James “Cora” Birk on Transition and Regret

In the light of the recent news that sportswriter Mark Penner has detransitioned, I went back and looked at an earlier post on regret. I noticed that I had linked to Cora Birk’s writings on her partial transition and subsequent de-transition, but that they have since been removed from the site.

However, Birk’s columns are still available via the Internet Archive, and since the last one, especially, is particularly well-written, I would like to share some excerpts:

It is still (and always has been) true that I want to be female. However, somewhere along the way, I appear to have convinced myself that this desire was much more than a simple, harmless wish — that it was a yearning, that if I didn’t get what I wanted I couldn’t possibly go on. I’m not exactly sure when this happened, though I do suspect an intense psychological imprinting experience sometime in 1998.


I embraced transsexuality, I think, because I was extremely uncomfortable with the other terminology I was hearing. If I was merely a crossdresser of one kind or another, I was nothing more than a largely misunderstood pervert with an extensive makeup collection. But if I was transsexual… then I was validated. I could be helped. I could go on hormones and one day have sex reassignment, all under the protection of politically correct GLBT activists who would see my condition as something to be proud of. I could hold my head high in parades, and everyone around me would put aside their native discomfort with the situation and use all the right pronouns.

My take on this is that the decision about whether or not to transition would be a lot easier if we didn’t have to deal with rigid categories and arguments based on destiny.  Over at the Trans Group Blog, Helen, Julie and Marlena all allude to the question of whether Penner is “really a transsexual.”  To their great credit, they refuse to consider it, but their use still implies that they believe it’s a valid question, and that people who are “really” transsexuals should transition.

Let me put this out there: if we assume that there are “true transsexuals” and “false transsexuals” out there, isn’t it possible that there are “true transsexuals” who would turn out to be happier in their birth genders, and “false transsexuals” who would manage to be quite content after transition?

Magical Thinking

A year or two back I came across Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, and was blown away by the theory underlying it.  I have to admit that I haven’t read much more of it yet than the first couple of chapters, but the rest, from what I can tell, is details about particular beliefs.  What fascinated me most was Frazer’s division of beliefs into four categories, based on what is being related to and how.  He makes a distinction between science and magic, as follows: “The fatal flaw of magic lies not in its general assumption of a sequence of events determined by law, but in its total misconception of the nature of the particular laws which govern that sequence.”  Science and magic are both rule-governed, but magic misunderstands the rules.  Religion, by contrast, is personal:

But if religion involves, first, a belief in superhuman beings who rule the world, and, second, an attempt to win their favour, it clearly assumes that the course of nature is to some extent elastic or variable, and that we can persuade or induce the mighty beings who control it to deflect, for our benefit, the current of events from the channel in which they would otherwise flow. Now this implied elasticity or variability of nature is directly opposed to the principles of magic as well as of science, both of which assume that the processes of nature are rigid and invariable in their operation, and that they can as little be turned from their course by persuasion and entreaty as by threats and intimidation. The distinction between the two conflicting views of the universe turns on their answer to the crucial question, Are the forces which govern the world conscious and personal, or unconscious and impersonal?

Things (rule-governed) People (relationships, prayer)
Empirical Science Society
Faith-based Magic Religion

Frazer does not really discuss the fourth quadrant of the chart, dealing with non-supernatural beings on a personal level, but it’s not very relevant to the main point, which is situating magic with respect to science and religion.