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When I was a little girl, I wanted badly to be a boy. Boys got to play the games I wanted to play and had an exclusive claim on the adjectives I hoped to apply to my adult self, such as courageous, honorable and adventurous. I was in the wrong body to be what I wanted to be.
I shudder now to think what would have happened to me had my parents been encouraged, by childrearing experts and the general culture, to take me seriously when I vociferously and persistently declared my desire to be a boy.
My discovery of feminism cured my gender dysphoria. The problem, as the ’70s-era feminists defined it, wasn’t that my female body and individual personality were mismatched, but that the definitions of female and male were unnecessarily and irrationally narrow and pinched.
Feminism declared that I could play baseball and cops ‘n’ robbers, dream of any number of interesting and noble futures, be completely myself, and yet be a completely normal female too. This was liberating.
Naturally, feminist theory didn’t solve all the problems of embodied female life. Biology is what it is: I still had to endure menstruation; rape was a seemingly omnipresent threat (the statistics are a whole lot better now, FYI), and, when the time came, the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and childrearing definitely got in the way of my becoming a rodeo rider, relief pitcher for the Orioles, or an FBI agent.
Well, that’s life.
Which is to say; that’s biology. And it is biology that the transgendered are struggling so desperately against, which essentially means they are mad at life itself. Or, specifically, that part of life that is most relentlessly gendered because genitals=genesis=genes=generation=regeneration … the original and still the best explanation for why little boys have lingams and little girls have yonis.
Yes, we humans are astonishingly plastic but remain, nonetheless, sexually dimorphic mammalian creatures. Just like chimpanzees, chipmunks, and Chihuahuas, we reproduce by means of sexual intercourse as it is enacted by persons defined as male and female by anatomy and chromosomes.
Clearly, human beings can decide not to reproduce — traditionally, by refraining from heterosexual intercourse but also by using our minds to invent workarounds. We can be involuntarily sterile, for that matter, but the essential anatomy and physiology that distinguishes — absolutely — male from female, and the purpose for that distinction remains. Celibate nuns and lesbians still menstruate and ovulate; gay men and men who believe themselves to be women nonetheless produce sperm.
As a little girl, I wanted to be what I imagined a boy was. Having never been a boy, I didn’t really know. And, I would posit — with all due respect and much, much sympathy — that a man cannot be or become a woman, or genuinely experience life as a woman. He can only experience life as he imagines a woman experiences it.
Why, though, can he do this? Why can the impression that a man — Caitlyn Jenner, say — actually is a woman be so incredibly powerful?
As a working hypothesis, the disorders of our minds arise out of our mental capabilities. There has to be an ability that precedes the disability. I nominate empathetic imagination as the ability gone awry in the transgendered mind.
During the Olympics, I watched a figure skater fly around the ice and leap into the air, spinning then landing lightly on one blade and swirling away: I didn’t just apprehend it with my eyes and mind, I felt it in my body. For long seconds, it was as if all I’d have to do is leap up from my comfy chair, throw on a pair of skates and my limbs would know how to do that magical thing.
Indeed, this may be why we are capable of finding joy in watching sports (or, for that matter, porn) because we can imagine ourselves into other bodies. Heck, we can imagine ourselves into the bodies of animals: the best equestriennes, dog trainers, and lion whisperers are surely those who teeter on the edge of identifying “as” rather than merely “with” their animals.
As an adult, I am a happily female mother of six adult children who looks forward with stereotypical eagerness to being a grandmother. And yet, I work primarily and gladly with men — specifically the courageous, honorable, adventurous men who work as game wardens in the Maine woods. I am frequently, and very comfortably, the only woman in a roomful of people and often the only woman for miles of snowy, woodland “around.”
The imaginative empathy that allows me to be with them might be on the continuum with that which once demanded I be them, no?
Activists who scornfully declare that a white, straight, middle-class man cannot possibly understand what it is like to be black, gay, poor, or female … are wrong.
That’s what the transgenderism “movement” demonstrates — not that we can or should determine our own gender (or race or whatever) “identity,” but that human beings are indeed capable of profound empathetic imagination. Because we can imagine ourselves into our neighbor’s lives, God’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is difficult … but it’s not actually impossible.
The transgendered provide perhaps extreme demonstrations of what is our common and sacred gift. Tyrants of various stripes urge us to suppress that talent — don’t feel sympathy for the deported Jews! Don’t imagine yourself an occupant of that basket of deplorables! Christ, however, asked us to nurture and encourage our capacity to truly see, truly understand and in some sense, at least for a long second, be and therefore truly love: it is the gift of which he was both giver and exemplar.