John doesn’t feel his body matches his internal reality. His outer physical body does not reflect his inner bodily self-image, and this dysphoria causes him to suffer from severe emotional distress. John, who considers himself to be “trans”, believes relief will only come when he can change his outer (false) appearance to reflect his inner (true) state. He believes he can only live a happy and fulfilled life by surgically removing his genitals. Once he has the surgery—and only then, he is convinced—will he be able to present his “true self” to the world.
Here is the question I want to pose: Should a Christian support John in his decision to have this surgery?
While most of us would say we should not (and can hardly fathom why it should be considered a serious question), others, especially LGBT “allies” would answer that John should not only be supported but be praised for his “courage” in undertaking his radical transformation.
To this second group, I want to add one point of clarification: John is not transgendered but transabled. Does that change your support?
The desire to become disabled
Transgenderism is an umbrella term for the state or condition of identifying or expressing a gender identity that does not match a person’s physical/genetic sex. Transability is an umbrella term developed within the community of individuals who identify as transabled, people who have a persistent desire to acquire a physical disability and/or to seek the actual elective transition of the body from abled to disabled.
Most people have probably not heard of the transableism. But that’s likely to change. On Wednesday, Canada’s National Post reported on the transability movement:
When he cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool,” a man who now calls himself One Hand Jason let everyone believe it was an accident.
But he had for months tried different means of cutting and crushing the limb that never quite felt like his own, training himself on first aid so he wouldn’t bleed to death, even practicing on animal parts sourced from a butcher.
“My goal was to get the job done with no hope of reconstruction or re-attachment, and I wanted some method that I could actually bring myself to do,” he told the body modification website ModBlog.
His goal was to become disabled.
People like Jason have been classified as ‘‘transabled’’ — feeling like imposters in their bodies, their arms and legs in full working order.
Clive Baldwin, a researcher in Canada, found that transabled people he studied draw parallels to the experience many transgender people express of not feeling like they’re in the right body.
“It’s a problem for individuals because it’s distressing. But lots of things are.” He suggests this is just another form of body diversity — like transgenderism — and amputation may help someone achieve similar goals as someone who, say, undergoes cosmetic surgery to look more like who they believe their ideal selves to be.
Baldwin is right that there are many parallels between transgenderism and transableism. But before we discuss what those are let’s clarify the main point of dissimilarity: A person can be transgender, or even transsexual, and have no interest in changing their body, much less removing body parts. While much more could be said about transgenderism in general, for the purposes of this article I want to limit my critique to those who support, encourage, or condone extreme body mutilation through “sex change” or genital reconstruction surgery (GRS).
Let’s return to an examination of the original question. Some people approve of amputation of body parts for people who are transgendered. Yet many of those same people would, I suspect, not be in favor of the same or similar procedures for transabled people. Why the approval for one group but not the other? What is the basis for this arbitrary double standard?
Is transableism similar to transgenderism?
Here are a few unsupportable reasons GRS supporters might give:
The transabled are statistical outliers — If the number of people who identify as transgender is small (about 0.1 percent or less in America), the number of transabled is microscopic. But so what? The ethics of body mutilation do not hinge on how many people want such surgeries. If there are cases whether it can be morally approved, it doesn’t matter if the number of people desiring the procedure is in the single digits or in the millions.
Transableism is classified as a mental disorder while transgenderism is not — The problem with this claim is that it’s simply not true. Body integrity disorder is not classified as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)—but gender dysphoria is. None of that really matters, though, since there is no objective standard for determining when body dysphoria should be construed as a mental disorder. Disorders in the DSM are literally whatever gets voted for inclusion by the American Psychiatric Association. Whatever one’s position on the issue, it can’t be resolved by an appeal to psychiatric consensus, even if one existed.
Genital reassignment surgery is an accepted medical practice while amputation for transableism is not — What constitutes an “accepted” practice? That depends almost entirely on a particular doctor or medical community. Many physicians would reject both as unacceptable. Yet both types of amputations of healthy organs have been performed.
In the 1960s Johns Hopkins University became the first American medical center to offer “sex-reassignment surgery.” In 1997, Scottish doctor Robert Smith became the first surgeon to (publicly admit) amputating a patient’s healthy leg as a treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder. The question is not whether it is accepted but whether you can find a doctor to accept it. Much like psychiatry, how gender dysphoria or body integrity disorder is treated is determined largely on the ethics of the attending physician.
Following the diabolic logic
We could answer other such objections, but the reality is there is no sound, logical rationale for claiming that one group of people with body dysmorphia should be allowed to amputate body parts while another should not. The truth is that those who support sex reassignment surgery but would refuse it to the transabled are merely relying on a personal version of the argument from disgust (aka, the ick factor, gag reflex, “wisdom of repugnance”). Of course, they are unlikely to acknowledge this obvious point. When your mind has been so seared by acceptance of evil that you condone amputation of healthy body parts, it’s not surprising that your ability to think logically has been hindered.
But society has a way of following diabolic logic wherever it leads. If you start with the premise that radical mutilation of the body is an acceptable practice when your physical presence doesn’t match your self-image, you shouldn’t be surprised to find it applied in ways that are different, yet equally disturbing. The real concern isn’t necessarily with GRS for transgenders or amputations for transabilitists. While every one of those cases is worthy of our concern, relatively few people want to undergo such radical transformations. The real threat is more broad-based and banal.
A prime example of where this logic leads is the “Pro-ana” community. Pro-ana refers to the promotion of the eating disorder anorexia nervosa. The movement is sometimes referred to simply as “ana” and anorexics personified as a girl named ‘Ana’. Rather than seeing anorexia as a mental disorder, pro-anas consider it to be a legitimate lifestyle that should be respected by society.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of online forums and websites are dedicated to this movement. An analysis published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2009 found that 84 percent offered pro-anorexia content while 83 percent provided overt suggestions on how to engage in eating-disordered behaviors.
While they may not draw the connection themselves, the young people engaged in the pro-ana community certainly understand the message sent by society. They can follow the a fortiori argument of the transgender GRS supporters: If it is acceptable to lop off one’s genitals to conform your body to your inner self-image, why should less radical measures, such as induced vomiting, be forbidden? They are willing to follow the logic of the message of the transgender GRS allies: Do what thou wilt with your body to conform to your inner self-image.
Why (some) Christians are to blame
I do not condemn those who suffer from body dysmorphia, whether transgenderism, transabelism, or anorxia. They are suffering and in need of compassionate solutions, both medical and psychological, and the alleviation and healing that can only come from Christ.
I also do not blame non-believers. We can’t expect those who are in rebellion against God to not also be in rebellion against his creational norms. Pointing out the logic and absurdity of their position merely falls on deaf ears. As Amy Hall says, “We can no longer appeal to absurdity in order to challenge our culture’s consistent conclusions, because in a world we create, nothing is inherently absurd.”
No, I place the blame on those self-professed Christians who endorse these forms of self-harm and make self-mutilation a plausible and palatable “solution” for the vulnerable. They cloak their support in the language of “compassion” and “tolerance” while encouraging people to engage in grave evil.
If you felt an urge to surgically remove your sexual organs or induce vomiting until your ribs showed through your skin, would you assume it was the will of God? No, of course not—at least not if you are in a right state of mind. So why do we pretend that it is God’s will for other people to mutilate themselves?
A primary objective of ever believer is to see others join the body of Christ. When they do, their own bodies become “members of Christ” (1 Cor 6:9). As Paul says, our bodies are for the Lord (v. 13). He adds,
[D]o you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (vv. 19-20)
God is not glorified when we tear healthy limbs and organs for our bodies in an attempt to conform to a distorted, inner self-image. When we encourage such self-mutilation we are not following the will of Christ but doing the work of Satan.
Jesus, speaking metaphorically, said it would be better to cut off one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. Satan, speaking literally, says that cutting off a body part will release people from their own personal hell. Why would those who profess to abide in Christ join the devil’s chorus in chanting, “Yes, take up the knife, cut away the body parts that trouble you so”?
We need to get over our fear of being called bigots, intolerant, or transphobic and make it perfectly clear to both church and society that no Christian can truly follow Christ and endorse these forms of extreme self-harm. We cannot show a godly love for our neighbor if we’re cheering their decision to follow Satan’s objective of destroying God’s temple.