Recently, psychologist and media personality Nigel Latta was interviewed on TV1’s Breakfast show alongside Awa, an eighteen year old college student who feels “trapped” in a body “that I absolutely despise”. On the show, Latta stated his support for state-funded genital surgery for Awa’s self-loathing, saying that this surgery is as necessary to Awa’s wellbeing as hip replacement is to someone who cannot comfortably climb stairs or stand up after sitting. It’s something trans youth need, so they can “live their life to the fullest”.
I know this rhetoric well, of “living life to the fullest”. I’m a woman. We live our daily lives among people trying to sell us, excuse me but, shit – products and services which both depend upon and incite self-loathing. Advertisers and “specialists” routinely employ the language of self-actualisation to pitch us cosmetics, diet plans, liposuction, botox, labiaplasty, implants, injections, laser treatments, electrolysis, chemical peels, synthetic dyes and other radical interventions because supposedly these products and services will allow us to “be all you can be”.
Read Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth: none of this is good news. And from where I am sitting, if someone like Latta is going to advocate for the surgical sterilisation of a healthy young person’s body, he better have a good reason. Sentimental appeals to the language of happiness and fulfillment are not enough. They are not reasons. They are marketing.
Fixing painful self-loathing is not a reason either. Women know by now that if we “suddenly stopped feeling ugly,” as Wolf writes, “the fastest-growing medical speciality would be the fastest dying.” She is pointing out that there are dollars to be made in self-loathing – the beauty industry, including plastic surgeons, encourage and even cultivate insecurity and self-loathing, because of that. According to Wolf, plastic surgeons also work largely unregulated, leaving the onus on women to research and manage any risks from treatments no matter how radical, despite a dearth of objective information or public debate, and constant advertising.
So, excuse me if I demand more than mere platitudes from people who promote state support for putting healthy teenage bodies under the surgeon’s knife.
The demand for robust reasoning, in what Wolf calls today’s ‘Surgical Age’, is not just mine or Wolf’s, it is medical ethics. It is why the Nuremberg Code exists – to protect patients from being subjected to medical experimentation without giving truly free and informed consent.
Wolf discusses the Nuremberg Code in relation to cosmetic surgery, since so much cosmetic surgery is carried out in breach of it. The Code though was established after the Nuremberg trials, because Nazi doctors were so hellbent on using human subjects in medical experimentation. For instance, in his published memoirs, Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal recalls how he
met another boy whom the scientists of Auschwitz, after several operations, had successfully turned into a woman. He was then thirteen years old. After the war, a complicated operation was performed on him in a West German clinic. The doctors restored the man’s physical masculinity, but they couldn’t give back his emotional equilibrium.
Author Janice Raymond believes that gender reassignment still takes place today in the same spirit of experimentation. It is not surprising (nor science fiction) that as transgender surgeries become more common, so do discussions of artificial wombs and placentas:
A not-so-incidental by-product of this particular medical theodicy is the enlargement of medical knowledge about manipulating organs of the body which specifically function to define biological sex. This, of course, works to the ultimate benefit of the sadistic side of the theodicy, enabling medical research and technology to acquire a specialised body of scientific knowledge on the manipulation of human sexuality that probably could not be acquired by any other accepted medical procedure.
This analysis is one to which detransitioned people have testified, and experimentation is something to which their growing numbers testify, as well. If all people who underwent gender transition really gave consent that was free and informed, there would not be so many opting out down the track, only to find themselves abandoned, damaged, and without advocacy.
Detransitioners are often disowned and alienated from the ‘trans’ communities that once claimed to offer them belonging on the basis of their marginalisation. Once they are no longer ‘trans’ identified, they represent a threat and are ostracized for harbouring such inconvenient truths.
Take the Northland teenager who spoke out earlier this year, about the damage done to her through transition. Where was Nigel Latta, coming to her aid? Where were Kyle Macdonald and Lizzie Marvelly, speaking out to support a young person in pain, like Marvelly did when a young boy wanted to use the female toilets at Marlborough Girls’? Isn’t that relatively less painful than having your voice irreversibly altered by testosterone, and then being left to deal with it?
This is why it is important to have a robust, reasoned discussion and not just a sentimental one. The young woman in question told media she did not know why doctors never asked about her mental illness.
We need to ensure that young people are not being lead up the garden path like this because the right questions are not being asked or because critical information is kept from them. We need to question the tendency of the liberal media to label all dissent “bigotry”. We also need to ensure we are not promoting ideologies that misinform or offer false hope, and we need to ensure we are not reinforcing a climate of self-loathing for the sake of profiteers. Again, this is not my opinion. It’s the Nuremberg Code.
One test of whether we are contributing to this conversation ethically, is to check whether our arguments actually stack up. Those produced by liberal media trans advocates simply don’t. Latta, Macdonald and Marvelly may well pat one another on the back, but their arguments do not share any basic principles other than their hostility to female-only spaces, and these people cannot even muster consistency within the same stream of consciousness. They set their rhetoric to the same tune – the language of happiness and fulfillment, punctuated with accusations of bigotry in the direction of dissent – but that’s all, really.
There is no evidence to accompany any of their claims for a conclusive correlation between gender identity ideology or surgical genital reassignment and lasting happiness. None. And actually, while our usual suspects advocate for the affirmaton of gender identity, they will also point out that the “trans” demographic have a one in five chance of taking their own lives. That they suffer depression at a rate of four in ten.
Not only is there no proof, then, that transgender ideology or any of its attendant practices can prevent suicide – high suicide and depression rates are actually correlated with transgender ideology. This suggests that we need to question that ideology, not promote it on shaky ground.
And dear god the ground is shaky!
When Nigel Latta supported genital surgery for Awa on Breakfast, he openly accepted that gender is an identity, divorced from the body. What’s the deal here, then? Does he reject biological sex as a reality? Or does he just not consider human beings to be a sexually dimorphic species? Perhaps he sees us as metaphysical or technological beings, divorced from the natural world entirely. Or, if not, perhaps he is going to ask the Department of Conservation to abide by the idea that males can get pregnant? Otherwise DOC would be transphobic, right?
Asking these questions is not sarcastic, and it is not unreasonable, and it is not nitpicking, and it is not about creating roadblocks on someone’s path to freedom. If liberals are going to claim that the state needs to support young people to have their breasts cut off, or their testicles removed, or their voices irreversibly lowered, or their healthy bodies in any way cut open or altered because of their identities, there needs to be not just an elaborate plea, but a good, solid reason and some good, solid evidence. It’s not bigotry, it’s medical ethics.
Seeking that reasoning among transactivists is disheartening. Kyle Macdonald says that for trans people, “the gender they identify as is different to their biological sex.” Yet other transactivists say that biological sex itself is a myth believed only by bigots. Lizzie Marvelly, for instance, cannot articulate what a female is at all – and I’ve been called a bigot more than once for suggesting that having a uterus has anything to do with my being female. Lesbian and reproductive rights organisations get attacked on this basis all the time these days. I’ve actually been blacklisted by whole community and activist organisations on this basis.
Yet Nigel Latta openly believes that some males, in order to live “authentic” lives, need their testicles and penis cut out and replaced with something that crudely imitates a “vagina” so that they can be a real “woman”. These males apparently need this as much as someone with a bad hip needs a hip replacement.
So, that’s the deal. I am not allowed to say that my having a vagina is anything at all to do with being female, because that is hate speech. But males who identify as women can say they need the government to pay for them to acquire something that resembles a vagina, so that they can complete transition to real womanhood, and live a fulfilling life. Confusing is a polite way to describe this double standard.
We also talk about people who need genital reassignment, being “assigned” a sex at birth by ignorant, Western doctors who haven’t read Judith Butler and so don’t understand gender. Hang on – do we believe that the bodies of trans people are wrong, because they are the wrong sex – or that doctors are ascribing sex wrong? How can it be both? And if the doctors are so untrustworthy what with handing out all these bad and harmful assignments, why are we still entrusting them to cut up our kids? Can we make some choices here?
Awa acknowledges biological sex and says “I am transgender – male to female,” and just “in the wrong body”. The body, then, is male. Yes? Because I am also hearing from transactivists that a penis can be female. And I’m sorry, this is not subjective, because what a woman is and isn’t is not a question to leave to the whim of men.
So, what is a woman then? Something unreal, metaphysical, that can exist trapped in a male body?
Awa’s mother claims that she suspected Awa was transgender from the time Awa was a toddler and said things like, “Mummy, I’ve got a girl’s heart, but a boy’s body”.
I am female, so I think I am allowed to ask – what on earth is a “girls’ heart”? This is relevant not only to me, but to more than half the world’s population. Do I have a girl’s heart? What is that? One clue Awa shares is that Awa either cannot, or doesn’t want to skateboard.
I never thought of myself as a boy… All my brothers… they were always surfing, skateboarding, fighting – they were just real boys I guess. They always used to tease me for being a girly little long-haired thing, because they kind of wanted me to be, a “macho man” like them.
Awa’s brothers acted like dickheads – and if Awa’s brothers put Awa off wanting to be like them, I have nothing but understanding. The thing is, as a woman, I think the last thing we should be doing is medicating boys who aren’t “the routine, average, run of the mill small boy”, when the run of the mill small boy is supposed to be a bully and a brute. Boys like Awa can change the game. Thing is, the trans movement is doing its best to correctively “trans” mould-busters like Awa, and sterilise them.
And honestly, with all due respect to Awa – to you, Awa – I am so offended by this, offended by the idea that being less physically active than your brothers made you or your mother suspect you were female. Women have struggled hard to fight this stereotype and get equal access to sports training and competition – individually we struggle to wrench ourselves free from the battleground of the beauty myth, self punishment and objectification. We are supposed to starve ourselves and be weak, submissive and sexy – not strong and athletic. But weak is not what we are in our hearts.
Perhaps it is time we consult an expert on the matter.
Good idea. Have we got an expert here, to help us?
Sure. There’s one or two in Awa’s Story, like sexual health physician Dr. Jeannie Oliphant. This is what she says:
What makes people transgender? I don’t think we know any more than we know why I was born left-handed and my sister was born right-handed.
So we are off to a hopeful start.
What we do appreciate now though, is that your gender identity seems to be decided before you are born. So that your journey in life is fundamentally decided before birth. Gender identity seems to be something that is a biological thing – so perhaps it’s affected by genetics, or hormones, rather than something that happens after we are born, so we don’t think that parenting styles or society pressure is determining what your gender identity is.
At this point it will be very difficult for anyone to convince me this is not some combination Brave New World-Orwellian backlash against feminism.
It will also be very difficult to convince me that when I connect being female with having a uterus, I am being “essentialist”. Not while people are actually saying that to be a woman is to have some unspecified essence and fate floating around inside oneself from birth.
There is no evidence for a woman being anything other than an adult human female, with female sex organs.
There is an absolute mountain of evidence though, to show that ideologies that centre identity and image and cosmetics and appearance and surgical intervention contribute to depression and self-harm.
To ignore this puts young people at risk.
It would also prove how absolutely hostile genderists are to feminist work. Women have studied this, and we have lived this, thoroughly. We have died this way. We have starved ourselves this way. We also know exactly how an entire society, including one’s family and friends, can sit back as we try to disappear ourselves into a mask, into our our shadows, into a sack of bones. Women know that. We know depression and we know self destruction and we know this language of “being all you can be”, “because you’re worth it”.
“I take a pill a day to keep me looking like a girl,” says Awa. “One injection every three months to stop me from looking like a guy”.
“With the surgery, you can just, have that body that matches your soul.”
I am sorry, Awa.
That’s a lie that women have been told for far too long. And now you.
We’ve wanted to believe it, too – many of us have even been prepared to put our lives and the integrity of our bodies at stake for it, just like you. We have many times risked death on an operating table, just for the chance to feel whole.
But we’ve never found wholeness there, on that table, under that knife. Not while making trade-offs with our bodily integrity.
I’m sorry. That’s not where wholeness is.