One day after Vanity Fair’s grand unveiling of “Caitlyn” Jenner, Canada’s National Post ran an interesting story on a different “trans” community:
“We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,” says Alexandre Baril, a Quebec born academic who will present on “transability” at this week’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa.
“The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It’s a really, really strong desire.”
This phenomenon — known in the medical literature as Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) — is well documented, if not well understood. Some researchers believe the causes are primarily psychological (e.g. the inexplicable idealization, as a child, of an amputee); others blame physiology (a failure of the brain’s body-mapping function to develop properly, causing a limb to seem as if it is not part of the body).
Whatever the cause(s), the consequences can be extreme. In 2006, ABC News chronicled the story of “Karl,” who used 100 pounds of dry ice to freeze his legs so thoroughly that doctors would have to amputate them (they did). Others have crushed or sawed away limbs. To this list of procedures one might add, as related phenomena, the dozens of varieties of extreme self-mutilation advertised in such publications as Body Modification Ezine (viewer discretion strongly advised).
In 2006 ABC News could call BIID a “strange obsession.” In 2015 (recognizing, I’ll grant you, that Canada tends to be ahead of the curve on such things), it is “transability.”
But why should it not be? Note how “Lily,” also profiled in the 2006 article, justifies her (unsuccessful) attempts to amputate her legs: “I wasn’t born in the correct body.”
If the justification for both transgenderism and “transability” is an incongruity between body and “identity,” why should one be socially acceptable and the other not? Why should Bruce’s desire to live as “Caitlyn” be a courageous expression of his (“her”) “authentic self,” but Karl’s wish to live in a wheelchair be a pathology that needs help?
The ethos of cultural progressivism — the philosophy that reflexively applauds Jenner and Laverne Cox and the like — can draw no dividing lines when it comes to such matters; it can articulate no limiting principles. The ability of the individual to secure his or her (or “ner” or “vis”) happiness is paramount. Nothing can be permitted to circumscribe that autonomy. Because this is not a commitment to anything more than “the right to transgress,” it should be plain that such an ethos is not “life-affirming”; just the opposite — it is nihilistic. It destroys consensus, community, charity. It should be equally plain that no genuine freedom can long endure on such a foundation.
As I wrote yesterday (on a related topic), the problem is not Bruce Jenner or Karl or Lily or any particular individuals. It is the demand, implicit in cultural progressivism, that we as a society normalize the subjective feelings of obviously abnormal individuals. We must condemn the healthful as sickening, while embracing the sick as healthy.
One recalls the gleeful Cheshire Cat: “We’re all mad here.” Not yet, but that seems to be the goal.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.