These are just feelings and thoughts

Meghan Murphy is underwhelmed by Andrew Sullivan’s urging us to “compromise.”

The problem begins with the premise: that the category of “trans” is either a definable or rational category, distinguishable from those who do not identify as “trans.” Often, explaining that there is no such thing as a “trans person” is (disingenuously, in my opinion) interpreted to mean I wish to “deny the existence” of people who identify as trans. I do not. I am well aware there are people in this world who identify as transgender or who have attempted to “transition” to the opposite sex or gender. It is the category itself that makes no sense. Anyone could be trans, should they choose to claim it. It means nothing and demands nothing. Today I could be a woman, tomorrow I could decide I am trans, and nothing will have changed. The identity is no longer based on surgeries, body modifications, appearance, or medication. It is a feeling or pronouncement.

And we’re expected (on pain of punishment) to take those pronouncements as absolutely and obviously true, and not just true but beyond question. We’re not allowed to doubt them or even to suspend judgement about them – we’re not allowed to treat them as meaningless claims about the internal self that are of no interest to anyone else. Things don’t usually work that way. We’re not usually ordered to believe whatever claims people make about their hidden surprising reality-contradicting Selves. It’s not a reasonable request, let alone command.

The question is also not and should not be one of “belief.” Stating “I believe trans people when they tell the stories of their lives,” as Sullivan writes, means nothing at all. What is it you believe? That these individuals feel at odds with their bodies? That they dislike the gender stereotypes imposed on them? Welcome to life. These feelings are not necessarily abnormal.

And they’re also not of interest to the wider world. Again, this isn’t a usual expectation – that we “believe” all stories people tell about themselves. The stories people tell about themselves are their concern but they’re not ours, not without a good reason, not as a general rule. Stories of police brutality or sexual harassment are of interest to the wider world, but stories of My Special Self are not.

And even for those individuals who may legitimately suffer from what is termed “gender dysphoria,” meaning that their body dysmorphia or rejection of either masculinity or femininity is so acute it constitutes a form of mental illness, “believing” them remains a meaningless approach. I also “believe” girls struggling with anorexia think they are fat, despite being dangerously thin. It doesn’t make them actually fat. These are just feelings and thoughts, which do not require the creation of an entire separate legal category of people…

That “just” in front of “feelings and thoughts” is so necessary. Our feelings and thoughts are important to us, but they’re not equally important to everyone else. You know why? Because everyone else’s feelings and thoughts are more important to everyone else, that’s why. This is the core thing that growing up has to teach us, and people who fail to learn it do not make good adults. See: Trump, passim.

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