We are not rational. And by “we,” I mean people. What made the characters of Spock and Data on Star Trek seem so alien was that they were so much more rational than the human (and Klingon and Betazoid) characters around them. Sheldon Cooper on the Big Bang Theory idolizes Spock, but the best he can mange is to mark out islands of rationality in a sea of feelings, and even these often collapse under their mutual inconsistency, or even their own internal inconsistencies.
Knowing this about people, it is not surprising that transgender people are irrational. What is surprising sometimes is how often we are expected to be rational, and specifically of course how our transgender actions – to present as a different gender than what everyone else is expecting, to modify our bodies – are expected to be rational. Why should we be rational when doctors and lawyers and priests are not rational? When the President of the United States is not rational? Why are so many people – not just our families and friends and doctors, but above all ourselves and other trans people – holding us to a higher standard than everyone else?
There is a rational explanation for this behavior, this irrational insistence on rationality. It comes from gatekeeping. Many of the things we do, like body modification and public displays of gender non-conformity, have the potential to seriously mess up our lives if we don’t take proper precautions. Many of the things we do also pose serious threats to the established power structure. Authority figures have historically allowed these actions only on the condition that we supply a rational explanation for them.
In one important sense the gatekeepers are right. We should take a rational approach to figuring out our lives, to dealing with our transgender feelings. We should consider the options and plan carefully before getting major surgery or putting life-altering substances in our bodies. And that means not making those decisions when we’re in the middle of a gender fog.
The problem is not with being rational, it’s with applying a double standard for rationality. We trans people aren’t the only irrational ones, and we’re not the only ones who get body-modifying surgeries and injections and pills, and who change our names and identities. Everyone should put a lot of thought and care into these decisions. But since there’s no way to legislate thought and care, everyone should be free to make their own choices.
Maybe if we are truly free to be irrational about our major life decisions, we will finally feel able stop pretending that we’re always rational.