No Such Thing as Transgender?

I was thinking about weighing in on the recent controversies about laws concerning transgendered people in California.  But ultimately I decided not to talk about it directly.  In general, you all know my views already and it would get very tiring to comment on every law that comes up in the news about transgenderism or crossdressing.  I’d rather spend my time helping people to think through the confused aspects of transgenderism and helping people to find healing from that struggle.

So on that note, here is an interesting article about a psychiatrist who says that scientifically there is no such thing as transgender.  The article is called – Psychiatry expert: ‘scientifically there is no such thing as transgender.’

Coincidentally this article is about laws as well, specifically in Canada.  But I’m more interested in what the psychiatrist claims.  There is no scientific proof or basis for transgenderism.  It is simply about people’s feelings.  The psychiatrist is blunt and maybe even harsh, but he speaks the truth.  But I still use the term “transgendered people” to refer to people who describe themselves as such, and for those who are experiencing emotional pain because they feel like they were born as the wrong sex.  I acknowledge that such people exist and have those feelings.  But I do not acknowledge that there are people who have the bodies of males but in reality are existentially females somehow in being or in their soul.   I don’t even know what transsexuals mean by “soul” if they are not using the Christian understanding of “soul” (and the Bible leaves no room for a division between body and soul such that you could be male in one and female in the other.  We are unified beings, mind, body, soul, and spirit).  The psychiatrist is right that the only arguments transsexuals can make are based on emotional appeals.

This part of the article is perhaps most striking –

REAL Women provided the committee with evidence that post-operative trans-gendered individuals suffer substantially higher morbidity and mortality than the general population, placing the so-called “sex reassignment” surgery and hormone treatment under continued scrutiny.

They pointed out that a pioneer in such treatment, Dr. Paul McHugh, distinguished professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, stopped the procedures because he found that patients were no better adjusted or satisfied after receiving such treatment.

McHugh wrote in 2004 that “Hopkins was fundamentally cooperating with a mental illness” by catering to the desires of people who wanted surgery to change their biological sex.

“We psychiatrists, I thought, would do better to concentrate on trying to fix their minds and not their genitalia,” he stated, adding that “to provide a surgical alteration to the body of these unfortunate people was to collaborate with a mental disorder rather than to treat it.”

For those of you who are angered by this article, keep in mind that he and I are both advocating compassion and help to those struggling with these issues of sexual identity.  We want to help, but believe that genital mutilation does not actually help. Rather the help needs to come in finding healing from the emotional and identity confusion that has developed in a person (through no choice of their own).  I don’t deny that surgery might seem to bring about greater feelings of happiness for some (even though studies seem to show it doesn’t for most), but I think surgery doesn’t get to the root of the problems that were causing the gender confusion.  I still think the very best thing a person can do, that will bring them the most healing and happiness, is to avoid the surgery and work on accepting themselves as the sex that they truly are, and working through the struggles and emotions that go along with that.


14 comments on “No Such Thing as Transgender?

  1. blnsg922 says:

    Great article! Makes sense.


  2. Vivienne says:


    Can of worms, or ethical minefield? Take your pick.

    Let’s start with the science. If we really want to know what treatment works “best” for “transgendered” people, we need to select a study population, divide them into two groups (ideally three) randomly, assign hormones and surgery to one group, alternative treatment to another (antidepressants, cognitive behavioural therapy, whatever) and ideally no treatment at all to the third. Then follow all three groups for a few years and decide who has done best.

    There are all sorts of reasons why such an approach is likely to fail. Right at the top is the likelihood that no transgender person will willingly submit to a trial where they think they won’t get the treatment they want. So it’s common to use an alternative study design, such as historical case-control (what McHugh describes). This is a much poorer method. Nonetheless I commend McHugh for attempting to tackle this issue using the tools of science.



  3. Vivienne says:

    Now let’s look at the ethics of it all.

    In our society we consider that an ethically competent adult is the best judge of his or her own best interests. That is, they are able to reasonably foresee the consequences of their choices, reasonably weigh up those choices against one another, and make the choice or choices which they find most satisfactory.

    Supposing you are hungry, but you only have $20. Some people would buy a fast food meal. That works for a few hours. Somebody else might buy a bag of rice. Not so tasty, but likely to feed you for a couple of days longer. Somebody else might buy beer: they might prefer to drink alcohol than eat food. Somebody else might buy lottery tickets with the money, knowing they will most likely end up with nothing.

    Provided nobody breaks any laws or harms anyone else, all of the people are free to spend their $20 how they want. We as a society don’t interfere, even if we judge that a person is not acting in (what we consider to be) their own best interests.

    Now supposing a man wants to wear a frock and wig, paint his nails and strut around in high heels. Why do you do that? we ask. Because it feels good, he replies.

    Supposing he wants hormones which might make him sterile, impotent or diabetic. He accepts and understands, but wants them anyway. Do we allow him?

    Suppose he wants surgery which will permanently change his body, with its risks of infection, blood clots and the like. He understands and wants to go ahead. Do we allow him? Or do we say: nobody sane would want what you want, ergo you are insane?

    We live in a society where Jehovah’s Witnesses can refuse blood transfusions, putting their lives at risk. Should we say: nobody sane would believe that God disapproves of blood transfusion? In fact, patients can refuse any treatment, even if it costs their lives, for any reason they like.

    In some countries, genital mutilation of infants is routinely practised. I am thinking of countries like the USA, where penile circumcision remains the norm. We allow parents to willingly submit their children to the risks of anaesthesia and surgery which has absolutely no medical indication. Is that sane? I personally think not!

    Where I am going with this argument is that we already accommodate the deeply-held views of certain groups of people. Those views may sit at odds with what some doctors think is right. I happen to believe in the individual’s right to determine their own best interests and pursue them, provided it doesn’t break any laws or harm anyone else.

    How do we judge who is insane? The magnitude of “insanity” demonstrated by a man who wants to transition is no worse than the magnitude of insanity demonstrated by all sorts of people. Where do we draw the line?



  4. thorin25 says:

    Hi Vivienne. I think perhaps you misunderstood me. I don’t advocate taking away any of the freedoms transsexuals should enjoy just because I disagree with what they did. I’m saying what I think is best for them, just as you think circumcision is not best for people. But I’m not going to demand that they do what I want. Of course they have freewill.

    The only thing that matters civilly and politically, is what actions that people do that affect others. For example, Christians who have a messed up view of prayer, sometimes think that they should rely only on a miracle, and not take their sick children to a hospital (another way God uses to heal us). And then their children sometimes die. Then at that point it is good that the government intervenes against people’s private choices, because their private choices have brought harm to others.

    As far as transgenderism, it does indeed potentially affect other people if people are forced to share restrooms, locker rooms, and so on, with other people who are not truly the sex that they “identify as.” We either have to admit that this does affect people, or if it does not, then we should be arguing that having separate rooms for men and women is pointless. Can’t have it both ways.

    As to the psychiatrist, he also can do whatever he believes is right as long as it doesn’t harm other people. And I think he should be fully allowed to refuse treating someone in a way that he views as harmful to that person. Meaning he should not be forced to help a transgendered person go down the path to become a transsexual. Doing so goes against his conscience and the Hippocratic oath. People can believe and do (mostly) whatever the heck they want. But we SHOULD NOT be forced to give up our own views in order to cater to their views.

    As far as the research methodology, I would love to see what you suggest. Unfortunately as you say, it doesn’t look like that could ever happen. So as with all other studies we have to do as best we can.

    But from what I understand, as I’ve read similar things from other surveys, it is transsexuals themselves often reporting that they are no more happy after the surgery. I’d love to see more academic articles about this, or academic articles to the contrary. Would be very interesting.


  5. Bambi says:

    Hi Thorin,

    Great Article. I agree 100%”There is no such thing as Transgender”. There have been studies done,I came across them quite by accident 1 day. Then I looked for them back in the Winter and I could not find them. 😦 John Hopkins University did the studies and I believe Dr. Paul McHugh was the Dr. that did them. And YES,your understanding is 100%,the studies that I read were transsexuals themselves that were studied. And the studies showed the vast majority were “confused Cross Dressers”. (Their words,not And the findings were these men were no more happy years after surgery,than prior to surgery. And the vast majority felt that they made a mistake in transitioning. And after these studies were done John Hopkins will no longer do these surgeries to transition.

    Those studies are out there somewhere In cyper-space. I read them over a year ago,but could not find them again. The studies showed how many were studied and gave the percentage,to how many felt they made a mistake. Maybe somebody on here,will take the time and try and find them. Or not? LOL

    Hi Temptedsinner,

    I was glad to read on Dorthy’s Blog,you are giving this, 1 heck of a fight! lol My H is still fighting his own demons with this. NOBODY said this would be a walk in the park,now did they? lol I was happy to read,you are socializing more. That is 1 of the biggest ways to beat anything,stay busy,and change those thoughts. YOU truly are an Inspiration to all out there. And remember that,when those wicked thoughts come into play! lol

    Thorin, this Blog Is an Inspiration to others,just knowing there are others to give this 1 heck of a fight!

    May God Bless All Of You Through This Journey



  6. Vivienne says:

    Hi Thorin,

    I am not accusing you of attempting to suppress anyone’s human rights. But I am taking issue with the statement “there is no such thing as transgender”.

    No doctor should be compelled to offer treatment which goes against their own ethics. A common example is termination of pregnancy. On the other hand, where that treatment is legal, doctors are compelled to facilitate a patient seeking another doctor who is willing to offer the treatment. I have read the book “Duties of a doctor” published by the General Medical Council in the UK.

    Why do people always bring it back to bathrooms?? My local coffee shop just has a row of stalls, which can be used by men or women. What’s the matter with that?

    This discussion does focus on rights and responsibilities. If I have a right, that automatically creates a responsibility in others to facilitate (or at least not infringe) that right. I have a right to life: that means you have a responsibility to not kill me. All this works pretty well, until we get to points where rights come into conflict. As a doctor I would have a responsibility to preserve life, which may come into conflict with my responsibility to support my patient’s freedom to reject my treatment, even if that causes their life to be shortened. So some rights must be prioritised over others. How do we do that? Not by saying the problem doesn’t exist, that’s for sure!

    I am strongly with you that this whole area needs much more hard science, even if its conclusions are uncomfortable, rather than the wishful-thinking flag-waving which is so prevalent currently.



  7. thorin25 says:

    Thanks Bambi for the encouragement! And good thoughts Vivienne, more things for us to ponder. Complicated stuff.


  8. Ralph says:

    When I was still struggling to understand why I do what I do, I considered the possibility that I was “a woman trapped in a man’s body”. I can’t claim that the thought processes I had in any way resemble those that others have experienced, but for what it’s worth here’s how it looks now in retrospect:
    1. I have personality and physical traits (prefer wearing dresses, high empathy for others, fear confrontation, emotionally sensitive, weak, uncoordinated) that make me different from “normal” men.
    2. Society considers those traits acceptable in a woman
    3. Therefore, I must really be a woman

    Fortunately life events intervened (or, from my point of view, God intervened even though I had not been on speaking terms with him for ages) and I discovered over time that I really enjoy being a man, even if my way of expressing myself is not how other men express themselves.

    Anyway, I wonder if that’s what leads people to believe they are a transgendered soul — society says the things I do are for women, therefore I must be a woman.

    Discuss amongst yourselves.


  9. Vivienne says:

    Hey Ralph. As always, you provide an interesting perspective.

    You might be right, that some men indeed think this way. It may be they are ultimately mistaken. But that’s a far cry from saying “there is no such thing as transgender”.

    If we accept there are two genders, we must accept there are people who don’t quite fit into one or other category; just as we accept there are two sexes, but there are people who don’t quite fit into one or the other.

    In the 18th century Salpetriere neurological hospital in Paris, the finest in the world at the time, the French neurologists divided epilepsy into two categories: the “grand mal” and the “petit mal” (the “big bad” and the “little bad”). Although those terms are decades out of date, they have shown themselves to be remarkably persistent in popular culture. Why don’t medics still use the terms? Because they are a crude description of what happens, as seen from the outside. Epilepsy has been studied very carefully, and we know there are several main types, with distinct subtypes within.

    It’s fine for a scientist to say “well, we used to talk about grand mal and petit mal, but that’s no longer useful terminology for us. Instead we prefer terms like tonic-clonic, absence, complex partial, or myoclonic to describe different types of seizure”. That, to me is much more like what a scientist would say, than “there is no such thing as grand mal and petit mal”.



  10. thorin25 says:

    Well Vivienne, to be fair the psychiatrist did say something like that. Firstly we only have short quotes that the article added that he said. But even with just those quotes he says there is no such thing as transgender and goes on to describe what the feelings are that so called transgender people are experiencing. It’s just about exactly the same as your example.


  11. Ralph says:

    The key to understanding whether there are some (biological) men and women who don’t fit into neat gender categories brings us back to the old question of what exactly it means, apart from the plumbing, to be male or female. Leaving aside the plumbing (and with it the complicated life of the intersexed), are there any traits which are absolutely, definitively, attributed to being male or female? The makers of those idiotic tests like COGIATI and SAGE would like us to believe so — you are more likely to be branded male or female depending on whether you can locate the direction a sound is coming from or evaluate the mood based on a facial expression or prefer literature vs. science. But how much of that is science and how much is a social construct? Is a guy who likes show tunes and wears a lot of pink more female because that’s in his nature, or because society tells him those are things that are expected of a woman?


  12. Vivienne says:

    Hi Thorin,

    I know that the media likes to condense scientific nuance into black and white soundbites, partly because they think that the general public is too stupid to appreciate any more subtlety. I see this happen time and time again.

    On the other hand, if you knew that the argument was presented in a more even-handed way (e.g. in the manner I describe), why didn’t you personally take this approach?



  13. Vivienne says:

    Hi Ralph,

    I think you are absolutely right. There is no absolute standard against which we can define “masculinity” or “femininity”. We can only say that most men are masculine, and most women feminine. And different patterns of behaviour are the norms in different countries (e.g. in continental Europe, it’s common for men to kiss one another on the cheek when they meet, though as a Brit, I naturally prefer a firm handshake at a full arm’s length distance!).

    I think it is impossible for us to tease out the intrinsic preferences of people from their societal upbringing. For example, I was brought up to support a certain football team. Every one in my family supported them. Now, with the perspective of distance, I can see that they are just a bunch of guys wearing shirts that are the same colour. Intellectually it matters not a whit whether they win or lose against another bunch of guys wearing shirts of a different colour. And I do not know what position they are at in the league, what victories they have won, and I haven’t been to a game in almost 30 years. And yet… when I hear they have won a game (by catching some snippet on TV or online), part of me still celebrates a tiny bit. Is that innate? Of course not. Has it gone away? No.

    Football is one example where I can clearly say: team preferences are not innate, but learned. On the other hand, many, many more of my proclivities are nowhere near this transparent. Crossdressing seems to be innate, but perhaps this expression is a reaction to pressures of upbringing which are now lost to memory.

    What makes a man, a man? Nobody can answer with certainty.



  14. thorin25 says:

    Vivienne, I thought I did take that approach. I said there are people with those feelings, and didn’t deny that reality.


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