The transgender and the subject of human essence


Leandro Castelluccio

(Image obtained from: link)

Frequently in debates an argument is used, mostly by right-wing intellectuals or figures of the conservative political spectrum, against the validity of conceiving oneself as a man or a woman indistinctly of gender or sex conceived by others or that given by one’s own body. Here I will talk about transgender and transsexual in the same sense, as people who identify with the opposite sex to the one assigned biologically by the genitals or chromosomes or by the gender considered by others. I understand that there are differences conceived with respect to transexuality and being transgender, although there seems to be a relationship, since transexuality can be considered as the conviction of a person who identifies with the opposite gender to the one according to their biological sex while when we talk about being transgender we refer to the fact of not identifying with the gender assigned to oneself, that which would be imposed by others (as it is usually affirmed) by one’s external image, and as this image depends on biological sexual characteristics, one thing it is not disconnected from the other. But the issue here is not to discuss these aspects, although it should be noted (given what I will discuss below), that to talk about biological sex in terms of genitalia or physical appearance is somewhat reductionist, because there are other biological components that determine our sexual identity

The argument goes as follows: if a person identifies himself as a woman when biologically is a man (either by the genitals or chromosomes), the same could be applied to a multitude of things with which one could identify oneself, the issue is that what one thinks or feels that one is does not change what in fact one really is. Thus, I could identify myself with a person of one meter ninety (6’3′) and believe that I have that height, I can think or feel that this is so, this does not change the fact that in reality my height is lower and that I am not that tall. This would be like an objectivist or anti-subjectivist position, where it is asserted that reality is what it is regardless of what I think or feel it is. In such a case, my opinions or beliefs do not make or create reality, rather reality exists as something independent that one in any case fails to correctly identify, in the case of transexuality, people mistakenly identify themselves as male or female, and it is argued consequently, that the fact they do so does not validate that they ought to be considered as really men or women according to what they think they are. This discourse is frequently used, as I mentioned, by conservative right-wing figures to a greater extent in the debate as to whether we should consider or treat as men or women persons of the opposite sex, just because they consider themselves to be men or women. This has repercussions in discussions about how we should treat transexual or transgender people, from how we call these people, to how the law considers them.

I am not right-wing or left-wing person, I simply mention that this is usually an argument used by figures of that political spectrum, some examples include Ben Shapiro and Ryan T. Anderson, this last one author of the book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment”which seems to have caused a lot of debate and rejection in the LGBT community, and while the above seems to be a good argument, deep down this has nothing to do with the issue of subjectivism or objectivism, and is itself a bad and misleading argument. The problem I would say comes from our cultural tendency to separate body and mind or body and spirit, perhaps more in our Western culture than in other cultures, where in turn, in this case, it seems that metaphysically we give priority to the physical or body versus the mental dimension and we let that be what determines the gender of a person. But mind and body are actually integrated aspects of a whole that makes the human being, and it is a mistake to give priority to the sex organs or chromosomes and say that this is what determines the gender, because gender also has a mental component, what one thinks and feels deeply that one is as a person, which can not be separated or be left aside. Transgender people feel deeply that they are of the opposite sex and this is manifested in their traits and behavior, and they feel this because there are evidently aspects or mental components that are part of one’s identity that go beyond the physical corporal aspects.

Nowadays, the interrelation between mind and matter is not completely clear, the human being is an integrated whole, but in this case there is not even a need to discuss this issue, because we can talk about the neuronal aspects of functioning as what makes our mental dimension, and what a person feels he or she is, depends on neuronal qualities as well as hormonal aspects, both during development, as of normal day to day functioning, that we do not know completely how they are integrated, and that determine what the person feels that it is in terms of gender, aspects that are physical in themselves. So in the face of the question of whether I identify with someone of one meter ninety, if I did, that it does not make me of a meter ninety, I can also ask such a question from the side of the mental dimension, with equal validity.

Let us suppose then the imaginary situation of transferring a person’s consciousness, in the sense of all his memories, mental capacities, aspects related to his self and his identity, etc., to a different organism, such as a cat or a dog, if a person suddenly wakes up in the body of a cat but keeping all his mental qualities and identity except the difference that his body is no longer his but that of a cat, does that person stop being who he is? If you still internally feel and think you are the person you are, regardless of whether your consciousness has been transferred to the body of a cat, we could not say that the person is actually a cat, the person still exists and in any case is now trapped in the body of a cat, the fact that it does not identify with the cat is not a problem of objectivity, it is a matter of fact that in its subjective mental dimension that cat is actually a person, and the fact that it has a cat body does not make  now the person a cat. The same could be said of transgender people, the fact that they do not identify themselves with the biological sex does not change the fact that internally and subjectively they are of the other sex. We could perfectly make the analogy following the previous example of the cat, that transexual or transgender people are men or women in a body of the opposite sex.

Considering the mental dimension is crucial, since identity does not refer exclusively to the physical-corporeal aspect but also to other biological matters at the neuronal level for example, that make the gender that one internally feels it is. But since the human being is an integrated being, we must not fall into what is the question of the essence of the human being, that is, what it makes in essence a person male or female, since if we say that a person is a man or a woman based on what they feel they are, we now put aside the physical-corporal aspect, and this is something important, otherwise transgender people would not try to look externally like the opposite sex. Much of what we are mentally refers to body aspects, in any case we can say that the human being presents a multitude of facets in physical and mental dimensions that are interrelated in ways that we still do not fully understand, and that whenever we seek to define the essence we can leave aside important aspects that make the human being, or we can fall into the error of hierarchizing the metal or the physical and give greater importance to one thing above the other. Many times it has been discussed what makes a person such, for example when discussing the issue of abortion, what it is that makes a fetus be considered a person, or when the fetus begins to be considered a person and have rights, and here we talk about what it is that makes the human being such, what is its essence, and I think that the search for that answer has come to separate the human being in different skills, if it reasons, thinks, feels, remembers, is aware, etc. And this ends up fragmenting the human being into dimensions that are in fact part of a whole.

What I am proposing here regarding the subjective dimension of our identity is not a minor issue, and it has moral and ethical connotations, since in the case of transexualityit is usually posed how to integrate what people feel they are and their physical body, and we come to the issues of operations, aesthetic surgeries, hormonal treatments, etc., if we were to say in our in imaginary example that the correct thing would be for the person who is now in the body of a cat to identify with himself with the cat and not with his person, and to end up behaving and feeling like a cat, we would hardly say that this is ethical or moral. Imagine now that there is a drug that could make a transgender person identify him or herself with his or her physical sex, and internally felt that he or she is male or female according to his or her physical sex and behave according to typical features of these sexes, would it be ethical or moral to raise that as a treatment? This is not a matter to be treated lightly, because it refers to essential aspects that make what one is as a person, and to be able to modify at a subjective level something like the gender is a very delicate subject. And here we can also fall again in the mistake of separating the subjective mental dimension and the physical one, because we would be giving priority to one thing over the other, we could say that the mental has more weight and the person is male or female according to the subjective identity, and we would say that it would be going against what the person is to use that drug, on the contrary if the physical body is given prevalence regarding identity, then it could be considered that such a drug with that effect would be a valid resource for transgender people much more than hormonal and aesthetic treatments. The question is then, how to propose the correct way to refer to and help if it is the case the transgender people taking into account the integrated whole that is the human being: the physical and the mental? It is not an easy question, but it is a mistake to fall into reductionisms such as those raised by arguments like the one mentioned at the beginning, since there is a dimension beyond the physical-corporal. The question is then open for a more accurate debate on these issues.

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