From Across the Dressing Room A Different Story May be Emerging


I am not sure why I am entering into this transgender discussion. I do not want to be seen as phobic, unloving or not accepting of people with differences. We all have our issues and we have choices to make. The freedoms that protect me and my choices should be extended to others to make their own choices – as long as they are not hurting other people.

Freedoms that go too far are like a snake eating its own tail. I do not know whether the whole transgender thing fits into that category, but I think we need to be cautious as a society about what we champion. Not everything we want to do is good for “us” or the people influenced by our freedom to pursue and promote what we want. Every parent knows this.

I have carefully avoided any comments or allowing myself to reach any conclusions about the Bruce Jenner/Caitlin Jenner media parade. It is not just the transgender aspect of this media circus, but the media circus, itself, that I try to avoid. People pandering for the media are seeking attention for all the wrong reasons, and people who feed off of it are feeding the beast for all of the same reasons.

What caught my attention, however, was a piece that I have not seen widely distributed: Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution, reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal. It is a piece by Paul McHugh – Dr. Paul McHugh, the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. While every media outlet known to man is tripping over themselves to be on the acceptance train to sing the praises of Caitlin Jenner’s courageous fight to be happy, Dr. McHugh is singing a different song.

He says that promoting transgender surgery may be the worst thing we can do, not for society, but for the people who struggle with transgender identity issues. For one thing, two studies he cites (by Vanderbilt University and London Portman Clinic) indicate that 70% to 80% of children who report transgender feelings lose those feelings over time. We should not be quick to push them down the transgender road he says.

But obviously, transgender feelings do not dissolve over time for a significant segment of society. (Not knowing the numbers, I nevertheless assume that any number of people who wrestle with transgender issues is significant and should not be brushed aside.) As to this segment of the population whose transgender feelings are more permanent, Dr. McHugh makes the startling revelation that transgender surgery has been shown to be ineffective in providing a long-term, positive resolution for a large segment of that population.

Dr. McHugh cites a Swedish study that tracked 324 transgender surgery patients over a 30 year span. Among the findings is a 20-fold increase in suicide mortality compared to the regular population. The surgery, he implies, is just a band aid that masks a deeper and more serious problem that is a mental disorder that should be understood and treated. The changes on the outside do not deal with the realities on the inside with which people with transgender identity issues struggle.

I do not want to be judgmental or unkind toward anyone who suffers with feelings of gender confusion, knowing full well that they likely also suffer from callous, bullying and insensitive actions and words of people who are not loving, compassionate or kind. At the same time, I am concerned that we are setting people up for failure by enabling thinking and behavior that is ultimately going to compound the pain they live with while they are being told that the road they are on will make them happy.

At a minimum, we need to be cautious. Quashing vigorous discussion that includes a contrary view and concern for the propriety and effectiveness of counseling, treatments and even surgery in the name of blind tolerance and acceptance is short-sighted. Casting aside ideological positions, we may be doing this population of transgendered feeling individuals a real disservice.

I am not the one to say one way or the other, but I can see that ideological bents pose a danger of side-tracking the exploration of alternate and varied treatment options that may prove more effective and beneficial to the individuals who struggle with transgender feelings. Ideological bents should not drive science, and there is enough science to suggest that transgender surgery may not be the most beneficial treatment – at least not for everyone.

While I have seen some dismiss Dr. McHugh out of hand, it is not insignificant that he was the chief psychiatrist at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Johns Hopkins championed and pioneered transgender surgery beginning in the 1950’s. The early studies and experimentation with transgender surgery by Dr. John Money and others was not without controversy, including horrific failure.  The story of David Reimer who was born biologically male, but was raised female at the advice of Dr. Money after a botched circumcision, is a case in point.

Before we push the transgender cart very much further down the societal road, we should really take pause. Yes, we should be tolerant, understanding and accepting of people who struggle with transgender feelings. We should treat others as we would want to be treated. That might mean, however, that we do not blindly endorse, promote and praise the benefits of transgender surgery. It might well not be as beneficial as we think it is. In fact, there is good evidence it is not.

I leave you with another piece written by a man, Walt Heyer, who lived for eight years as a Laura Jensen after undergoing sex change surgery. He relates his experience in “Sex Change” Surgery: What Bruce Jenner, Diane Sawyer, and You Should Know. He summarizes the history of the “transgender movement”, including the involvement of Dr. Money and Dr. McHugh at Johns Hopkins, and the dark corners of that history that tell a different story than the heroic, happy story of Caitlin Jenner. Of course, that story is only just being written.

Laura Jenner is now (again) Walt Heyer. Speaking of heroic, he says this of his own transgender transformation: “Eventually, I gathered the courage to admit that the surgery had fixed nothing—it only masked and exacerbated deeper psychological problems. The deception and lack of transparency I experienced in the 1980s still surround gender change surgery today. For the sake of others who struggle with gender dysphoria, I cannot remain silent.”

From across the dressing room a different story may be emerging, and pain and misery is lurking in the closet. For many reasons, the Bruce/Caitlin Jenner story has taken off into the stratosphere of attention. It is the darling of the tolerance movement and signifies a changing tide in which a majority of society now lauds the differences of the most marginal of our kind. Embracing all people with love and acceptance for each person’s unique person hood is a very good thing. Do not get me wrong. But, in our rush to embrace our differences we may be setting the table for tremendous misery and pain made all the more hurtful by the false promise it offers.

One thought on “From Across the Dressing Room A Different Story May be Emerging

  1. Reblogged this on Perspective and commented:

    This piece I wrote in the midst of the Bruce Jenner public metamorphosis into Caitlin Jenner continues to be relevant, if not swept aside. I am reminded of these thoughts as I finished reading An African American Woman Reflects on the Transgender Movement. She says things beautifully that I did not even consider, and some things I could not say with the same integrity. I am confident that we come from the same, human, place and have the same concerns for what we, as a society, are doing to people who need our compassion. Having compassion is only a start. Compassion misguided can be just as damaging as a lack of compassion. Misguided compassion is even more insidious, as it sells false hope. Worse than a harmless but benign huckster’s elixir, the compassion that offers a remedy that may be more like opium in a toothpaste may just do more harm than good.

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