Trans medical treatment and faith
February 18, 2014
Virginia High School League’s new transgender athletic policy requires sexual reassignment surgery and HRT
February 21, 2014

Trans medical care = mutilation?

A reader writes:

I was wondering if it would be possible to open a discussion seeking articulation explaining why and how surgical alteration is different from genital mutilation. I feel insufficiently equipped to defend the difference.

Here’s the deal: body autonomy. I – not some random person – get to decide what body modifications constitute “mutilation.”

I don’t want a pierced septum and if someone held me down and forcibly priced it, I would view it as “mutilation” regardless if the person doing the mutilation felt it looked lovely.

Remember, MANY anti-trans people argue by equivocating.

When most of us hear “mutilate” we understand it to be the dictionary definition: “to ruin the beauty of (something) : to severely damage or spoil (something).” For me, vaginoplasty was the exact opposite of this dictionary definition and because I hold agency over my body, I get to make that value judgement.

When anti-trans people use the term “mutilate” they use it as a colloquial value statement and an appeal to emotion. For them, vaginoplasty sacrifices a perfectly good penis. For them a transwoman’s natal penis is revered and held to be more valuable than a functioning sensate vagina.

Some trolls like to burble on about how tattooing is mutilation. They’ll even appeal to authority: religious ideology. Other trolls like to burble on about how trans medical care is mutilation. They’ll even appeal to authority: TERF ideology. Consider how TERF opinion leader, author and speaker Sheila Jeffreys uses “mutilation” to discuss the experience of being trans and note that she – an out lesbian – is knowingly using the rhetoric of anti-gay activists like Norman Tebbitt:

Now one of the things I find puzzling about it is that, when I look at the House of Lords debate on this legislation, those I agree with most are the radical right. Particularly the person I find that I agree with most, in here, and I’m not sure he will be pleased to find this, is Norman Tebbitt… Tebbitt also says that the savage mutilation of transgenderism, we would say if it was taking place in other cultures apart from the culture of Britain, was a harmful cultural practice, and how come we’re not recognising that in the British Isles. So he makes all of these arguments from the radical right, which is quite embarrassing to me, but I have to say, so called progressive and left people are not recognising the human rights violations of transgenderism or how crazy the legislation is. – Sheila Jeffreys

(BTW, you may find it telling that Jeffreys asserts that getting a tattoo is also mutilation: “Cutting one’s own flesh, body piercing, tattooing, and cosmetic surgery are all forms of self-mutilation which should be opposed…”)

The reality is that their opinion doesn’t get to count and it pisses them off. Trans people are going mainstream. Not a week goes by without another city or company adding trans protections. Not a month goes by without a school or large company announcing that all trans medical care will be covered under their insurance plans. Their opinion is irrelevant and they hurl loaded terms at others because the only way they can have their opinion mean anything to anyone but their own in-group is to try and hurt you enough until you have to deal with the fact that thy’re banging their spoon on their highchair. This is why they use evocative terms like “mutilation” to describe (what was for me) one of the most liberating events of a lifetime: surgical intervention.

It’s not their body, so fuck em’. I don’t get to tell them what they can and cannot pierce or tattoo. I don’t get to tell them what weight their body must be.

Whoever is telling you that medically addressing trans issues = mutilation, thank them. They’ve clearly erected a huge neon sign letting you know that you need never again invest another second in seriously entertaining anything they have to say about the trans experience.

What are your thoughts? Here’s what some of you had to say about this topic over on the TransAdvocate FaceBook page:

I also believe that we should include coercion of a trans person into thinking that surgeries are necessary , our bodies our decisions and only we should have choice over ourselves ! ( OUR CHOICE )

Some people really don’t understand consent. Think of all the myriad activities people do like running a marathon, giving birth, rock climbing, going without sleep and organ donation that are normal activities when chosen but would be torture if someone was forcing you to do them.

I was absolutely thrilled and overjoyed to have my ‘corrective surgery’ done by a competent surgeon that corrected my malformed body

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Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites and, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.
  • Pingback: Renee Zellweger, Abortion, and Trans Bodies | Loving is living()

  • Sami Hawkins

    Wait, do they seriously oppose tattoos and piercings as ‘mutilation’ or are they just claiming to oppose them so their transbashing will seem logically consistent? it reminds me of the anti-gay bigots who lie through their teeth and claim they’d totally ban infertile people from marrying if they could, because they know otherwise they’d have to admit they don’t actually believe procreation is the purpose of marriage and they’re actually just gaybashers.

    • crash2parties

      I believe the tattoo bit is tied to the biblical reference that bans funeral rites tattoos, a Pagan practice in use at the time the passage was written. The passage was often used in the past few decades against trans people, although it’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone cite it.
      Leviticus 19:28 “Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves. I am the Lord.”

  • Corinn Heathers

    I’m sure these people will really flip their shit when we start developing cybernetic replacement limbs and people start opting to have their arms and legs replaced with robot ones that can punch holes through concrete. 😀

  • Lu Serrano

    Hi there, I think that this is a pretty interesting subject. Being from Argentina (a catholic country with a pretty forward-thinking law that allows you to change your name and gender in your national id pre-surgery) I’ve found myself more and more involved in discussions regarding these issues. One argument that has some popularity here is one that comes from psychoanalysis: they say that if a patient of theirs presents themselves and says “I have this arm, but I don’t feel naturally identified with this arm, it doesn’t feel right, it has nothing to do with me, it makes people think that I am a two-arm-kind of person, but I’m not, I’ve known it for ever, it’s just not me. I would be aliviated if I could just surgically remove this horrible arm”, it would be wrong to endorse such claim and allow it. If a doctor were to practice such surgery, he would be irresponsible. So, they take this and trace a parallel with gender changing surgery, arguing that this person, this patient, is in some kind of psychotic state and she is experiencing a disrealization towards her body. They say that no doctor would mutilate someone’s arm if they were psychotic and begging for it, and so should be the case here. They also use to point out that there is a tremendous suicide rate amongst those who do get the surgery, because in the end they don’t get what they were expecting from the surgery (some kind of life changing rebirth). Could you please comment on these arguments? Thank you! (excuse my grammar!)

    • Maggie Hendershot

      First of all, Lu, your grammar is nearly impeccable. Certainly better than my Spanish grammar, and better than the English grammar of a lot of the native speakers in this country. Grats.

      See, Lu, this argument seems great at first. Nobody wants to lose an arm, so it’s visceral right away. But, see, it relies on the sort of logical fallacies that Socrates tried to excise from intelligent human discourse over 2000 years ago. The first fallacy being that it relies first on an example case of something that doesn’t really exist. There isn’t anyone that couches their hatred for their arms in the same language as a transperson uses to discuss their discomfort with their gender. Even if there is one or two examples of such a thing, they are so rare as to be statistically irrelevant. The second fallacy is the one Cristan points out above. The fallacy of equivocation. The sophist employing this fallacy has a pretty simple plan. Get you to agree that something that is obviously bad is bad. Then equivocate that obviously bad thing to something they want to paint as bad, without allowing you the argument as to whether or not those things should be viewed as equal. To further strengthen the final part, often they will get you to agree to a simple definition or something similar. Here’s an obviously flawed example of how this equivocation fallacy could work:
      “Sandwiches are a meal or snack between two slices of bread.”
      ‘Okay, agreed’
      “A sandwich made using bathroom caulk would be disgusting.”
      ‘Okay, yeah, obviously’
      “Ipso facto, all sandwiches are disgusting!”
      ‘Now hold on a second!’
      See how this argument doesn’t work? Sure, in this example, with all of the rhetoric stripped away, it’s obvious that a bathroom caulk sandwich isn’t equivalent to, say, a ham sandwich. However, if you pay close attention you will see arguments like this everywhere. Especially in discourse around trans-issues. How do you dismantle this fallacy? Well, unfortunately, you must prove that there is not an equivocation where one is assumed. How do we do that in this case? Well, we must attack the notion that gender-confirming surgery is a severing, because it isn’t. It’s a rebuilding, not an amputation. First of all, it’s overfocused on MtF trans surgeries, continuing the erasure of the FtM community. Second of all, it betrays a huge misunderstanding of the surgery. Nobody’s penis is ‘cut off’. Thirdly, it ignores the fact that many transpeople never seek surgery at all. Some never even seem to need much therapy.

      Now, how do we deal with the suicide claims. This is a bit tougher, but I suspect that it’s all based on gymnastics with statistics, just as the other argument is based on logic gymnastics. My suspicion is that they only thing necessary to tear this one apart are the numbers. I would bet, that if you look at the number of suicides and suicide attempts by admitted transpeople who have been somehow blocked from getting the surgery and compare those numbers to the numbers of post-surgery suicides quoted by these anti-trans sophists; then you would find the numbers are very unbalanced towards those who were prevented from the surgery. I suspect their argument here is in presumption. They presume that these post-op suicides are connected to a dissatisfaction with the surgery itself. I, however, presume that it has more to do with the fact that we can’t surgerize the world. No matter how we change ourselves, we still wake up in a world that constantly others, dehumanizes, and alienates us. Maybe if you want less trans-people to kill themselves, then you should stop fomenting hate.

      Well, Lu, I hope that feeds your rhetorical fires somewhat. Good luck fighting the good fight.

    • Body Integrity Identity Disorder is a separate condition than Gender Dysphoria/Gender Identity Disorder.

      BIID can be successfully treated with psychiatric therapy and OCD medication.

      GD/GID cannot.

      The suicide rates among trans people have to do with stigma surrounding the condition. Even given those rates, medical transition is still the most effective treatment to date. Nothing else has shown to work with any sort of significant success rate, Reparative therapy tends to increase suicide risk in trans people.

      • Luciana

        Thanks Danah, and Maggie. I’ve just found the emails that notified me of these answers.

        Sadly, I’ve been through a lot since I first posted in this forum. A good friend of mine (she was trans) has commited suicide two months ago. She went through her surgery past september and had been dealing with post-op issues ever since. I know for a fact that the surgery was the bravest and happiest decision of her life, but I’m so sad that she couldn’t get to enjoy it as much as she dreamt of.
        I know that maybe this is not the place, but do you know of any sites or online resources that can help deal with this awful pain? I’ve distanced myself from feminist and gay movements because of their transfobia and some increasingly TERF presence, so I’m kinda lost here about who to look for.
        Thanks in advance, much love.