A name that has been cropping up quite a lot in the online trans (and wider LGBT) community of late is that of the eminent Australian academic and feminist author Germaine Greer. Notwithstanding her contributions to feminism, most famously her 1970 text The Female Eunuch, she also has a well-noted antipathy towards transgendered women, exemplified in her resigning her post at Cambridge University over the appointment of Rachael Padman to a fellowship at a women-only college. She continued to denounce transgendered women in her later work The Whole Woman (1999), where she notoriously set a medically-impossible bar by which trans women should have any right to be considered as “whole women”:
“Governments that consist of very few women have hurried to recognise as women men who believe that they are women and have had themselves castrated to prove it, because they see women not as another sex but as a non-sex. No so-called sex-change has ever begged for a uterus-and-ovaries transplant; if uterus-and-ovaries transplants were made mandatory for wannabe women they would disappear overnight. The insistence that man-made women be accepted as women is the institutional expression of the mistaken conviction that women are defective males.”
Well, if I am any sort of male I am certainly a defective one… but that is straying from the point.
The reason for her extreme (and ongoing) antipathy may only be guessed at, but it may simply be generational or academic in nature. At the time of The Female Eunuch, gender dysphoria was widely held to be a mental illness, with its treatment protocols (albeit with a poor success rate) based in psychotherapy rather than body-altering therapy and surgery. Assuming, therefore, that the dysphoria results from some psychic or social trauma (possibly traceable to a specific cause or event that a psychiatrist could help resolve) than from any innate somatic reason, in her theory GD would not be a firm and stable sense of identity but would only amount to some delusion or self-hatred complex, rather akin to that of the would-be transsexual serial killer from “Silence of the Lambs” or Norman Bates of “Psycho” (whom Greer, rather unfortunately, conflates all transwomen with). Her recent statements would appear to support this view, suggesting that a medical treatment for people of transgendered identities could only do more harm than good:
“[…] [Prof. Greer] argued that allowing individuals to undergo surgical procedures during transitioning was “unethical” because they “remove healthy tissue and create lifelong dependence on medicine”.
Greer continued that she hoped there would be more opportunities for people to exist within their own orientations and sexualities in the future without reliance on medical assistance.”
From The Independent
One obvious problem with this argument is that having debunked the existing treatment, she then goes on to offer nothing more than the “hope” that some more effective approach will become available. To put this in perspective, one could plausibly argue that chemotherapy is a dangerous and flawed treatment for cancer, but suggesting that a cancer patient refuses it in the hope that a new, perfect miracle cure will soon come along might well be construed as irresponsible… Not that anyone would be stupid enough to deny the existence of cancer, though. In Prof. Greer’s case, as she believes that gender dysphoria is not an actual medical condition, she probably does not feel she is encouraging people to gamble with their health and lives, although one should probably note that the high suicide and depression rates among transgender individuals (and the ineffectiveness of the infamous, non-medical conversion therapy practices such as Leelah Alcorn suffered) are well-documented.
Yet it is an argument I have heard in many forms, with varying degrees of sympathy. The mind seems to us a much easier and healthier thing to change than the body, as the stacks of self-help literature on the shelves of any Waterstones serve to remind us. Self-brainwashing in many forms has become a modern craze, but how effective can such DIY psychotherapy and self-hypnosis ever be? A very good friend of mine with his own take on body-image / identity conditions (blogging about it here) was initially horrified to hear I was considering surgery, as he believed the solution to my gender identity issues must either reside in my mind or within society itself. In the latter belief, he and Prof. Greer may have a point, but changing society and all its attitudes is a Herculean task for anyone, and would that cure my desire to feminise my body by whatever means available? I doubt it, unless mass perceptions of what it means to be “masculine” and “feminine” can be reprogrammed across the entire human race, double time. Another good friend, of spiritual inclinations, suggested perhaps I had been born like this as a sign that I needed to reconcile with masculinity as some kind of personal test. I don’t recall signing up for it, though, and am happy to concede the leaderboard to more enthusiastic participants…
At any rate, when I broached the subject of psychotherapy with my GP, the answer was quick and simple: one’s gender identity is not a mental illness. It is who you are. If your body does not reflect it, for understandable reasons, the body can change to adapt. The mind much less so.
Even if the mind could be changed so effectively, is the classical notion of brainwashing more ethical than body alteration? If we could transcend the current limitations of hypnosis and cognitive therapy to actually make people act and think in ways that contravene their inner beliefs, would that not simply be terrifying? It would certainly create a whole new argument for the effectiveness of torture that I have no wish to see accepted. Personally, I am happier in the notion that the human mind is a stubborn and inflexible beast, even if its convictions are often at odds with what would seem common-sense-wise to be in our best interests. Common sense and science do not always sit easily, as Schrödinger’s cat could tell us (or possibly not).
Therefore until Professor Greer et al. have more than their fond “hope” to offer, this defective male will have to take whatever treatment contemporary science has to offer, for all of its imperfections.