The New York Post recently reported on a disturbing story of a woman in North Carolina who had herself blinded by a psychologist because she felt she was meant to be blind. This isn’t as unique a phenomenon as we would like to believe. In the psychiatric world, Body Integrity Identity Disorder describes this condition, where people believe they are meant to have a disability. This leads many to live a transable lifestyle, where either they simulate disability or intentionally become disabled.
Transablism has not reached the same level of cultural acceptance as its more respected cousin, transgenderism, but it is not clear why. When we accept the basic arguments in favor of transgenderism we are more or less forced to accept the arguments for transablism as well. In both cases, individuals claim their physical condition does not match their psychological reality. In both cases, individuals claim they have a right to determine their own identity. And in both cases, acceptance and inclusion is demanded of society at large.
These claims also hold true for another controversial trans identity. Transracialism has in the cases of Rachel Dolezal and Shaun King thrust race into the same murky trans waters as gender and disability. It is tempting to treat the gender-bending of the traditional trans movement as the gateway drug that leads to transablism and transracialism, but in fact all three are rooted in the same seminal shift in social values. It portends the erosion of almost all moral standards.
Social Construct Versus Inherent Identity
Although some biological and physicalist tweaks have emerged in recent years, the basic concept behind transgenderism remains that gender, unlike sex, is a social construct. In essence, this means that a person’s gender identity is not an a priori, inherent aspect of their being, but rather the culmination of society’s attitudes toward gender, which are always shifting. Of course, if gender is simply a social construct, then so are disability and race, which are also defined by society.
When we ask who is white and who is black, we must define those terms, and in the case of mixed or indeterminate racial makeups biology offers no simple answers. The same is true with disability. When a child is diagnosed with a learning disability, for example, the decision whether to prescribe drugs is based on social norms, not any inherent threat to the child’s health. But constructing social norms is not, first and foremost, about conferring identity. It is about social interaction and the distribution of resources.
This is the vital point. When we say that gender, ability, or race are social constructs rather than inherent qualities, we are not saying anything about ourselves. The trans person is not saying, “This is what I am.” The trans person is saying, “This is how society should treat me.” This causes all kinds of issues to arise in public policy. Should a person who blinds himself because he feels blindness is his identity get the same benefits as those born without sight? Should a person who identifies as black get preferential treatment in college admissions? Should a transwoman-owned business be eligible for government set-asides?
We Want Public Benefits
We often hear that no trans person would go through the emotional trauma involved with transition for these meager benefits. That may be true. But the demands trans people make on society go well beyond government and legal benefits. As noted above, social constructs are mainly about how people interact with each other. In the case of the transabled, transition comes with the extra care and concern society bestows upon the disabled. It also grants them a specialness.
In the case of transgenderism, transition comes with an expectation of being treated more or less gently, or to pursue or be pursued by a different kind of sexual partner. In the case of transracialism, transition can minimize or erase the stain of privilege some people feel, or conversely allow one to navigate the dominant culture more easily.
These transitions are never about how one feels in regard to themselves, but always expressed as a demand to be treated a certain way by society at large. This reflects a wider cultural change in the West over the past half-century. A culture of narcissism has emerged, in which society exists primarily to make us happy. In the world of participation trophies, gender fluidity, and sensitivity training, society is no longer molding us; we are molding it. We no longer ask what we can contribute to society, we demand that society contribute to our well-being.
Our Culture of Narcissism
It would be wrong and unfair to paint trans movements as a cause of the culture of narcissism. They are, rather, glaring symptoms. For decades we have been taught that the best way to love others is to love ourselves, that anything we want or feel is alright and society just has to accept it. We tell adults in their twenties not to get married, not to have kids, not to tie themselves down with outmoded social mores. We urge them to think about themselves above all else. Our transitory lifestyles have broken down old social systems of communities, churches, and social clubs.
We have been left with an isolating world of flickering screens and people we pretend to know. We can, if we choose (and most of us do), insulate ourselves against ideas that bother or offend us. Shakespeare said “there is nothing good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” But he didn’t say “there is nothing good nor bad but my personal opinion makes it so.” This is the world we now inhabit. These are the wages of mid-twentieth-century existentialism that have left us adrift in a society with very few moral boundaries. Even pedophilia finds its champions in the respected media. Given our current circumstances, why not?
Throughout human history there has been one institution that tries to counterbalance the decadence and self-interest natural to human beings. Our religions have served as imperfect models of proper behavior, of responsibility to others over responsibility to ourselves. Unique to religion is its absolutism, and the duty to a power beyond ourselves.
Mitigating Our Selfishness
As Marx rightfully pointed out, that duty can be and often is misused by those with religious authority. But for all its faults, from suicide bombings to pederast priests, religion gave our societies a basic foundation for good and evil, and a profound responsibility to our fellow man. The baby we have thrown out with the bathwater of religion is our own decency. So far, we have absolutely nothing to replace it with.
Trans movements and arguments of orientation remove responsibility for our actions from our own shoulders. Every person is simply who they are. And it is no longer our job to fit into society for the betterment of others, it is society’s job to fit us in and make us happy. The appeal of this narcissist culture is obvious. Our errors and transgressions are no longer our fault, but merely manifestations of a repressive social model. Everything we are or do is right, has to be right, because it is a true expression of ourselves.
In the grand scheme of things, trans movements are trivial results of this culture of narcissism. Although they speak to the core of who we are, they are not biggest problems we face in a world with no more right and wrong. Our biggest problems are fathers who no longer feel a duty to their children, well-off citizens who are disconnected from the plight of the poor, and even madmen who shoot up schools in bizarre and tragic expressions of victimhood and isolation.
It is difficult to cast a cold eye on our current culture and fail to see deep sickness. It is even more difficult to imagine a cure. But as we stare into an abyss of a G-dless future in which hedonism and personal preference replace a duty to each other, we had better start trying.