This op-ed, the title of which I discreetly edited for my heading, published in The New York Times on November 24, quickly fueled a storm of conversation about trans persons, surgeries, insurance coverage, and oh so much more. You can read it here:
Andrea Long Chu begins with this: “Next Thursday, I will get a vagina. . . . Until the day I die, my body will regard the vagina as a wound; as a result, it will require regular, painful attention to maintain. This is what I want, but there is no guarantee it will make me happier. In fact, I don’t expect it to. That shouldn’t disqualify me from getting it.”
If Chu were looking to be provocative, to gain a name for herself, she nailed it. But if she wanted to be helpful—
- helpful to other trans folks,
- helpful to those who are weighing whether to have surgeries or begin HRT,
- helpful to those who are pondering bringing loved ones into their tightly held secret that they suffer gender dysphoria,
- even to be helpful to ultra-conservative trans-deniers that they might come to understand trans persons
—then I find her to have laid a big, fat egg.
And the egg isn’t only on her face. It’s all over transgender persons and the transgender conversation.
From what Chu wrote about her experience on hormones, I wouldn’t expect her to be overly optimistic that she will be happier after gender affirmation surgery. She wrote this: “I feel demonstrably worse since I started on hormones.” And this: “Like many of my trans friends, I’ve watched my dysphoria balloon since I began transition.” And this: “I was not suicidal before hormones. Now I often am.”
Truly, I am befuddled why Chu transitioned, or, when recognizing these dramatic negatives, she continued.
And who are her trans friends? I’ve not heard these things from the many trans women and trans men I’ve gotten to know.
And I went through gender affirmation surgery. My neo vagina healed nicely. If my body reckons it as a wound, it hasn’t informed me that it does. And, painful attention to maintain the neo vagina? Yeah, there is some pain. For awhile. It wears off.
Sheesh, Andrea. Talk about painting something as negatively as one can.
All of this might arise from her mindset. Earlier in the piece, she wrote, “I like to say that being trans is the second-worst thing that ever happened to me. (The worst was being born a boy.)” [parentheses hers] I understand this thinking and have written about it. Since the mind is the quarterback of the body, it calls the shots, and if a person identifies as female, then the easy, even automatic, response is to wish the body conformed to the brain. But why not the other way around? Could not Chu just as easily, from another mindset, have written the following? “The worst was being born with a mismatch of brain and body. Oh, that I could always have felt that I am a boy to match my body!”
Before writing how she feels worse since starting hormones, Chu says it is wrong for a person to think that feeling better will accompany transitioning. But isn’t that the entire point of transitioning? Isn’t it improved health which is behind every aspect of the process, to get the mind and body and the way one lives into alignment so that one feels better?
When I undertook living full time as a female—and, if you are curious, what happened with me, this year, resuming living as a male, is unrelated to any of this conversation—my twins demons were addressed. My suicidal thoughts almost entirely resolved; only rarely did a short term one pop up. The fear I had, that I would lose my mind—which had grown so severe, so real, that I often thought it would happen any given day—was entirely extinguished.
If I could sit with Andrea Long Chu, I would softly and compassionately ask her why she continued with her transition, and why she is going through with having her genitals reformed. From her essay, for the world of me it seems that she is doing all of this to prove a point, which she makes toward the end of her essay, and on which I comment in my concluding paragraphs.
I’ve read one response from a trans person, who noted that Chu doesn’t speak for all trans folks. She sure doesn’t. To me, not only is Chu not on the same playing field with the transgender population, she’s not even observing from the bleachers.
Chu seems to have forgotten a vital point, especially when someone lives in a way which is controversial—in this case, transgender—and discusses a topic which is controversial—here, gender affirmation surgery and all of the other aspects of transitioning—and writes about it publicly, and all the more so in a world-wide-read publication such as The New York Times: Chu doesn’t speak for all of us, but many—especially the trans-deniers—will hear her as doing so.
I feel that she threw all of us under the struggle bus.
I am confident she submitted this with the desire to do good, to benefit others. I find that she completely and utterly failed.
Chu concludes her essay: “There are no good outcomes in transition. There are only people, begging to be taken seriously.”
Yes, Andrea, every trans persons longs to be taken seriously, and who are you to suggest that there are no good outcomes in transition? Do you not see that your former assertion negates your latter point?
If a thing will not have a good outcome, why do the thing? If a thing will not have a good outcome, isn’t that a thing from which we run, a thing we avoid, a thing to be set aside in search of a thing which will produce a good outcome?
We figure out Chu’s thesis along the way but, finally, nearing the conclusion, she states it: “Let me be clear: I believe that surgeries of all kinds can and do make an enormous difference in the lives of trans people. But I also believe that surgery’s only prerequisite should be a simple demonstration of want.”
There it is. “A simple demonstration of want.” I want it, therefore I get to have it.
No, Andrea Long Chu. Not a simple demonstration of want. Need? You betcha. Need, for the purpose of healing and improved health? You betcha.