In my article “Transgender Hospitality: A Response to James Anderson,” I defend the propriety of accommodating at least some of the requests of transgender people on the basis of hospitality. Anderson offered a couple replies but, unfortunately, then left the conversation with several of my rebuttals unaddressed. [Note: since posting this follow-up, Anderson has rejoined the conversation. Please see the discussion thread of the original article for his important contributions.]
However, Steve Hays of Triablogue did offer a response. I’ll quote the relevant passages and then offer my replies below.
“I doubt the transgendered are any one thing. Some people genuinely suffer from that psychotic disorder. Some impressionable people (mostly adolescent girls) have been swept up in a social contagion. In many cases, gender dysphoria naturally resolves itself. Some people are gaming the system. Claiming to be trans instantly elevates their social status.”
I have no problem, in principle, with these observations. All it would mean is that one should carefully evaluate which are the serious psychological cases where accommodation to the requested use of alternative pronouns, titles, and proper names would be justified for the sake of minimizing psychological harm.
“Sure, there are people with incurable conditions we need to accommodate. But the degree of accommodation varies. Take doping adolescent with puberty blockers. That does irreparable damage to their physical (and psychological) maturation. Adolescence is an irreversible phase in the life cycle. Not to mention sex change operations, which are even more harmful.”
Also true. A person can agree to the requested use of alternative pronouns, titles, and proper names without agreeing to support a person’s request for hormonal treatment or invasive surgery.
“A better comparison would be body dysmorphic disorder. Does Rauser think surgeons should amputate perfectly healthy, functional body parts to accommodate their delusion?”
In general, no, I do not. In fact, I’ve written an article on this, though at the moment I cannot find it. (Cut me some slack: I’ve got 2791 articles published on my blog and several hundred more written elsewhere. Sometimes you lose track…) In that article, I make exactly that point: those who support sex-reassignment surgery should consider whether they would support the surgical removal of an arm or one’s eyes if a person deeply desired to be armless or blind. If they would not, then they should reevaluate their support for sex-reassignment surgery.
Note, however, that I said, in general, I do not support this. That caveat is meant as a recognition that it is possible in principle that such radically invasive surgery could be justified on psychological therapeutic grounds.
To see why we can start with a non-controversial example. I submit that it is possible in principle that caregivers could be justified in providing plastic surgery for a bullied child with protruding (but otherwise healthy) ears.
Thus, we have at least one case where an invasive surgical or medical procedure of a physiologically healthy individual could be justified to reduce the psychological distress of the individual. The next question concerns what degree of invasive surgical and/or medical intervention could be justified as a means to reduce psychological distress. And until someone presents a persuasive argument on the limits of that kind of invasive action, I will retain my modest caveat.
I’ll conclude with an observation: when it comes to ethical analysis of difficult issues, it is crucial that we acquaint ourselves with the complexities of specific cases. With that in mind, I’d recommend this documentary titled Transgender Kids. At first blush, it might look like these are cases of radical liberal parents imposing their ideological confusions on their unsuspecting children. But if you take the time to hear these stories, you’ll discover it is a good deal more complicated than that. And in each case, you can ask yourself: how would I address the situation if my child were gender dysphoric in the manner and degree of these children?