IN the old days, when I was a medical student, if a man wanted to have his penis amputated, my psychology professors said that he suffered from schizophrenia, locked him up in an asylum and threw away the key. Now that I am a professor. my colleagues in psychiatry say that he is a “transsexual,” my colleagues in urology refashion his penis into a perineal cavity they call a vagina, and Time magazine puts him on its cover and calls him “her.” Anyone who doubts that this is progress is considered to be ignorant of the discoveries of modern psychiatric sexology, and a political reactionary, a sexual bigot, or something equally unflattering.
Like much of the medical‐psychiatric mendacity characteristic of our day, the official definition “transsexualism” as a disease comes down to the strategic abuse of language — epitomized by confusing and equating biological phenomena with social roles (in the present case, chromosomal sexual identity with acting as a man or a woman). Although there are connections between these concepts and facts, neither one “causes’.’ or “determines” the other.
Because “transsexualism” involves, is indeed virtually synonymous with, extensive surgical alterations of the “normal” human body, we might ask what would happen, say, to a man who went to an orthopedic surgeon, told him that he felt like a right‐handed person trapped in an ambidextrous body and asked the doctor to cut off his perfectly healthy left arm? What would happen to a man who went to a urologist, told him that he felt like a Christian trapped in a Jewish body, and asked him to re‐cover the glans of his penis with foreskin? (Such an operation may be alluded to in I Corinthians, 7:17‐18.) “But,” the medically informed reader might object,
“isn’t transsexualism a disease? Isn’t it — in the grandly deceptive phrase of the American psychiatric establishment used to characterize all ‘mental diseases’ — ‘just like any other illness’?” No, it is not. The transsexual male is indistinguishable from other males, save by his desire to be a woman. (“He is a woman trapped in a man’s body” is the standard rhetorical form of this claim.) If such a desire qualifies as a disease, transforming the desiring agent into a “transsexual,” then the old person who wants to be young is a “transchronological,” the poor person who wants to be rich is a “transeconomical,” and so on. Such hypothetical claims and the requests for “therapy” based on them (together with our cognitive and
medical responses to them) frame, in my opinion, the proper background against which our contemporary beliefs and practices concerning “transsexualism” and transsexual “therapy” ought to be viewed.
Clearly, not all desires are authenticated in our society as diseases. Why the desire for a change in sex roles is so authenticated is analyzed with great sensitivity and skill by Janice Raymond in “The Transsexual Empire.” Arguing that “medicine and psychology … function as secular religions in the area of transsexualism,” she demonstrates that this “condition” is now accepted as a disease because advances in the technology of sex‐conversion surgery have made certain alterations in the human genitals possible and because such operations reiterate and reinforce traditional patriarchal sex‐role expectations and stereotypes. Ostensibly, the “transsexers” (from psychologists to urologists) are curing a disease; actually, they engage in the religious and political shaping and controling of “masculine” and “feminine” behavior. Miss Raymond’s development and documentation of this thesis is flawless. Her book Is an important achievement.
The claim that males can be transformed, by means of hormones and surgery, into females, and vice versa, is, of course, a lie. (“She‐males” are fabricated in much greater numbers than “he‐females.”) Chromosomal sex is fixed. And so are one’s historical
experiences of growing up and living as boy or girl, man or woman. What, then, can be achieved by means of “transsexual therapy”? The language in which the reply is framed is crucial — and can never be neutral. The transsexual propagandists claim to transform “women trapped in men’s bodies” into “real” women and want then to be accepted socially as females (say, in professional tennis). Critics of transsexualism contend that such a person is a “male‐to‐constructed‐female” (Miss Raymond’s term), or a fake female, or a castrated male transvestite who wears not only feminine clothing but also feminine‐looking body parts. Miss Raymond quotes a Casablanca surgeon, who has operated on more than 700 American men, characterizing the transsexual transformation as follows: “I don’t change men into women. I transform male genitals into genitals that have a female aspect. All the rest is in the patient’s mind “.
Not quite. Some of the rest is in society’s “mind.” For the fact is that Renee Richards was endorsed by Billie Jean King as a real woman and was accepted by the authorities monitoring women’s professional tennis as a “real woman.” This authentication of a “constructed female” as a real female stands in dramatic contrast to the standard rules of Olympic competition in which the contestants’ bodily contours count for nothing, their sexual identity being based solely on their chromosomal makeup.
Miss Raymond has rightly seized on transsexualism as an emblem of modern society’s unremitting — though increasingly concealed — antifeminism. And she correctly emphasizes that “the terminology of transsexualism disguises the reality … that transsexuals ‘prove’ they are transsexuals by conforming to the canons of the medical‐psychiatric institution that evaluates them on the basis of their being able to pass as stereotypically masculine or feminine, and that ultimately grants surgery on this basis.” The “transsexual empire” is thus a Trojan horse in the battle between the sexes, helping men to seduce unsuspecting women, or women who ought to know better, to join forces with their oppressors.
Still, why should anyone (especially feminist women) object to men wanting to become women? Isn’t imitation the highest form of flattery? Precisely herein lies the “liberal” sexologists’ betrayal of human dignity and integrity: They support the (male) transsexual’s claim that he wants to be a woman — when, in fact, what he wants is to be a caricature of the male definition of “femininity.” What makes transsexual surgery a male‐supremacist obscenity is the fact that transsexing surgeons do not perform the operation on all clients (just for the money) but insist that the client prove that he can “pass” as a woman. That is as if Catholic priests were willing to convert only those Jews who could prove their Christianity by socially appropriate acts of antiSemitism. Janice Raymond’s analysis is bitterly correct. The very existence of the “transsexual empire” is evidence of the persistence of our deep‐seated religious and cultural preju‐dices against woman.
The war between the sexes is a part of our, human heritage. It’s no use denying It. If that war ever ends, it will be not because of a phony armistice arranged by doctors, but because men, women and children will place personal dignity before social sex‐role identity.