At The National Post today, there is an absolutely insane piece about a tiny group of people who want to cut off parts of their body or live as disabled people despite being physically fine.
This is not a parody or Clickhole or anything like that. You may have seen this disorder on Nip/Tuck or another TV show and thought it was a made-up thing, but it is not a made up thing. It’s a real thing.
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.
People like Jason have been classified as ‘‘transabled’’ — feeling like imposters in their bodies, their arms and legs in full working order.
“We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,” says Alexandre Baril, a Quebec born academic who will present on “transability” at this week’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa. “The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It’s a really, really strong desire.”
Transability, known to medicine and psychology as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) (First 2004; Stirn, Thiel, and Oddo 2009), is the need of a person identified as able-bodied by others to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment/disability (henceforth “disability”). While many transabled people say they suffer from BIID, other individuals with this need self-identify as “transabled”, a term coined by O’Connor, the transabled activist who started transabled.org (Davis 2012, 435). Following many activists’ usage, I use the terms “transabled/transability” and, like other disability studies authors who criticize the limits of the social model of disability and the dichotomy between impairment and disability (Wendell 1996; Davis 2010), use these terms interchangeably, favouring “disability”. Transabled people wish to become deaf, blind, have limbs amputated, or acquire other disabilities. Driven by this desire, a significant number effect these transitions themselves using firearms, deep burns, and other methods. Many transabled people claim to be “trapped in the wrong body”. They see themselves as disabled individuals whose bodies do not reflect what they feel and assert that they suffer not only from an identity disorder and emotional distress – dysphoria caused by differences between the physical body and body image often compared to the experience of transgender/transsexual people (henceforth “trans”) – but also from significant forms of stigmatization.
I don’t think there’s a one for one comparison here between being transgender and being transabled – wanting to live as a younger, attractive version of the opposite sex makes a lot more sense than wanting to live like a paraplegic. For trans people who enjoy dressing up like the opposite sex, there’s a certain logic to it, even if it’s a logic that can be unhealthy or (sadly) self-destructive.
But does anyone think the body modification part of this story is not the disturbed actions of people suffering from serious mental illness? And this raises other troublesome questions: Is wanting to cut off certain essential body parts reasonable, while wanting to cut off others isn’t? Is self-mutilation something that we ought to hail as courageous and brave, but cutting yourself as a teenager problematic? Cutting your genitalia is good, but cutting off your hand isn’t? What if you are really into pirate cosplay and need that peg leg or hook hand to make things complete? Is it okay to say you’re mentally disturbed and need therapy and should probably try skipping Comicon, or is that a hate crime yet? (Yarrrrr.)
We probably (probably!) won’t be seeing Annie Leibovitz photoshoots for any of these poor people any time soon. The Caitlyn Jenner photos the other day have sparked all sorts of conversation about the depiction of trans people – particularly older men who now want to be viewed and depicted as much younger, attractive women (for what it’s worth, my primary reaction to the Jenner photos is that I prefer my propaganda to be more subtle – this is as obvious as setting Julie Andrews on fire, as John Cleese used to say). Jenner has just tried to look beautiful, in the way many people on magazine covers do. But there is no amount of Photoshop that will put someone’s hand back on their body or reattach a severed leg… or anything else. When it comes to self-butchery, where’s the line between sane and insane?
Future readers, forgive my thoughtcrime. I recognize that rejecting the transabled as completely mental is never going to be a sustainable position in a society where body modification is just another choice. As Ayn Rand wrote, “The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other — until one day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology.” Be sure to reserve your dolphinoplasty today.