Here is my pointed response to “Transsexualism: Illusion and Reality”, written by Colette Chiland in 1997 and translated by Philip Slotkin in 2003, published by Wesleyan University Press.
This is an older book written about 20 years ago and as such, to be fair, we must look at it in the context of that day. In reading it, it almost sounds as if Dr. Chiland is talking about aliens on another planet and not the healthy transgender population that abounds today. The reality has been that because so many healthy transgender individuals transition today, considering them to be pathological is akin to asking really who is the one that is disturbed. I must say, Dr. Chiland seems to have a bit of an axe to grind and comes from a much different perspective than I do. She sees any type of bodily changes as akin to dysfunction, and so the only conclusion she allows herself is that transgender individuals are narcissistic, borderline, delusional, or psychotic. But this is not the population that I observe. I have helped over 600 clients transition now, twice the number Chiland has seen, and I certainly don’t find my clientele to have the pathologies and patterns that she seems to notice and makes sweeping generalizations about. Or is this really the case, because the type of clients that approached her were of a different nature, knowing she was disapproving of transitions and did not refer clients to surgery.
Chiland immediately insults transgender individuals as if they are defiant children, “who refuse to be seen as suffering from mental disorders” and claim to be “victims of a mistake of nature.” Unfortunately, she finds this gender variant behavior to be a “pathology that remain[s] a puzzle.” The idea of changing one’s body is seen as “mutilation”, instead of a rite of passage or a time of joy for transgender individuals. She says these desires to transition are a “disease of our culture” today and a product of our individualist and technological society. She doesn’t even consider that transgender individuals can be seen as part of a greater gender awakening of our planet, and transitions are a milestone in human development.
Quickly we get wrapped up into the religious language of Freud and the Oedipus conflict. If we stick to these outdated psychoanyalytic models, we fail to realize that we are all just human beings affected by the type of hormones we are bathed in. We are all female in the womb, and only XY chromosomes turn on testosterone to create males. The chromosomes don’t matter. It’s the hormones that do. It’s the hormones that affect our bodily development. But we are all just a variety of human, not two different species of beings. She claims transgender individuals reject every “vestige” of their original sex, which is not true at all in my population. Most trans women do not opt for gender reassignment, and nor do most trans men opt for phalloplasty. Each individual wants unique changes, if any at all.
Chiland doesn’t seem to understand the DRAG community either. She refers to DRAG queens as transvestites that masturbate in front of a mirror with highly cathected penises. I don’t even know what a highly cathected penis is. She then says they “sally forth at night, and as they grow bolder, they frequent special clubs where they vie with each other for the most impressive get-up.” Okay, isn’t this like many gals at any night club. And DRAG shows are supposed to be full of fun and flare. So are the Rockettes. Live and let live.
She offers the “transsexual theme: I am a woman imprisoned in a man’s body.” I think only 1 in 600 clients has actually said that to me. It’s cliché and everybody knows that. It makes me want to shoot milk out my nose, seriously, was she seeing aliens?
When clients do actually undergo a gender confirmation surgery, which Chiland objects to, she says they should sign a legally binding agreement to make follow-up appointments for the rest of their lives so further research can be done….again, seeing the trans population as “pathological” and has no way to ever be authentic if they transition. She see trans parents as less than cisgender parents and should not be allowed to have children or adopt…because trans clients have a “serious mental disorder.”
The book is packed with jabs and insults and sweeping generalizations. Too bad, because she is a very smart lady, but she has an axe to grind and biased in her belief that trans people are unhealthy and motivated by perversion or shame of being in a same-sex union. In summary, she declares insultingly that “sex reassignment operations are a mutilation.” She adds that transgender individuals have a “crazy project” to change their sex completely. She reviews various techniques to fix trans individuals, including shock therapy while showing picture of trans individuals wearing the “wrong” clothes. She pokes fun at self-psychologists because they “insist on the importance of empathy.” Well, frankly, we all deserve empathy and it is a Rogerian core for all therapy.
If you dare read this book, which might be construed as a crazy project, be sure to buy an extra-strength bottle of Pepto-Bismol.