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If anyone could claim the mantle of “trans pioneer,” it’s British journalist and travel writer Jan (formerly James) Morris. Morris, already well established as a travel writer and journalist when he had sex-change surgery in 1972 at age 45, would go on to even greater success until his death in 2020 at age 94.
Most obituaries treated Morris’ trans identity as a footnote, as Morris himself seemed to regard it. He wasn’t ashamed of it, but his wide-ranging, insatiable curiosity about the world around him meant he had little time or inclination for navel-gazing. He was a writer of the first rank who simply happened to be trans. In other words, he would seem to have been an exemplar of the “representation” sought by our culture’s aggrieved minorities, sexual and otherwise.
And yet we hear the name Jan Morris far less often than that of, say, Stonewall riot participant Marcia P. Johnson, a self-described “transvestite” gay man whom activists have retconned into the “transwoman” who started the whole thing.
A clue to Morris’ relative obscurity can be found in what little he did publish about his sex change, namely his 1974 memoir “Conundrum.”
In that book, Morris regarded his life to that point from the comfortable perch of midlife success. He purported to be happy and at peace, and he presented this as evidence that he was right all along about who he really was. But his “trans joy” (to use contemporary parlance) was not so effusive as to prevent him from disavowing all of the miserable wannabes giving true transsexuals like him a bad name:
I am one of the lucky few. There are people of many kinds who have set out on the same path, and by and large they are among the unhappiest people on the face of the earth. ... I have met some, and corresponded with many more. Some have achieved surgery, some merely pine for it, and every complication of the sexual urge, every tangle of social neurosis, is to be found somewhere in their anxieties. ... And these are clever, articulate people; I do not speak of all the poor castaways of intersex, the misguided homosexuals, the transvestites, the psychotic exhibitionists, who tumble through this half-world like painted clowns, pitiful to others and often horrible to themselves.
Misguided? Pitiful? Psychotic exhibitionist? All of these descriptors will have occurred to any honest observer of the ideologues currently advocating irreversible medical and surgical interventions for children. But such is the state of current discourse that any resistance to such ideologues is automatically dismissed as uniniformed and “transphobic.”
Consider Vivek Ramaswamy’s claim, during the second GOP primary debate on Wednesday, that “transgenderism, especially in kids, is a mental disorder.” The New York Times rated the claim “false,” noting that the preferred term for the psychological distress that would drive a child to seek relief in puberty blockers in the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” is “gender dysphoria.” Fair enough, but it’s clear that Ramaswamy is less concerned with a child’s painful alienation from his or her own sex than with the destructive delusion, introduced and encouraged by adults, that he or she can change it.
What’s alarming to the “transphobes” I know is how quickly and easily a child either diagnosed with (or in some cases suggesting the barest hint of) gender dysphoria becomes a “transgender child.” What gives trans advocates the authority to administer this status change, which opens the door to all sorts of damaging “health care”?
The answer, as with much of the authority we find ourselves subject to these days, is victimhood. Carefully curated lists of trans martyrs bolster the general impression that anything but complete and uncritical “affirmation” risks causing further carnage. Never mind that any mitigating factors in these sad deaths that would complicate their depiction as anti-trans “hate crimes” are routinely ignored. Those of us on the other side would do well to embrace such an obviously successful strategy.
Our tale of martyrdom has the advantage of requiring no embellishment or selective editing. It is also, sadly, ongoing.
I refer to the subject of a very different memoir of transition, Jazz Jennings. Although the reality TV series “I Am Jazz” purports to be from its subject’s point of view (and he receives author credit for both his children’s book of the same name and his autobiography, “Being Jazz”) it is far from clear that Jennings is in control of the story.
Jennings’ mother, Jeanette, claims her son was 4 years old when he told her he wanted God to replace his penis with a vagina. At age 6, he made his public debut on a Barbara Walters special, where Jeanette vowed to facilitate his transition. By the time “I Am Jazz” premiered on TLC in 2015, its almost 15-year-old star had been on puberty blockers for four years.
In 2018, endocrinologist Michael K. Laidlaw wrote a detailed and damning account of misinformation promoted by Jennings’ enablers. Particularly gruesome was his warning that Jennings’ developmentally stunted penis would make any sex-change surgery even more difficult.
“He does not have enough skin to line the false vagina,” Laidlaw explained. “Potential remedies include sewing in a section of intestine along with the penis skin to make the false vagina.”
It was this very process that surgeons followed less than a year later, when Jennings was one month shy of turning 18. Complications with the “neovagina” required further surgeries and painful recoveries. Now 23, Jennings cheerfully asserts he has no regrets, despite bouts of depression, anxiety, and binge eating, as well as persistent loneliness stemming from confusion about his sexuality.
If it is truly transphobia that causes this suffering, then it may one day be overcome. But it’s surgery, not society, that forever took away Jennings’ ability to procreate or experience orgasm. All because of a decision he was allowed to make while barely out of high school.Pray that Jazz Jennings finds peace, far away from the spotlight that encouraged his self-destruction. And remember him as a victim of hatred. Not hatred from the phantom persecutors he’s been taught to fear since childhood, but hatred for his own body. In a just world, it is this hatred we should work to eliminate.
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Managing Editor, Align
Matt Himes is the managing editor for Align.