While much of our attention (well, mine anyway) is focused on the question whether same-sex marriage will be foisted on the American people by judicial ideologues, the T in LGBT (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgendered) continues to pop up in the news in odd and disturbing ways. This morning Anthony Esolen’s On the Square essay “A Rose by Any Other Name” takes us by the shoulders for a good hard shake about this subject (and those who take offense at Esolen’s sharp wit should note whom he was really targeting; it wasn’t the poor young basketball player). I’m glad Esolen cited Douglas Farrow’s article in the March FT, which I somehow hadn’t read until now, and Stephen J. Heaney’s Public Discourse essay from last fall. Both are good, but Farrow also does us the favor of recalling Paul McHugh’s November 2004 FT article “Surgical Sex,” which discussed the studies that led Johns Hopkins Hospital (where McHugh was chief of psychiatry) to stop performing sex-reassignment surgery. His own conclusion was that such surgery “was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness. We psychiatrists . . . would do better to concentrate on fixing [our patients'] minds and not their genitalia.”
But in New York City, it seems that the law not only “cooperates” with the “gender” confusion of those who embrace the T, it actually demands that they “fix” their genitalia. As the New York Times reported a couple of months ago, the city’s health code–for 40 years!–has allowed for a change of sex from male to female or vice versa on one’s birth certificate, but only if one has “convertive surgery.” So the price of the state’s official agreement with one’s self-identification as being one sex when one was born the other, is to undergo surgical mutilation with serious risks and no known benefits. Several individuals claiming a right to change their birth certificates’ sex indicator are now suing the city. It seems that “80 percent of transgender women and 95 percent of transgender men in New York have not had the surgery” the city requires, many of them because of the risks involved. That’s an awful lot of T’s that exist only in their heads–but better that they should avoid the knife, it seems to me.
This is one of those rare stories where everyone is in the wrong. Those asking for the change to their birth certificates are wrong to demand it, for they remain (surgery or not) the creatures they were at birth. But the city is wrong even to offer a change of the birth certificate, thus catering to a disturbance in the psyche. And it is doubly wrong, monumentally wrong, to offer the change, and then withhold it unless one undergoes an injury to the body that matches the injury to the soul.