrote that she felt being trans was a disease and that: "if I'd had my druthers I'd have been born female." I don't accept that being trans is a disease, but I'm going to set aside that argument for now. We can't go back and change how trans people like Austen were born, but what if some day we had the power to make sure every baby was born cis? Being trans certainly seems to make a lot of people unhappy, so wouldn't the world as a whole be a happier place if nobody had to go through that?

Medical science doesn't yet give parents the power to be sure they have cis kids, but in-vitro screening can catch a variety of disabilities. It isn't hard to imagine that a similar process could be discovered as we learn more about how biology influences gender identity and expression. The scientists who study this would probably discover a way to weed out the gay fetuses with a similar procedure, but you certainly wouldn't want to let parents make that choice! After all, being gay is a natural part of human diversity, it's being trans that's a disease to be avoided or fixed.

This is still a theoretical debate for us, but the battle to determine what type of people are allowed to live in this world is already raging in the disability rights community. There are lots of great activists, but my favorite writer is Harriet McBryde Johnson. In this piece for the New York Times, she debates a college professor who feels it should be legal to euthanize babies born with disabilities since they're less likely to live a happy life. Harriet responds that it's incorrect to assume people with disabilities have to be unhappier than able-bodied people. She writes, "For those of us with congenital conditions, disability shapes all we are. Those disabled later in life adapt. We take constraints that no one would choose and build rich and satisfying lives within them. We enjoy pleasures other people enjoy, and pleasures peculiarly our own. We have something the world needs."

That same argument is at the core of deciding if the world would be better off without trans people. Every parent wants their child to be as happy as possible, so it's understandable they'd want to avoid having a trans kid if that will make their child miserable. I would certainly believe that trans people are less happy than cis people on average right now, but that isn't because we're trans; it's because we live in a transphobic culture. We have to work on making our culture less transphobic if we want parents to embrace raising trans kids.

The difference that truly loving parents can make was driven home to me by a family I met last fall. I was volunteering for the No On One campaign for marriage equality in Maine, and my host family had a 12-year-old boy who was FTM. I happened to talk with the mom about trans rights, and she brought up her son's transition by saying she, "wouldn't have him any other way"; she's glad her kid is trans, and that's part of the reason she loves him. It was so beautiful it just about broke my heart. Parents like her are such a contrast to the ones who want to rush their kids through surgery to "fix what's wrong with them." Which parents would you rather have?

So if trans people can be just as happy as cis people if they're loved by their families and accepted by society as a whole, you could still ask if having us in the world actually makes it a better place. I'd argue that it does because we help all people get a better handle on their gender. For analogy, gay people being open about their sexuality has done a lot to help straight people be more mature about what they want and how they get it; there are fewer straight people stuck in sexless marriages and more that are safely and consensually exploring BDSM and open relationships. Cis people have tons of hang-ups about gender roles that cause at least as much trouble as sexual repression, but trans people prove that you don't need to fit the mold. Nature is a lot more wonderfully diverse than the small boxes our society tries to make everyone fit.

In my own life, I've struggled a lot to love myself for being trans. For the longest time while I was in the closet, I hated that part of me and tried to destroy it. But I couldn't hate it without hating myself, and the more I tried to destroy it the closer I came to destroying myself. This struggle didn't end when I came out, and it didn't end when I got surgery; being trans is a permanent part of who I am because it's done so much to shape my life. If my parents had given birth to a cis girl who had all my genes except for the Y chromosome, then that person would have not been me when she grew up. I'm glad they gave birth to a trans girl, and I'm glad that I've had the chance to live. Being trans has certainly brought a lot of pain, but there are so many great places I've been, things I've done, and people I've met because of it. I'm glad that there are trans people in this world and that I'm one of them.

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stephanie trower | February 11, 2010 6:11 PM

Hey you

your comments are so true.

stephanie trower

I don't believe that being trans is a disease but I have always said and will continue to say that I would give my right arm to have been born female but I would give my left arm to have been born a "normal" male. This body of one and brain of the other and society's reaction to it is about as miserable as I can possibly imagine being, short of being on fire. Clear evidence BTW to the doubters that it isn't a "lifestyle choice" Only an insane person would wake up one day and decide to immolate themselves and only an equally insane person would decide to change his or her gender out of "boredom" or for any other superficial reason.

In my own life, I've struggled a lot to love myself for being trans. For the longest time while I was in the closet, I hated that part of me and tried to destroy it. But I couldn't hate it without hating myself, and the more I tried to destroy it the closer I came to destroying myself.

So true and something I struggled with mightily myself. I finally came to the conclusion that it's best to embrace your "insanity", (don't go off on me, I'm using that term facetiously), because without it, you are somebody other than who you are. Gender identity is such a basic part of who we all are that if there was somehow a way to make one's mind fit one's body, rather than vice versa, we would be different people. In other words say that before my surgery, a magical treatment came along that would reset my brain to be entirely male. In that case I wouldn't be who I was prior or who I am now. People who say that the optimum solution to the trans question is to make the mind suit the body don't take into account that the body is merely a shell for the mind. Without the mind, the body is just a meat sack. People who advocate changing the mind to suit the body, logically would abort the fourth child because they only have a three bedroom house, rather than moving to a more suitable home or adding on to the house.

The same issue has come up a lot with sexual orientation. As in, "It's not a choice, why would anyone choose to be gay?!?"

Well, I grew up appreciating the value of queerness. I would choose to be queer.

Similarly there's something about being trans that I very much value. That's very much a part of me. So much so, that had I been assigned female at birth, I'm fairly certain I still would be trans.

Thanks Tobi! I used to say: "If I'd been born female, I'd have transitioned the other way," but that sounds silly to me now for a few reasons. As I mention in the piece, I'd be a totally different person if I was born female, so who knows what I'd do. Also the "transition the other way" bit implies that I'm not happy identifying as a woman, but I am. Anyways, I'm happy to be a trans girl, and one of the reasons it's great is because I got to meet you!

To me, being trans is in itself gratifying precisely because I'm happily popping outside of one of the biggest and most oppressive and absolute boxes our culture stuffs us into: that of the gender binary. I explode gender boxes everywhere I go, and that's not a "disease" - that's fabulous! It's also why so many people - including many queer folks, and even trans people - find gender variance frightening. Being transgender, in the literal sense of transcending gender definitions, destabilizes the foundations that all too many people build their entire lives on. IMO, you can't get any more worth-being than that!

Oh, so very shrewd.

I'm really grateful to my trans friends for showing me how limited my view of gender was (it still needs constant attention, I'm sure). Selfishly, I'm really glad I've been blessed to have a diverse crowd of friends to challenge my assumptions over the years.

The world would be a poorer place without trans people.

Also, the love of my life is a trans man, and I wouldn't want to change him. I've always been a little uncomfortable with the 'pathologisation' (if that's a word) of being trans, possibly because *he* doesn't see it as a disease. It's really not my place to decide since it impacts me far less, but you know, if I could wave a wand in my own magic world I'd cure his diabetes but I wouldn't touch his trans-ness; it's too much of who he is. He'd be a different person if he'd been born in a male body. And I'm pretty sure he wouldn't, either.

"I would certainly believe that trans people are less happy than cis people on average right now, but that isn't because we're trans; it's because we live in a transphobic culture."

That's not the only reason some trans people are unhappy, even if we do live in a transphobic culture. If you're truly born with the internal sense of "I am born in the wrong body" (and I think that's an truism many transsexual people experience) then the core of the unhappiness comes from that realization. Is it compounded by a transphobic society... sure. Is it made more daunting/dangerous to transition because of societal repression... yes. But those societal reasons aren't the only reason for the unhappiness.

I consider myself an overwhelmingly post-transition woman (and fortunate to have had the support and resources to do so) but there are still aspects to my experience of being born trans which I don't feel good about. I might have felt better had I transitioned when I was 14-15, but there are results of transition which are "make do" solutions and one has to ultimately accept for sanity's sake—even if you might not be happy about it. It is a highly imperfect process even if it is often a life-saver.

I suppose what disturbs me about what you've said is it sounds a bit too much like some genderqueer people I've heard (and 80% of the people coming through Gender Studies Departments) who say "If we had an open, accepting society which wasn't so judgmental about gender, people wouldn't need to transition." These are people who somehow believe gender is completely a societal construct (which I think is a vast over-simplification)

That GQ idea of transness is so completely opposed to my experience, so totally oblivious as to the realities of being born as someone with a transsexual experience, I don't know where to begin. We all have aspects to our lives which help bring us happiness or misery... some more complex than others. Ultimately, transition isn't about gaining happiness (which it isn't at all guaranteed to do) it's about obtaining congruence within it's own technical limitations. It might bring joy into one's life, it might not. I appreciate how I've been able to deal with my life situation, but do I find joy in being born a trans woman rather than a cis-woman... no. Does that make me ungrateful?

I might have felt better had I transitioned when I was 14-15, but there are results of transition which are "make do" solutions and one has to ultimately accept for sanity's sake—even if you might not be happy about it. It is a highly imperfect process even if it is often a life-saver.
OK, I'd like to look prettier. But I don't look worse than most women my age.

Most all women have body image issues at some time in their lives: we just happen to have lifetime subscriptions. Worse things happen at sea.

The only thing I really regret is not being able to bear children. I know that many standard factory model females can't, and more don't want to. It's the one compromise I had to make with reality that causes a real pang though. Had I transitioned at 14, I wouldn't even have been able to get the second prize of fatherhood. I would have looked better... but for me, it wouldn't have been worth it. Others differ.

So if you believe there'll always be trans people like you who'll live less happy lives because they're trans, wouldn't the world a happier place if every baby was born cis?

I consider it an unusually disturbing American point of view that somehow we're all put here to be happy. I don't believe anything of the kind. Being born trans is just part of the natural chaos in the world (along with countless other crazy but normal occurrences). I have no wish to try and make the world a supposedly "happier" place through genetic engineering of any kind.

If there are specifically human causes to certain conditions (like autism) then I think those need to be investigated. I would hope pregnant women don't drink in their first trimester, but it's not as if that can be totally prevented. I'm far more concerned with making sure everyone in the world has enough to eat, clean water and a roof over their head than worrying about happiness.

My happiness is my adult responsibility, not someone's job before I was born. My parents provided for me, but I don't have any illusions they really thought they were going to raise me in some kind of perfect world... they'd both just come through WWII.

Again, I see you attempting to make being trans an identity (much like an ethnic group). It is for some people (like Kate Bornstein) and for others it isn't. But really, it's like saying... be proud you're left-handed. (which i also am). Meh, it's a reality I deal with, not an accomplishment.

I totally agree Gina. I'm American and I am totally sick of the "happy-happy", positive-thinking mantra of most Americans. It completely removes one from reality-based thinking.

Happy to be trans? Like a stick-in-the-eye.

Sara ...

"I suppose what disturbs me about what you've said is it sounds a bit too much like some genderqueer people I've heard (and 80% of the people coming through Gender Studies Departments) who say "If we had an open, accepting society which wasn't so judgmental about gender, people wouldn't need to transition." These are people who somehow believe gender is completely a societal construct (which I think is a vast over-simplification)"

Hey Gina, referring to your assertion above, let me say that I am indeed a deconstructionist, which I define as a method, not a conclusion. My deconstructionis approach emerged from a time in 1960, when I was 9 years old. At that time, the prevalent theory was that trans people were a corrupt result of personality formation-nuture gone horribly wrong

At age nine, I thought of myself as a good , but very confused litte human. Given the reality that no assistance outside myself was possible-I correctly thought that if I revealed myself, that I would be in killed or institutionalized.

So at the age of ten, I deduced that my only weapon was my brain, and that I must 'deconstruct' all of elements of my personality to ascertain my true nature. It saved my ass, and I have found this process of deconstruction most useful in separating my insanity from everyone else's.

It would be pompous, arroigant and simply unsupportable to say that gender is strictly a construct, but using the Ginzu knife of deconstructionist philosophy, we may at least whittle a concept down to the bone in an effort to find our subject nature.

Deconstruction to me does not invalidate gender, it simply points to our fundamental human-ness as a predicate. And in my humble opinion, one should test drive the vehicle before condemning it as useless.
Celebrate diversity in all things!
I AM HUMAN....Namaste


I appreciate your need to deconstruct what seemed like an unfair world and life experience, really I do. But for me, being "human" isn't enough. It feels de-gendering to me and minimizes how important my sense of my own womanhood is (and how frustrating being born trans has been). If we're all "human" and that's the main thing, then why transition at all? If we could just be femme and butch to our hearts' delight, why would some of us nearly die to transition anyway? I'm many different things on this planet... parent, teacher, failed artist (sort of a joke), American citizen, white, sister, child, adult, progressive, Jew, athiest, but none of those preclude each other and certainly don't preclude my womanhood.

Saying that I'm not happy I was born trans doesn't mean I would rather have been born a cis-male and it doesn't make me altogether somehow defective, it just means that one part of my life has been upsetting, nearly killed me, and still feel my solution to it is good but far from great. That's what many parts of life are like.

Gina said:

"If we had an open, accepting society which wasn't so judgmental about gender, people wouldn't need to transition."

I think where many deconstructionists go off course is they assume they know what shape things would take in a society that is completely open and accepting in regard to gender/sex/sexual expression. We live in a world where nearly every single stinking thing is gendered into a two-position system in some way. None of us, cis or trans, knows what the world would be like and what humans would be like if our current binary system of gender morphed into something entirely different. The only frame of reference that we have is the current system. Thinking outside of that system is pretty difficult.

And yes, I quite firmly identify as a woman. In this current social structure, that's who I am. I've lived inside this system all of my life and whatever potential qualities I started out with as a baby were shaped and directed by this system. Who would I be under another system? I have no idea. I doubt anyone else, cis or trans, could predict who they'd be under such a system—including deconstructionists. As many have suggested in other forums, perhaps we'd have more trans people once social prohibitions dropped away.

I'm totally fine when deconstructionist thought is used to challenge injustice and narrow thinking. I'm not so fine when people abuse that particular way of thinking and employ it as an tool to invalidate people's lives. Saying oppressed group X will cease to exist and simply meld into the larger group in the bright new world of the future is pretty darned abusive... and often the person saying this is in a position of relative privilege. The irony is, if those particular people held the magic reigns of power, they might transform this world into something different, but it would probably be equally shitty... just shitty in a different way.

I forgot to add that I'm saying all of this as a trans person who is strongly deconstructionist in her thinking.

FurryCatHerder | February 15, 2010 1:45 PM

But gender =is= 100% a social construct. It's just that even most deconstructionists haven't a clue what it means.

Name 10 attributes of gender which aren't socially constructed and which are also not "sex".

Okay. Mentioning my name on the top of this thread sort of compels me to reply. ;)

Short form: I agree with what you say here. The value of trans people is not simply defined by the DSM, or our choice of terminology in describing the condition of being transgender. Just like any other deviation from social and cultural norms, trans people have valid contributions to give to the world.

That being said, I'm not exactly sure why you chose to open with a quote from me. I don't remember arguing that being trans is something to be despised; rather, I argued that requiring medical attention and diagnoses did _not_ detract from our worth as human beings. Setting up this piece with my quote and following it with questions of bioethics is, to my eyes, the logical equivelant of saying "I disagree becau--Oh look! A Convenient Distraction!--and so we should be proud of being trans. The End."

That being said, I have a few points to pontificate:

-You use the following wording in the introduction: "It's fairly common to find trans people who wish they were born cis, but it's particularly discouraging for me to hear that from a smart young trans woman on a progressive site like this." The construction of this sentence correlates my opinion with a lack of intelligence/progressive ideals, and I feel that painting my argument in such a light is disingenuous. I may have disagreed with your position, but I respected your opinion enough to say it was a valid perspective. I ask for the same respect in return.

-Again, I find the tangent of bioethics to be a strange one, unrelated to the previous discussion, and treated here with little actual substance. I'm a sci-fi nut and have had my fair share of bioethics discussions over the years; believe me, I've played out plenty of what-if conversations on the issue. I feel you brought it up here to point to a sensational scenario, but backed away from it before we got to any real "meat" to chew on. (What of "designer babies"? Parent versus potential child rights? Do doctors have a moral imperative to the patient, or to the potential child being designed? Does "doing no harm" include keeping a hypothetical sense of diversity? Interesting questions, all of them, but you leave them high and dry once your sensationalist hook is sunk.)

In other words: are you saying I should respond down the line of bioethics, or should I respond to your affirmation of the net social good trans people bring to the community? They are two completely different conversations: the difference between apples and Boy George.

-Your parent example creates a false binary. You mention two kinds of parents: loving, accepting parents, who feel blessed to have a trans child; and hurried parents, looking only to get their child "rushed through surgery." The binary you construct excludes a large group of parents who _reject their trans children entirely._ What of them? What of the parents who want to make their kids straight again, or the ones who refuse to see their kid until they "get right with God"?

-I'd suggest applying an ableist critique to your own writing. From what I can see, you are afraid to see transgender needs as a disease, disorder, or medical condition. From what fear does this refusal come from? The desire to be seen as a normal, well-adjusted person is common to all people, but the only reasoning I can see behind your line of argument is "being not-normal is a bad thing that we should avoid at all costs."

Please understand that I'm enjoying this conversation. I respect your position: as Socrates once said, I like to play the "wise fool." I can only claim ownership only of my own experience, and it's always fun to hear of other experiences. I do hope that my response here is seen in light of what it really is: an attempt to probe your perspective for both clarification of your ideas and - let's be honest - the entertainment of debate.

Honestly, my critique of your last work on Bilerico still stands: I think you have an interesting idea here, but your thesis is not well defined. Until we have a better understanding of the thrust of this discussion we will only be shouting over each others' heads, and that's never fun.

Justifying our existence by saying we make "valid contributions" rings hollow if you wish you weren't born trans. It's like: "Trans people do great stuff, but not so great that I wouldn't be cis if I had the chance." That's the attitude I wanted to attack with this post, and I attacked it from a disability rights perspective because that's how you viewed the issue. I posted the link to the NYT article to show how people who've lived their whole lives with a disability don't waste their time wishing they were born able-bodied, and no trans person should waste their life wishing they were cis. If every trans person felt like that, how could they justify letting more trans people into the world?

I hope you don't mind me holding your feet to the fire here. Writing is sort of how I put bread on my table, and I get pretty passionate about the defense of my work. ;) Three things:

-You didn't respond to any of the concerns I raised in my comment. Reiterating your thesis does not nullify these concerns. You raised an interesting point. Defend it!

-I must ask at this juncture: do you have any sort of disability? I find it interesting that you mention this NYT article that, as you said, proved that people "lived their whole lives with a disability don't waste their time wishing they were born able-bodied." As much as I'd like to say that my handicap is something I'm happy to have, I still have moments of frustration where I think "I wish they could just _fix this._" I feel like I'm entitled to be frustrated about my lot in life on occasion.

It just seems the article's inclusion was a quick-and-dirty way to skate from my "I wish I had been born cis" wish (a valid expression of frustration, and one I have heard from multiple trans people on different occasions), to eugenics, to waxing poetic over loving, trans-inclusive families. Again: I don't see a cohesive argument connecting things.

-I must reiterate: _we are arguing the same warrant._ Just because I choose to see my experience through a lens of "adversity to overcome" does not mean that I'm admonishing our trans experience as not valid. If we want to talk eugenics, we're in a completely different ball park, and in that park I stand with you. I feel like I've been turned into the straw woman of your argument here, and I'm still not exactly sure why.

I refuse to waste time discussing minor points if you won't engage with the main thrust of my argument. Nobody else has commented that they don't get what I'm saying, and I don't think all of them are more insightful or smart than you are. I think the problem is that you don't want to really listen to me, so you're refusing to see the forrest for the trees. If you were paying attention, you'd know that trying to spin this into a eugenics argument is just fighting the hypothetical.

So one NYT article speaks for the entirety of the community of people with disabilities? How do you know that's what they're saying and not what the media outlet wants to be said?

In that regard, the NYT, by communicating this idea of "I don't regret my disability or I try not to think about it" is something virtually all US media does with disabilities. We, as a culture, are mostly uncomfortable with the idea of disability, therefore we try to erase the painful reality of it. We prefer, "It's a blessing and a good thing, therefore you people watching/reading this won't have to feel bad with how you've treated the people who've had to deal with these disabilities."

I totally hear you on this. And personally, I...kinda like being trans, surprising as this may seem to some people. It gives me awareness into a lot of things that I might otherwise not have thought as much about, and being trans has really shaped my identity, as well.

Great to hear that Steph!

Stepping aside of the scrimmage for a moment...

I am becoming more and more convinced that "Transsexual" as a condition appears to not be a single condition. It is certainly not a homogeneous experience. Rather, it seems to have a multitude of dimensions ranging from simple internal gender identity to flipped neural body map to endocrinology. And each dimension can range from M to Null to F. The more I learn, the more I'm also gaining conviction that each dimension of our condition is caused by a separate sexual dimorphic structure or function that has developed in variance to what would be expected. It's the combinations in concert with personalities that give us the amazing variety of experiences and viewpoints and why we have such a hard time unifying.

My point? These are nothing more than natural variations. Some result in physical discomfort, some in discordance with what appear to be social structures innate to our species.

An individual can make the call as to whether he or she would have been better off not being transsexual. That's a value judgment that requires weighing all that someone has experienced. The World on the other hand would be no better or worse off. The World simply is. Would our society be better off? (which one, please)? In fact, the only way I can make sense of the question is to apply it to the human race. If transsexuals serves some purpose to the genes they carry then the race is better off. If not, the trait extinguishes. Same as everyone else.

The more I learn, the more I'm also gaining conviction that each dimension of our condition is caused by a separate sexual dimorphic structure or function that has developed in variance to what would be expected.
Me too. +100 Insightful. I'll quote you if I may.

And some of the variance conforms to neither a usual male nor usual female stereotype. While the hormonal/genetic glitch in development does affect some structures by essentially masculinising or feminising them contrary to the genetic "plan", in others, it just makes them odd. And often advantageous.

"And some of the variance conforms to neither a usual male nor usual female stereotype. While the hormonal/genetic glitch in development does affect some structures by essentially masculinising or feminising them contrary to the genetic "plan", in others, it just makes them odd. And often advantageous."

Thank you, that is a much more satisfying description of the off-the-continuum variances than the 'Null' I chose to use. As to quoting me, I'm flattered. Yours is the site to which I guide people who really want to know about the biological underpinnings of sex and gender.

Would the WORLD be better off without Trans people?

The evidence says no.

Have a look at this: Why did this have to happen to Me?:

Consider the benefit to the animal human, to possess the capacity to produce the occasional individual that, while perhaps not contributing to the gene pool commonly, instead contributes socially, just like homosexuality does in primates. The value of a human with generally superior intellect and creative abilities, curiosity and drive to match, a brain capable of intersexed functioning - and thus an unusual viewpoint - with the additional benefit of being a reproductive dead end...and thus expendable biologically... cannot be underestimated.

Since we have learned that transsexualiity can be caused by - among other things - stress affecting pregnancy, it is tempting to consider that there is survival benefit in transsexuality.

A population of highly stressed and struggling paleolithic humans, perhaps at some great impasse, might well be saved by the cross-hormonally induced birth of transsexual members. A hyper intelligent and creative disposable personage would be the most likely to try new things, even highly dangerous things, things that no ordinary individual would think to try. The tormented transsexual would have less to lose, and be less of a loss to the gene pool if the new idea had fatal results. Ultimately, the transsexual would be very likely to find a solution, a way, that would otherwise be missed.

I suggest that transsexuality is a natural function, a way for human animals to produce a subset of their population effectively suited to discovering new and useful survival options, with minimal loss to the genetic pool overall.

In effect, the transsexual is Nature's Little Wild Card. The disposable enhanced Survival Scout, who tends to be generated in proportion to the overall stress the population endures, and which serves a valuable function in the scheme of basic animal survival. Transsexuals are the Hyper-Homosexuals, the guardian angels of the primate world. They not only function as homosexuals do for social bonding, but go a great step further...finding new ways that no others are constructed to find.

Admittedly, it is a cold and mechanical value, but then I asked the reader to consider it from the Blind Watchmaker's position, the dispassionate and living machinery of Nature.

I submit, that from the position of pure survival, of cold hard reality, that gender dysphoria may well be a useful evolutionary development...a "deliberate" (as though Nature had the faculty of choice!) mistake that can serve a vital function for the survival of the Whole, with no concern whatsoever for the agony of the individual.

There can be found a gentle nobility in being an Evolutionary Angel, an emergency Wild Card. Who know how many catastrophes the paleolithic transsexual may have averted?

Perhaps it is no random thing that all early societies revered the transsexual, and made place for and wonder of them. The closer to the struggle for survival, the more aware of what is valuable and what is least for those who are consistent survivors.

So Why Me? Perhaps it is not just bad luck. I suggest the existence of transsexuality serves a real value to any social species.

If this theory has value, it would help to explain the existence of transsexualism in non-primate species, such as rats, dogs, wolves, and the like.

Or of course, this could be a way of fooling ourselves. We're different, outsiders, and extremely lonely and marginalised at school. Fitting in neither with male nor female society, finding refuge in books, (lately) computers, exploring alone, and mechanisms of all sorts. Sort of a Geek Redux. This hypothesis may be just be compensation for endemic feelings of Inferiority.

On the other hand, it is as good an explanation as any as to why many Transsexuals are in IT, Academe, or the military.

Seriously, if you do an inventory of just what proportion of us are Scientists, or world-famous Artists, or Engineers, or Medical Practitioners, or even ex-Special Forces.. it's scary. Rather than being a straight-A student, my grade of merely being a Rocket Scientist who hasn't even got her PhD yet is at best a C+. Compared to Amanda Simpson, Lynn Conway, Diane Schroer...Dana Beyer... Wendy Carlos... you get the idea.

As for happiness - it's over-rated.

People survive being blind, or quadraplegic, or brain-damaged, and still manage to lead worthwhile lives. Even with a male body, even when things feel terribly, awfully perverse and horrible, all the time, you can still help others. Even if your own life is irretrievably awful, you can still live, and even have a few moments of joy amidst the unending horror. You can save lives, and make your death worthwhile by heroic sacrifice rather than a meaningless self-destruction.

That's what kept me going, anyway.

Of course my story had a happy ending.

To add a bit (and with the obvious caveat that personal experience is a very bad argument for population-level phenomena), after some thought I've come to feel that my being trans has been useful. Not fun of course, but it has led to a combination of interests and career choices that is in many ways better than what I would have come up with if I had grown up cissexual, either way. The society needs a sufficient minority of people who don't keep within the bounds of what is 'proper'; we fulfil some of that need.

More personally, the choices I've made have brought me to where I am. Like you wrote earlier, an early transition would have meant missing the opportunity to be a (biological) parent; other choices would have meant missing other things I've come to value very much. On the other hand, had I known what I now know about transsexuality when in my late teens I'd likely have transitioned as soon as possible – but it's not clear that that would have been a better choice, I'd just have a different set of joys and regrets than I do now.

I like to summarize Zoe's comment as follows:

Gays are here to save the asses of straights when times get tough.

And transsexuals are here to save the asses of gays when times get really tough.

Trouble is in times past gays and gender variant people were honored and allowed to use their abilities as shamans and in other positions of influence. Monolithic religions destroyed this dynamic in order to allow religious leaders to gain wealth, power and sexual conquest without having to contribute to the health of their societies.

Sadly, this continues today. There is a demonstrated inverse relationship between the health of societies and their involvement in monolithic religions. Consider that the time society was most vested in Christianity is not called the Dark Ages without justification.

"On the other hand, it is as good an explanation as any as to why many Transsexuals are in IT, Academe, or the military.
Seriously, if you do an inventory of just what proportion of us are Scientists, or world-famous Artists, or Engineers, or Medical Practitioners, or even ex-Special Forces.. it's scary. "

Sorry Zoe, but this is a very culturally narrow statement. In fact, I would imagine the vast, vast majority of trans people have nothing whatsoever to do with IT, academia or the military. The vast majority of us likely aren't even on the Internet. You're talking about white, educated, mostly middle-aged trans people, not MOST trans people. As I've said in other forums, don't for a minute assume what you see on the Internet is indicative of the trans community in its complete sense.

Would I rather have been born without asthma? Hell yes! Even if my asthma shaped who I am, directed me towards pursuits which don't aggravate my asthma, and gave me important skills in controlling asthma, I'd love to be able to cure it right now.

Would I rather have been born cis female? I often think so. I sometimes think otherwise because my transness may have brought me into contact with some wonderful friends. But that could have happened anyway.

That said, most of the difficulties of being trans come, not from being born trans, but from being *stuck* trans through puberty and into adulthood, or from prejudice.

Would I rather have been born cis male? Well, that definitely wouldn't be me. I can't imagine what it would be like to be male, except by analogy to what it is like to be female.

How many of the arguments for having trans children are also arguments for having trans adults - for preventing us from treating our condition - for keeping us trans?

It would have been easier to have been born non-trans either a male that felt like a male or a female that felt like a female inside.

But life would probably have been far less interesting.

Being born different compelled leaving a small narrow minded town and running off to San Fransisco/Berkeley and later Los Angeles where life has been far richer culturally, and where I developed talents I would have never realized I have.

Actually I think having been born transsexual and changing sex in the late 1960s was a way cool thing to have done.

My life is what it is. I was born transsexual. I lived with it for a long time. I transitioned only a couple years ago. I had surgery. I am now a woman of transsexual history. All of that shaped who I am.

I am not in favour of eugenics. But would I rather have been born a girl? Hell yeah. I wish I'd been born a girl, grown up a girl, lived as a young woman, matured as a woman. Sure, I'd be a different person, but this is all hypothetical anyway. I wish I'd had all those experiences that I missed. I don't spend much time thinking about that, but it's always part of me.

I was not unhappy because the world is hard for trans people. I was unhappy because my core sex identity was female but my body was male. That was about me, not society. And I dealt with that problem successfully. Of course, transition is a long process, and I won't say that I'm done yet. I have a lot of growing to do -- as a woman and as a person. I have my history, but now I move forward.

If you are happy being trans, great. If you still consider yourself trans, that's your right. But I really think you're describing only part of the population of trans people, and apparently not the part that I come from. It's one reason I avoid grand pronouncements in my own blog, or try to. They're always wrong for someone.

Alice: I absolutely agree with your article, and I thank you for writing it.

I believe being transgender is simply part of the human condition. I believe that even if we were born cisgender, we would still have issues to overcome. Being transgender allows us to have experiences in our lives that cisgender persons will never have. Life is rarely perfect in all aspects. Having challenges makes us stronger, and what could be more challenging than to be transgender.

I agree that being transgender is not the problem; it's the transphobia of society. If we allow society to marginalize us, it becomes our problem. If we refuse to give into the stereotypical behavior demanded by society, if we refuse to be marginalized, if we can accept ourselves as we are, then we can be happy. It took me 70 years to learn that, and I'm happier now than ever before. Those who can't or won't learn that important lesson will be unhappier than they need to be, but it's up to them.

Well, as an avowed trans supremacist, I believe wholly and utterly that all trans people are superior in all ways to any other kind of person.

Or maybe we're just like everyone else and I'm just stubborn.

We have enormous power. Because only power breeds this kind of fear and fascination.

Short answer, no. We are here and have always been from everything I have seen. Even if the society most of us live in has a problem with us, it is their problem not ours.

I feel that being trans is a blessing. I am got to experience life from the viewpoint of a man and the the viewpoint of a woman. Most people are stuck with experiencing life through just one gender. How sad.

I decided to use another word instead of the vertically unknown "cis" in front of other words. I am co-opting a well-known word made popular by the Harry Potter books and moves. I call non-trans people "muggles." It doesn't take much to explain this one.

During the last fifteen to twenty years, I've been disappointed by the LGBT movement's tendency to depended so heavily upon the notion of, "We're made this way, so please don't blame us for being different from the norm." That so easily translates to, "Yes, we're broken, but it's not our fault. You can't hold a natural defect against us!"

I much prefer the older approach of the 70s and 80s which can be summarized as: "I find your system of sexuality and gender to be a broken-assed, oppressive system and refuse to follow your fucked up rules. Your rules hurt people and should be challenged at every front."

In the long run, I think depending on justifications based upon biology is a loosing argument. We may get sympathy in the short term, but cis, het society still want's to get rid of us because on some level, they still think we're defective. The main difference is that a biologically based defect gives LGBT people the image of being a contained threat to cis, het society. That is, our "disease" is not contagious since we are born rather than made. In the past, when so many people saw us examples of twisted morality and upbringing, we were seen as a living social contagion. By sheer dint of proximity, we were a threat to the very fiber of a wholesome and good society. Now our threat level has been downgraded to a less harmful "quirk of biology gone awry."

Now, many of us internalize this message and come to see ourselves as nature's chimeras, built upon a twisted biological wreckage. I'm not sure which is better: seeing ourselves as biologically twisted or morally twisted. They both seem pretty bad.

On a sociological level, biological arguments—whether they are true or not—only serve as a kind of stopgap measure. The problem isn't that society doesn't understand our origins. The real problem is that society is so hatefully inflexible and controlling that people feel justified in harming anyone who doesn't fit the norm... and the norm in this case is a heterosexual, cis, gender normative, vanilla existence.

So, I'm not defective y'all. I'm glad I'm who I am and the beautiful people from vanilla society can kiss my queer, transgender ass.

I agree with you that it's better to directly attack the system that oppresses us rather than ask for pity because we're a "biological quirk" and "can't help it." I just accepted a strong biological viewpoint in this article to create a hypothetical situation where we'd be able to decide if there'd be trans people in future generations. When we're justifying our existence, the question of how we got here is less impportant than the lives we've had since we arrived.

I understand, Alice. Thank you for the clarification.

Timberwraith, I believe I understand your position and if so, it may be based on a false premise.

Biological variation is no "quirk of biology gone awry". Rather the opposite, it is part of the amazing functioning and success of life as we know it. Every form of life on earth has certain shared genes and the older they are the more basic to life. One of the most primordial elders is adaptability, the ability to take advantage of variations. Mixing things up from time to time, if you will. Transsexuals, individuals that are a physiological swap of typical male and female development, are very likely such a mechanism. We exist over time and across species; from that I have to conclude that we are not anything "gone awry". We are not "nature's chimeras, built upon a twisted biological wreckage". And by following that reasoning, we cannot be moral wreckage, either. We simply are.

We can protest loudly. We can invite them to kiss our queer tranny asses. We can have a big ol' crucifix burning party; I'll light the first match if I believe it will help. But I fear that instead, it will just feed the cohesion of their us-verses-them mentality. Their leaders *need* us to be as unlike them and as unlike-able as possible.

Want to change society? Teach basic critical thought and science to the children and teach it well. Find ways to turn individuals or cultures toward valuing diversity and self-sufficiency every bit as much as it now values group submission, inducing lust, gathering money or throwing a ball. But most of all lead them, don't push.

That's all well and good, but I'm not personally convinced that biology truly explains my own existence as a trans woman. There are plenty of childhood experiences that could very well have steered me in this direction. That doesn't make my claim to womanhood any more or less valid than other people's claims of biologically-based authenticity.

If biological explanations offer a sense of peace and authenticity to folks, that's just fine. However, a one-size-fits-all theory—either social or biological in nature—can't possibly include all of us. The human race is just too darned huge and too darned varied.

Again, rather than resorting to various theories to justify our existence (none of which will manage to include all of us), the real problem lies with an abusive, puritanical, controlling culture that asserts itself as the rightful arbiter of which forms of sex/gender/sexual expression are accepted as valid. Challenge the agent of oppression that causes these problems in the first place.

Let me make it clear that I'm not saying that I see trans people as the living outcome of a biological defect. However, I suspect the general public will view us as defective regardless of whether trans people manage to convince cis people that this all rests in biology. They'll look at those of us who take hormones and engage in surgery, and they'll conclude that we are a group of people who share a disorder. Also, as you can read on this thread and others, there are many trans people who do see being transsexual as a congenital defect.

The word "defect" is a valuation created by human beings. The universe doesn't give two shakes of a lamb's tale as to who is trans and who isn't. What is, simply is. I'm riding shotgun with the universe on this one. We simply are... and damn the cis people who either pity or shun us as victims of a malady.

Want to change society? Teach basic critical thought and science to the children and teach it well. Find ways to turn individuals or cultures toward valuing diversity and self-sufficiency every bit as much as it now values group submission, inducing lust, gathering money or throwing a ball. But most of all lead them, don't push.

Agreed. What you are seeing in my words is a deep seated anger over the way that society ingrains the notion that there is something deeply wrong with us... whether we are speaking of someone who is trans, bisexual, lesbian or gay. This is a fairly triggering thread for me.

Action taken on the streets and in the halls of power require a planned, measured approach. However, this is a blog thread and there's nothing wrong with sharing and affirming each others anger over the situation.

One more thing. I was raised in a very socially backward community. Name a prejudice—any prejudice—and I can almost guarantee that it was being taught to the children in my hometown. The local culture tended to raise people to become hateful, narrow minded adults. Boys, in particular, were raised to become aggressive, violent assholes. Unfortunately, "masculine" and "asshole" were synonymous in my hometown.

I escaped becoming a prejudiced, violent person because I spent my childhood and adolescence as an outsider. Growing up as a person who was so different from others eventually placed me outside of the local culture's influence. In a very real sense, being transgender cured me of the influence of a very damaging, horrid community. If I had been an average everyday kid, the local culture probably would have corrupted me and I would have become a deeply prejudiced, potentially violent man. Instead, I became a woman who does her best to recognize issues around prejudice and violence.

I'm glad I am who I am. The alternative life paths of cis male or cis female would have sucked. Badly.

Personally, liken being a transsexual to having cancer. It is something that you have harrowing and expensive medical treatment to deal with. Even if you are doing great, transsexualism doesn't really go away. There are always worries and insecurities. There are people who go "yuck" and treat you differently once they know. Some people sadly end up dead because they are trans.

Would I have rather not been trans? Definitely. I would have rather been born a female or even a male without this dreadful condition. Unfortunately for me, I was born this way. I've dealt with it the best that I can through medical intervention and honesty.

I have to say that I like who I am and only would have changed one thing in my life and that is, would have liked to have known myself years ago. It was hard growing up in the 50's and 60's. I would not have changed the fact that being a parent was one big event that I will cherish. I only wish that I could have bore the children but being a father and a father figure for the 2nd time was really nice. I do like being female and have enjoyed knowing the male side but value my feminine side a lot more. I like being Trans and I'm not ashamed of who I am. When I came out, I was out to the whole world, not like some I know who were only out to a select few and couldn't handle the thought of others knowing and they lived in fear.

Regan DuCasse | February 12, 2010 3:02 PM

How can the outside world gauge what an individual's happiness is?
I'd never assume anything regarding what a transperson would be happy with, ONLY because they are a transperson.

Outsiders, (that is straight folks) assume all the time that being gay or a transperson your life automatically is miserable.

I just saw a film about a double leg amputee woman with 12 different pairs of prosthetic legs. She's learned a lot about what freedom NOT having legs has given her. She's able to explore different heights, artistic expression AND practical use in all these different legs. She was pacing the stage during her lecture with some fierce stilettos at the ends of her stems.

Indeed, some wooden ones carved from ash with grapevines and magnolia blossoms were made for her. She wore them in a high profile fashion show and stole it.

She does not see herself as disabled, but highly ENABLED because she didn't have what most people take for granted.

So, one could talk to different trans people about their different experiences and not assume unhappiness or dysfunction for all of them.
As no one should about anything OR anybody.

I think the most important aspect is the greater society using folks who are cis as cause to destroy careers, motivates physical assault and isolation into the margins so that full potential is destroyed before it begins.
Societal prejudice dictates what aptitude should and that's the hardest to fight and makes most difficult to be happy.

Physical changes that are drastic, even the aging process will be tough regardless of what gender a person is.
But aging in our society is hardest on women because of prejudice too.
So I think it's the PHYSICAL and mental comfort with what one has that would drive happiness.

I'd rather live in a world that learns to respect individuals and their especially unique selves. Otherwise we'll NEVER know if we ARE the kind of society that deserves it's aspiration for freedom and respect for talent and merit.

A world without opportunity to be a better, more interesting one. And THAT I'd really hate.

I am trans FtoM and I personally think I wold have been a jack-a*s had I been born cis male. Even as a trans I have some crazy box-like sexism going on. I feel almost as if my female body tempered my male soul after a fashion.

For many years I wanted to change what I was. To either change the mind or the body. Now, at the age of 35, I have come to appreciate and cherish the fact that I am Trans. It makes me different, special. I was born this way for a reason, for a purpose, and I intend on fulfilling that purpose, whatever it is.

Thanks for commenting, Nick, and good luck!

My being trans has been triggered somewhat late in life by endocrine disorders springing from a probably terminal condition.
If I could choose not to have the condition, if it meant never being aware of my trans identity, I'm not actually sure which I'd go with but I'd hope I'd still choose to be what I presently am.

Great post, Alice. I don't have much to add, other than that I would have preferred to have been born 100% bisexual. That looks like it has more opportunities to it.

And I'd answer no to the title question to.