What drives this blog?

Scepticism. Interest in how terms change. Feeling mad when I read the dominant narrative about gender identity. A belief that good people can do bad things (and yes I think that Tony Blair sincerely wanted to help Iraq). An old person’s belief that progress is not always progress.

A gut feeling that irreversible physical cures for mental distress are dangerous.

I am old enough to remember the terrible consequences of one of the twentieth century’s medical cures for mental distress: my mother’s best friend at university in the 1930s – a woman she described as beautiful and brilliant – was given a lobotomy after a breakdown, a treatment that was authorised by her next of kin, the husband who had left her for another woman. I remember meeting her at Christmas, a sad figure who travelled up to London to stay alone in a hotel and who was capable of flat small talk but little else.

No parallel is ever conclusive: the rush to dispense irreversible medical and surgical treatment for the very real pain of gender dysphoria is not necessarily the same as last century’s medical horror story of lobotomy. Yet we should remember that the currently standard treatment for gender dysphoria is, according to a much cited 2011 Swedish study, ‘a unique intervention not only in psychiatry but in all of medicine.’ [1] That we see this intervention as an unqualified step in the march of progress can only be explained by some deep shifts in the way we understand personal identity.

[1] Dhejne C, Lichtenstein P, Boman M, Johansson ALV, Långström N, Landén M (2011) Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden. PLoS ONE 6(2): e16885. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0016885

 

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