It is easy, but dangerous, to treat today’s conflicts as if they were an exact repeat of yesterday’s. When military leaders do this, it’s called “fighting the last war”, and it’s a great way to lose.
The same sort of mistake can be made in political life. As the American socialist Abraham Ziegler observed back in 1941: “it is the habit of revolutionaries to fight the last revolution.” 1 An observation which applies not only to socialists and revolutionaries, but equally to liberals and conservatives.
Right now, it is easy to perceive the medical and social demands of the transgender movement as the latest in a series of civil rights campaigns, like the struggle against segregation in Alabama. Time for liberal-minded people to refight old political battles…
But is it really the same sort of issue? Is the transgender community comparable in every way to an ethnic group? Or is it more comparable to (for instance) the cigarette-smoking community?
I would hate to see tobacco users demonised. Indeed I must confess I used to be one myself. On the other hand, I would not encourage a child to become a smoker, even if they said they wanted to.
On the website Jung Soul, Philadelphia-based analyst Lisa Marchiano outlines the case history of Amelia, an adolescent American girl.
Following a traumatic experience with an older teenager, Amelia became depressed, looked for answers online, then told her mother she was a transgender boy. Her mother took her to a gender specialist, who saw Amelia just once before declaring that Amelia really was a transgender boy.
The specialist said that Amelia should see an endocrinologist to get a puberty-blocking hormone-analog, otherwise “he” would become more depressed and might self-harm.
Amelia’s mother rejected the advice, sought help elsewhere… Amelia recovered from her depression, accepted her femaleness, and decided that her mother had got it right.
Points I find significant here — Amelia not yet adult, the gender specialist’s hasty diagnosis, the warning about self-harm, as well as the fact that Amelia overcame her distress without artificial hormones.
The way children and adolescents are being brought into the transgender community has prompted a online backlash from skeptical parents, some of whom have a forum at 4thWaveNow,
Kenneth Zucker is an eminent Canadian child psychologist, a specialist in treatment of children who are confused and distressed about their gender. Until 2015 he led the Gender Identity Clinic at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. He found that in many cases, children with this problem (known as gender dysphoria) can be best helped by means of psychotherapy (i.e. talking and counselling), rather than by prescribing chemicals.
Zucker became the target of a campaign by transgender activists, who accused him of oppressing transgender children. In December 2015, the activists got the result they wanted — Zucker was sacked and the Gender Identity Clinic closed down.
Neuroscientist Joseph Herbert, writing in Psychology Today, said the sacking of Kenneth Zucker was the result of “strident politics”, and indeed “fanaticism”, reminiscent of the persecution of Galileo.
The campaign against Zucker has continued into 2017. Early this year in the USA, a supposedly scientific conference first invited Zucker to present a paper, and then responded to angry demonstrations by cancelling the presentation at short notice.
The fanatical anti-Zucker campaign is significant not only because of the unfairness to Kenneth Zucker himself, but even more because of the unfairness to gender-distressed children and their parents. There seems to be an organised attempt to stop development and testing of non-chemical, non-surgical therapy.
“I'd rather have a live daughter than a dead son.” A saying used by parents and others who advocate early transition (social, chemical and/or surgical). The saying refers to the above-average rate of self-harm, including suicides, among persons with gender distress.
A Swedish study completed in 2011 shows that the suicide rate among transgender people after surgery remains “strikingly high” — twenty times as high as the suicide rate among the general population. (The authors did not conclude that surgery is a bad idea, they concluded that post-operative transgender people need more support.)
Is self-harm (actual and threatened) by transgender people a consequence of the transphobia of others? Or is it an expression of the transgender culture’s somatophobia — hostility to their own bodies?
Are hormones and surgical amputations alternatives to self-harm, or are they self-harm in a sanitised form?
Scots poet Robbie Burns wrote the classic lines…
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us…
The transgender movement seems to be demanding the opposite — others must see the trans person as the trans person sees himself or herself.
Discussing laws about public bathrooms in a particular US state, Australian columnist Michael Bradley writes:
Our ultimate human right is the possession of our own identity. A law which says that we cannot define that identity for ourselves necessarily infringes that right. It is the height of paternalistic arrogance to mandate that a person is by some legal definition male or female…
In other words, a person who appears to others as male, but who self-identifies as female, supposedly has the right to use facilities and services reserved for women. And if some women feel uncomfortable about that?
This aspect of trangenderism has met opposition from well-known radical feminists, including Australian-born writer Germaine Greer. As Greer sees it:
If you're a 50-year-old truck driver who's had four children with a wife and you've decided the whole time you've been a woman, I think you're probably wrong…
The transgender movement has been described as “cult-like” by Paul McHugh, a prominent American psychiatrist, on the basis of its distinctive catch-phrases and the way its internet groups provide simple answers to troubled young people.
I think more can be said about religion-like features of the movement. So-called affirmative gender therapy leads young people through a series of steps (social, pharmacological, surgical), which is comparable to a process of initiation. The process is meant to bring out their true identity, and enable them to find happiness.
Initiation is not necessarily bad news. There are many forms of initiation in the world today, the Evangelical born again experience being a notable example. Different initiations have their claimed success stories about how wonderfully they changed someone’s life, and some of the claims may well be true.
Still, when gender therapist Margaret Nichols says “puberty blockers are a godsend” to transgender children, I have to wonder what sort of god she has in mind?
The ancient Graeco-Roman world had a goddess named Cybele, also called Magna Mater, the Great Mother, who had eunuch priests called galli. Born male, they castrated themselves, and afterwards adopted clothing and mannerisms like those of the women of their time.
Lucius Apuleius is one of several classical writers who mentions this community. He mentions that their public behaviour involved a range of self-harming practices, such as biting themselves, whipping themselves, and cutting their arms with knives. He credits them with “amazing fortitude” in bearing physical pain.2
Apuleius himself was a goddess worshipper of a different order. He was a devotee of the Egyptian deity Isis, whose community he also describes in his book. Apuleius regarded Isis as the Great Goddess, of whom all other goddesses and gods were aspects. The worship of Isis at that time was practised both by men and by women, and did not require self-harm or self-mutilation. Instead it called for calmness, and attention to dreams. Apuleius also worshipped Osiris, the male partner of Isis, as the Great God.
In those days, women too worshipped male gods as well as goddesses. For instance, an order of priestesses known as maenads were the main group in the retinue of the wild male god Dionysus.
As Carl Jung understood, there is nothing unusual about finding a woman-like presence in the inner world of a man, or a man-like presence in the inner world of a woman. Jung used the words anima and animus (Latin for soul and spirit) to refer to these presences.
Anima and animus enable men and women to see something of each other in themselves, and something of themselves in each other. They also make it possible for men to behave in woman-like ways, and women to behave in man-like ways.
Jung’s findings about anima and animus are based on evidence from dream analysis and comparative mythology. It was not a matter of Jung distinguishing particular qualities as masculine and feminine based on his own preconceptions. Rather, the distinguishing was done by the people whose dreams Jung worked with. They were the ones who, in their dreams, represented various qualities as masculine or feminine.
But Jung and his community lived in a particular part of the world, in a particular moment in history, and he himself recognised the provisional character of his work. In a discussion with Esther Harding in 1958, he compared his description of the unconscious to a very rough map of a newly discovered island. 3
The current growth of the transgender movement is one reason for thinking that Jung and his school underestimated how powerful, even central, the anima and the animus can be.
In Jungian literature, anima and animus are often treated as secondary to another archetype, known as the Self, the inner world’s nucleus. E.g. Jung’s colleague Mary-Louise von Franz writes that the anima “conveys the vital messages of the Self”.4
According to Jungians, the Self is typically a masculine presence in a man’s inner world, and a feminine presence in a woman’s. 5 Hence the title of Jean Shinoda’s two books, Goddesses in Everywoman and Gods in Everyman.
On the other hand, Jung and his school also recognise that the Self can appear as a combination of masculine and feminine elements, i.e. as a royal couple, or an androgyne — a figure who is half man and half woman.6
Doesn’t this imply an opposite-gender component (anima or animus) who is more that a messenger of the Self? Rather than a messenger, the anima or animus may be the Self’s other half. In short: the Other Self.
History doesn’t repeat itself exactly. The transgender movement of today is not the civil rights movement of Martin Luther King. Nor is it an exact repeat of the ancient Cybele movement.
Nonetheless, like the ancient worship of Cybele, the transgender movement is a culture of self-harm. And like the ancient worships of Cybele and of Dionysus, it is also a confused expression of something deep and important — the experience of the Goddess in everyman and the God in everywoman.
Can people today, like the worshippers of Goddess Isis in Lucius Apuleius’ time, find gentler ways of responding to the Other Self?
Colin Robinson, August 2017
1 Abraham Ziegler; Modern Socialism: A Journal of Revolutionary Re-Education; Brooklyn, NY, 1941, page 14
2 Lucius Apuleius; The Golden Ass; translated by Robert Graves, Penguin 1950, p 170
3 C.G.Jung Speaking: Interviews and Encounters; edited by William McGuire, Picador, 1980; page 344
4 Marie-Louise von Franz, in Jung et al, Man and his Symbols, Aldus, London, 1964, page 188
5 Marie-Louise von Franz, in Jung et al, Man and his Symbols, Aldus, London, 1964, page 196
6 Marie-Louise von Franz, in Jung et al, Man and his Symbols, Aldus, London, 1964, pages 203 - 204
© Colin Robinson 2017
1 September 2017
Only transsexuals among transgender people go for sexual reassignment. Others seem to shift happily between their male and female aspects.
Where children are involved, I don't agree with what could be a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I remember years during my childhood when I really, really wanted to be a boy. It passed and I now feel satisfied with what/who I am. As a matter if fact, I'd be devastated if I had to be something else. If there is an age of consent for sexual relationships, gender reassignment for younger children doesn't make sense to me.
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Very good to hear from you, and I agree strongly with what you said about the age of consent. What you’ve shared about your childhood is something like my own experience — I certainly wasn’t a typical boy.
Words like “transsexual” and “transgender” get used in different ways, but the word “transsexual” seems be less used than “transgender” at present. E.g. the main organisation of medical people who perform reassignments is called the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).
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