• No, you’re not trapped in the wrong body

    On many occasions, many good ideas end up being discarded or ridiculed by a poor choice of words. In rhetoric, the principle of charity demands consideration of the arguments of the counterpart with the most solid interpretation possible. Although it is usually ignored (at least by the religionist side of the debate), it is always appropriate that we strive to offer the best arguments to defend our positions.

    And not doing so can be very costly. The examples abound, but today I want to talk about a very particular one, which affects the trans community — it’s the idea that they are “trapped in the wrong body”, meaning their biological sex is at odds with their gender.


    I understand that the idea of being “trapped in the wrong body” was an effective way so cis-gender people would understand how trans people felt. However, I think the metaphor has already served its purpose and is ready for retirement.

    Mainly, because it is false and it gives ammo to transphobic bigots. The idea of being “trapped in the wrong body” stems from the dualistic notion of mind/body, which assumes that consciousness is an ethereal entity (for some the soul), which can be scalded from the physical body without being altered in its essence, which is blatantly false: the best available evidence suggests that every aspect of consciousness can be tied to the brain.

    If someone believes that consciousness can exist independently of the body —without that particular body—, they should then answer some uncomfortable questions:

    [I]f one dies, say, in the grip of a terrible Alzheimer’s… will one’s ghost recover one’s memories or will it be a wandering spirit, with no idea what his name is, unable to remember and perform the simplest tasks? Is the spirit of a blind man blind? And if it isn’t, how does it suddenly acquire all the information necessary to interpret the visual world?

    […]

    Helen Keller managed to understand and affect the world as a deafblind person… is a spirit without these limitations the same woman whose example we keep in mind? We are not only our “perfections”, but we are also our imperfections, Van Gogh without his anxieties and anguish, his obsessions and his artistic passion, without his delirious loves and his drunken fights with Gaugin, turned into some kind of calmed St. Francis, smiling, calm and with the ear back in place… is it really Van Gogh or is it a pitiful simulation, very different from the man who bequeathed us that poignant wonder called “The Potato Eaters“?

    And if we can poke holes in the dualistic religious ‘logic’, any statement that is based on it can be subject to the same treatment. And it has been. Known epic Twitter troll Godfrey Elfwick has claimed to be trans-black (a black man trapped in the body of a white person). And then came ‘transfinancial’ people (that is, millionaires who are trapped in the body of a middle-class person). And things are out of control already: some people say —and they really mean it— that they are animals or mythological creatures trapped in a human body; the so famous otherkins.

    All this hampers the efforts for equality, because it reduces a minority and its struggles to the level of jokes in social media, downplaying thier cause, even when no one suffers class dysphoria, race dysphoria, or species dysphoria, whereas gender dysphoria actually happens.

    We are our bodies. We can not be trapped in them, any more than left-handed people were trapped in theirs when the Catholic Church declared them servants of the devil and forced them to become right-handed.

    (image: Rose Morelli)

    Category: PhilosophySkepticism and Science

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    Article by: Ðavid A. Osorio S

    Skeptic | Blogger | Activist | Journalist
    • Hello David.

      Some of your arguments don’t square with the facts, and some I just can’t make sense of at all.

      1
      I understand that the idea of being “trapped in the wrong body” was an effective way so cis-gender people would understand how trans people felt.

      You seem to be suggesting this was or is an activist tool, rather than reflecting the actual experience of trans people. As I understand it, this really is the experience of (some) trans people.

      2
      Mainly, because it is false and it gives ammo to transphobic bigots.

      I have no idea what you mean here at all.

      3
      assumes that consciousness is an ethereal entity (for some the soul), which can be scalded from the physical body without being altered in its essence, which is blatantly false

      I am utterly perplexed about how you arrived at this idea. The brain (which largely does whatever the mind is) is a distinct organ, just like lungs and muscles are distinct bits of us. Yet, if developmental irregularities affect one of these, pathology follows because each is “designed” (metaphorically, by mindless evolutionary processes) to assume the other exists and performs within certain parameters. The muscles assume the lungs can sufficiently oxygenate the blood. If the lungs do that too poorly, muscles start to fail.

      In all animals with a nervous system, the brain develops in order to produce behaviors and operate the body critical to that particular species. Fish brains are optimized to learn to swim, not fly. Bird brains are optimized to learn to fly. Song birds have special cognitive bits that let them learn and perform sophisticated melodies.

      But development rarely proceeds flawlessly, and it can affect any one organ without others. So maybe a songbird is hatched without a functioning sing program in its tiny brain.

      The more complicated a developmental process, the more kinds of things can go wrong. In humans, development can adversely affect any part of a person. Some unfortunates are born with just one leg. In spite of that, their brain mostly develops the same as anyone else (albeit with some facultative adjustments), just like the rest of their body does… e.g. their spine looks like everyone elses, even though it is designed for a biped and is partly maladaptive for a non-bipedal human. They still have all the cognitive machinery necessary to do normal human locomotion and movements that require two legs.. even though they can’t. No doubt, such people feel like they should have two legs, and if it were an option, would medically restore the missing limb (or, today, use a synthetic replacement). Wouldn’t you?

      Well, sometimes the irregularity isn’t a lost limb, but a brain sexualized for the alternate gender’s body type. Psychological gender differences are not a consequence of a penis magically shaping the brain, but rather accomplished by carefully choreographed execution of a complicated recipe for making a womanly or manly (or some inbetweenly) brain. This recipe is genetically coded, but it’s different from the recipe that makes lungs, breasts, or genitals. Since these processes operate with some independence, they can diverge (just like you can wind up with one leg, or kidney, etc.., without anything else being different).

      Naturally, I think Vandy Beth can speak to this issue more directly than I can… apart from the technical sense of biopsychology.

      • Hi @Skeptic_Ink:disqus, thanks for your comment.

        1. “You seem to be suggesting this was or is an activist tool, rather than reflecting the actual experience of trans people”.

        I don’t know if that’s their actual experience or not. I do know some trans people use this statement to let others know how they feel, not necessarily as metaphor for activists, but just a way to put into words that cis-gender people would understand. Maybe there’s a more scientifically accurate way to put it.

        2. The idea of your consciousness being trapped in your body is false because you can’t have your specific consciousness without your particular brain. Any other brain will result in a different consciousness; the same way no one else could have your fingerprint (not even your twin).

        3. How come you are perplexed about the dualist point of view of the mind? Did I misrepresent that viewpoint?

        From the biopsychological point you make an interesting comment, but if you pay close attention to the terms you used (“developmental irregularities”, “developmental processes that go wrong”, “maladaptative”) you could be equating or reducing transgender people to a handicap, or a less-than-normal development.

        If that’s the scientific explanation for people being trans, then I certainly may be wrong, but I’m guessing you, inadvertently, just opened a can of worms.

        Bigots could use the explanation you just gave me to try to curtail trans people’s rights, or to bully them. That’s exactly the opposite of what I was trying to accomplish: taking their excuses and strawmen arguments away.