The U.S. Supreme Court hears a landmark case on gender identity and sex Tuesday, in oral arguments for R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. James Shupe offered his perspective in an amicus brief for that case.
The following is an interview between me and Shupe, who made waves for being the first “legally non-binary person” in the United States. Shupe achieved clarity through therapy, and returned to life as his birth sex even though the LGBT community shunned him. He’s begun to share his story and speak out against the dangers of transgender medicine.
In 2016, an Oregon circuit court ruled Shupe could change his gender to nonbinary, the first legal ruling of his kind. LGBT activists lauded it as a landmark decision that now plagues Shupe.
Here’s a closer look at his experience living as the opposite sex, regretting it, returning to live as his birth sex, and becoming a vocal opponent of transgender medicine altogether. This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
For readers who may be unaware of your journey, describe why you decided to become the “first legally non-binary person” in the United States?
I experienced a major mental health crisis at age 49. I began researching psychiatric issues on the internet. It didn’t take very long for me to stumble upon gender identity disorder, transgenderism, and transsexualism.
At first, I was skeptical that I could actually be a female based on this newly discovered thing called “gender identity,” something I’d never heard of before because I’d always understood myself to be a male. But numerous medical and media articles describing mental health issues disappearing after undergoing a gender transition quickly convinced me that I was a woman and that transition would fix me. I also discovered the Department of Veterans Affairs had a newly launched transgender medical care program [that] erased all of my doubts completely.
At the time, I was especially vulnerable to being duped into believing that I was actually a female trapped in a male body despite not feeling like one for two reasons. 1) I had fragile mental health and was desperate for a cure. 2) During my military career, I’d often cross-dressed for sexual pleasure and had an attraction for men while dressed as a woman, a problem I’d acted out on during several occasions.
So this newly discovered information about being a female because of gender identity based on “feeling like a woman” was a much more palatable explanation for what I had previously understood my behavior to be per military regulations: transvestism.
So, armed with this new information and false beliefs about myself, I immediately began identifying as a transgender woman, mimicking the role of a stereotypical female, and taking female hormones. I also planned to undergo a vaginoplasty surgery to have my penis cosmetically reshaped into a vagina. I was born in 1963, so I’m older than the theory of gender identity, a term first used for transsexuals in 1966 when John Hopkins opened their gender clinic.
Unfortunately, all of this turned out to be delusional thinking. By the end of the charade, I’d come to the realization that my sex change was a failure and a hoax and by then I was just as desperate to escape being legally classified as female as I was previously was to solve my mental health problems.
After a good-faith period of participation in the grand gender experiment, I came to believe the whole thing was smoke and mirrors, complete quackery. By then I knew I wasn’t a female and like others before me, I had similarly discovered by trial and error that changing your sex is impossible. You could say that becoming non-binary gave me the means to save face and as a byproduct, I became famous for doing so.
What does it mean to become non-binary?
Like everything else with gender, non-binary is a made-up term. It’s a “catch-all” terminology for all of the transgender identities that fall outside of male and female. It can mean anything from you think of yourself as transmasculine or transfeminine, or neither male or female, or even a combination of the two.
How long did it take before you realized your quest to become non-binary was actually a result of trauma?
It wasn’t until late 2018 and early 2019 after two psychiatric hospitalizations that I was able to face up to the truth about myself and my sexual behaviors. Once I was willing to do that, I became familiarized with what Dr. Ray Blanchard had correctly theorized about men like me decades ago: that I am sexually attracted and aroused by the idea of myself as a female.
Dr. Blanchard claims there are two types of transgender women: homosexuals attracted to men, and men who are attracted to the thought or image of themselves as females. The latter is the most prominent population group in western countries, and sadly that’s the motivation for all of these middle-aged men such as myself who begin to believe they are women after what’s essentially a sexual fetish has been undiagnosed, gone untreated, or been misdiagnosed as gender dysphoria, and has then escalated and developed into an alter ego female personality.
First, my sexual behaviors were a coping mechanism for my very painful mental health issues that were rooted in the trauma of my childhood sexual abuse as well as violence I’d experienced and witnessed. Second, I was also now feeding what had become an escalating sexual addiction that was being fueled by pornography and yet another sexual paraphilia I’d developed: masochism. Experts in these fields of expertise state that sexual paraphilias are often comorbid and I agree.
Who bears the blame for your transition? You? Your doctors?
I’ve gotten feedback that insinuates that I got exactly what I asked for from my medical providers during my two gender transitions. But the truth is my doctors and mental health professionals bear significant blame, because the work of Blanchard and others on autogynephilia was published all the way back in the 1980s, yet most psychologists and psychiatrists either know nothing about it or intentionally chose ignorance. It’s framed as an unpopular diagnosis.
When I confronted my caregivers at the VA that had rubber-stamped me with gender dysphoria instead of a sexual paraphilia and asked to be reevaluated, their response was to fire me as a patient and then claim that they had no experience treating sexual paraphilias. However, the VA has already done studies explaining why people like me are acting out sexually but the folks treating me didn’t put two and two together. Instead, they fed and enabled the delusion that I was a woman, making them the most culpable.
Describe when and how you realized you needed to “de-transition.”
Becoming non-binary was like redoing the whole gender experiment all over again with different parameters and then getting the same outcome. I didn’t stop taking hormones and by then I had an even bigger mess to walk back because I was no longer a relatively obscure transgender woman. I now had international fame associated with the landmark court decision to cope with, making reclaiming my birth sex much more difficult.
But admitting and accepting the truth about myself gave me the strength to reclaim my male birth sex. And after I did, I began treatment for my correct diagnosis: a transvestic disorder with autogynephilia.
What does “de-transitioning” feel like? Is there a feeling of loss? Anger? Relief? Is it harder than transitioning?
There was no sense of loss and it’s certainly easier than transitioning because you’re not fighting against your biological reality, societal pushback, and forcing others to indulge your delusion.
I do have plenty of anger about having been medically experimented on by people with advanced degrees who should have known better, leaving me feeling duped about having fallen for the quack theory that I have a gender identity. I now realize that I don’t.
I was falsely led by mental health practitioners to believe that my feelings decided my sex, but that’s neither scientific, measurable, nor enduring because my feelings can and have changed. I’ve come to realize and accept that the only thing capable of reliably grounding me to reality is my male chromosomes and reproductive system.
All of this legal fiction and outright fraud has indeed left me very bitter and angry. I want the people who have caused me physical and mental harm held accountable for their actions and roles in the medical experimentation that was perpetrated against me.
Do you believe most people who have decided they are transgender would have been better off remaining their biological sex?
Yes, I believe everyone would be better off being recognized solely as their biological sex. The medical procedures being touted as “gender transitions,” if they work at all, are in fact nothing more than cosmetic changes to people’s bodies. I’m proof of that.
But here’s the biggest thing: even if you could somehow argue the medical treatments are legitimate hormonal and surgical procedures, lying to the patient about being another sex based on the pseudoscience of gender identity and forcing everyone else to play along is nothing short of medical malpractice and legal fiction.
How did you decide to go from a non-binary person who has de-transitioned to somewhat of a public critic? Is your personal story well received?
First and foremost I had to do so because people were continuing to use my court decision to put more and more non-binary sex markers on state driver’s licenses, and they were also continuing to write about my court case in academic and legal journals. And this was occurring against a backdrop of readily available information on the internet, my Wikipedia page, and on my personal website explaining that I had reclaimed my birth sex. Some of these folks were intentionally casting me in a false light to advance gender ideology.
What are your expectations for the case SCOTUS is about to hear, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as it relates to your personal journey? Should gender identity be protected under the law like sex?
I think the justices will rule in favor of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes and protect religious freedom because the male plaintiff, who claims to be a female is, in my opinion, the exact same thing as I am: A cross-dressing man that is sexually aroused by the image of himself as a woman. I sincerely believe that he and I both suffer from a transvestic disorder and with what Dr. Blanchard refers to as autogynephilia.
While I believe that autogynephilia is a mental health problem worthy of treatment and compassion, based on my experience I think it’s unworthy of public or employment accommodation, even if it has progressed to gender dysphoria.
Like myself, because the man in the case who now identifies as a woman’s transvestic disorder has apparently gone untreated for probably decades, and because quack theories about gender have been allowed to proliferate and infiltrate society and law, his sexual identity problem has apparently gotten so out of control that he now believes he’s a female. That’s unfortunate, but he’s not a woman and neither was I. So I feel the Supreme Court needs to set the nation straight about that in order to protect females and religious freedom.
We need to quit wasting so much time and resources and return to a clear-cut definition of biological sex because a lot of children are now being harmed by gender ideology too. As to whether gender should be protected under the law? The answer is no, because it’s based on nothing more than personal feelings, perceptions, stereotypes, and pseudoscience.