The value of finality

In my last post I mentioned the other big finding in Dan Gilbert’s work: that people only get that satisfaction if they think the choice is final. When they knew they could change their minds about the painting, they were less happy with it. This explains a lot about the way decisions and commitments are made. If you’ve made a very difficult choice that affects every aspect of your life, like marriage, a job or a child, you’re going to have mixed feelings about it, and from time to time feel a desire to change your choice. The easier it is to make that change, the more time you’ll spend thinking about it, and the less time you’ll spend adapting to the choice you made. In the end that means more satisfaction.

The implications for “transition optional” transgender people are clear: we will have difficulty making peace with our choices unless we’ve ruled out the other choices. This makes it easier to understand the origins of transgender dogma. If you believe that it’s your destiny to live as a woman no matter how many people insist you’re a man, you’re going to think less about the choice you’ve already made. On the other hand, if you believe that you’re “just a crossdresser,” you’ll be less likely to think maybe you should transition after all.

The result is that we get a lot of people claiming to be “transition or die” or “transition and be miserable” when in fact we’re transition optional. We do this for our own sanity, our own peace of mind. But that doesn’t mean it’s without problems.

The “transition optional” group is larger than you might think

In my last post I noted that we can divide people with transgender feelings into five groups. Some will commit suicide if they don’t transition, and some will be miserable. A third group will commit suicide if they *do* transition, and a fourth group will be miserable.

The fifth group, in which I count myself, has the ability to live in either gender without being miserable or suicidal. Or else they would be miserable or suicidal in any gender lifestyle, so transition would not make a difference.

A reader told me that she had heard of a study indicating that our “transition optional” group is the largest of these five. I’d like to see that study, but I’m skeptical that it actually shows that. As I’ve said before, we don’t have any kind of transgender population census, so any prevalence figures are likely to be completely inaccurate.

I do have a theory that predicts that the “transition optional” group is large, though. It comes from Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert, who has done research on happiness. I strongly recommend reading his book, Stumbling on Happiness, which is an easy read. You can get the short version from Gilbert’s engaging TED talk.

There were two big things I took away from Gilbert’s work. The first is that we humans are capable of making the best of all kinds of situations. When the subjects thought they were stuck with their third-choice painting, they learned to appreciate it more; when they thought they were not going to have their second-choice painting, they lost interest in it.

This suggests to me that the “transition optional” group is bigger than we think. I personally can think of a few things that might have been better in my life if I had transitioned, like shaving, but since I know those things aren’t going to change I try to make the best of them and focus on the good things, like strength. I’d imagine that if I had decided to transition back in 1995, I’d be trying to make the best of hormones or whatever, and focusing on the positive aspects of post-transition life.

I’ll talk about the second big thing later.

Transition or die

One of the strongest arguments in favor of gender transition is that the person may commit suicide. They may also engage in other self-destructive behaviors like cutting or drug abuse, which carry the risk of accidental death. If the risk of self-destructive behavior is high for a person, I think most people would agree that transition is the better option.

A major problem, though, is that there are people who commit suicide after transition. As with all suicides, it is impossible to know in any given case whether a person’s transition was a factor in their decision to kill themselves, but in some cases at least it is clear that transition made them less satisfied with their lives. If we accept that the risk of suicide after transition is higher for a person, then we can agree that not transitioning is the better option.

There are others who might not commit suicide, but who are miserable in their assigned gender and have exhausted all options for improvement. Most people would probably agree that transition is appropriate. A fourth group would probably not commit suicide if they transitioned, but they would be miserable. Most people would probably agree that transition is not appropriate.

Then there is a group who would be equally satisfied with either option. I would probably put myself in the fifth, “transition optional” group. I have chosen not to transition, but if I were to wake up one day in the body of a postoperative transsexual, I would live that life and try to enjoy it to the fullest.

I should point out here that I’ve made all these groups the same size. I do not mean to suggest that they all contain the same number of people. I don’t know how many people are in any of these groups.

I want to stress that all of us on this spectrum have the same transgender feelings. We all feel a desire to be a different gender from the one they were assigned. Some may feel that desire stronger than others, and some may feel a competing desire to remain in their assigned gender, but on the basis of feelings we are all transgender.