Article – Surgical Sex

I know that Paul R. McHugh has received a lot of criticism, but I find him to be persuasive and this is a powerful statement by him on sex reassignment surgery – Surgical Sex.   He talks about how performing surgery for those with transgender feelings was cooperating with mental illness rather than treating it.

The first paragraph is perhaps the most powerful –

When the practice of sex-change surgery first emerged back in the early 1970s, I would often remind its advocating psychiatrists that with other patients, alcoholics in particular, they would quote the Serenity Prayer, “God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Where did they get the idea that our sexual identity (“gender” was the term they preferred) as men or women was in the category of things that could be changed?


He also makes some interesting points here:

The subjects before the surgery struck me as even more strange, as they struggled to convince anyone who might influence the decision for their surgery. First, they spent an unusual amount of time thinking and talking about sex and their sexual experiences; their sexual hungers and adventures seemed to preoccupy them. Second, discussion of babies or children provoked little interest from them; indeed, they seemed indifferent to children. But third, and most remarkable, many of these men-who-claimed-to-be-women reported that they found women sexually attractive and that they saw themselves as “lesbians.” When I noted to their champions that their psychological leanings seemed more like those of men than of women, I would get various replies, mostly to the effect that in making such judgments I was drawing on sexual stereotypes.

This gets at what we as a society think it means to be “man” or “woman.”  People on many sides of this transgender argument talk about gender stereotypes.  A transgender man may tell me he feels gentle and sensitive and that’s part of his “real” female identity, and I would just tell him those are gender stereotypes and you can be a gentle and sensitive man.  But in the paragraph above, gender stereotypes are used in a different way.  It is pointed out that transsexuals don’t exhibit many of the gender stereotypes actually common to women, such as desire for children and less interest (not no interest) in sex compared to men.  Do I, does Paul McHugh, do transsexuals, do we all just pick and choose what stereotypes we think are essential or most important in what it means to be a woman?   For transsexuals, it does appear that this is what they are doing, since they are basing their decisions not on biology, but only on stereotypes.  Yet it seem they are conveniently ignoring those stereotypes about women that they do not even come close to fitting.  I, on the other hand, think that biology determines whether we are a man or woman, not conformity to certain stereotypes, thus it makes sense for me to say that someone can be a man, physically, even if he does not conform to all the stereotypes about men, (such as he might be gentle and sensitive).   I don’t think I am being inconsistent on the issue of gender stereotypes, but it appears that transsexuals are indeed doing so and I think, (while I have compassion for them and understand how they feel), that they are deluding themselves.

The rest of the article gives good background information and history, covering much of the same ground as Bailey’s book – The Man who would be Queen.


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