There's this disorganised sort-of foray into an edge case of trauma-related gender dysphoria in this article that's very revealing about a troubling contemporary wisdom that appears from time to time.
The article is basically biographical, about Richard Hoskins, a specialist in witchcraft-related murder. It's very interesting, in a morbid kind of way. But this skeptical little foray came as a surprise: in an article mostly about a person, there are a few revealing little tangents about the author's ideology sprinkled in there. Let me give you a taste:
[Hoskins] fell into the Youtube transgender rabbit hole and became convinced that taking estrogen might help him feel better. He purchased some from a dark web vendor based in Vanuatu ...
This is both revealing of how the transgender medical industry operates and of how complex trauma can lead to bodily dysmorphia. Tragically he will have to live the rest of his life on hormone therapy, an avoidable mistake ...
it is telling that he was allowed to work on such high-profile cases, given that he was obviously suffering from extreme mental distress. The total acceptance of transgender ideology within the senior ranks of the police services meant he was relied upon for his expertise at a time when he clearly needed help ...
This poor man, the author would have us believe, is some kind of trans accident. Due to the 'transgender ideology' and the 'transgender medical industry', and the ever-corrupting influence of the internet, Richard Hoskins was convinced to become transgender and the mistake will haunt him for the rest of his life.1
This appears to be a pretty common take. There's long been an idea that some generalised subset of queer people is 'turning our people gay',2 and recently the focus is on the popularity of the trans-community. Abigail Shrier's book is perhaps the most well-elaborated example, but you see the idea pop up a lot. To get a sense, just search 'Joe Rogan trans'. Say what you want about the man, he represents and reflects an enormous segment of the common opinion in the west and you'll see that he and guests on his show say insightful things like trans-ness is a 'contagion' or that it's attractive not because people feel like they're inhabiting the wrong gender but because "you get praised for transferring your gender, for changing your gender. And then it gets exciting for people to talk about".
These people are not transgender you see, but trans-opportunists.
Trans-opportunism is not the interesting take
The most interesting thing about this perspective is that it actually seems to miss what actually matters about these people. To say nothing of the fact that gender-norms are well-known to be pretty flexible, including the much vaunted man-woman binary. To say nothing of the fact that it's probably pretty nice that transitioning is a little more socially acceptable now, since it looks like it's typically a pretty fucked up journey. To say nothing of the fact that only some infinitesimal proportion of people who make serious changes to their physiology in support of a transition seem to regret it---less than the regret experienced by those who get a knee replacement.3 To say nothing of those things and any others that serve as fairly reasonable counterpoints: even if there are some edge-cases in which people accidentally or opportunistically 'change gender', is that really the most valuable part of that conversation?
Let me give a related example.
Drug addiction is merely a symptom of a problem
No one really seems to get addicted to drugs. Sure, some drugs cause a chemical dependency, but no one is out there saying things like "oh, I really must have a drink before that pesky delerium tremens kicks in". Rather, addictive drugs seem primarily to reinforce an underlying pattern of behaviour. Addicts aren't addicted to drugs, they're addicted to how the drugs facilitate some kind of psychological need:
Ostensibly, the object of craving is a drug or the expected pleasurable effects of intoxication, but the desires driving ongoing addiction run deeper. People who use drugs want to numb out, to feel alive, to feel accepted or socially connected, to be freed from mental or physical pain (including withdrawal symptoms), to not feel anxious, to feel included. These emotional experiences themselves can become the objects of the desires driving addiction, and drugs are a vehicle to satisfy them, at least temporarily.
Some drugs are just really good at manipulating a neural pathway that associates the drug with some rewarding pattern of psychological satisfaction. If I was to offer a product that stuck a wire into some brain region along your mesolimbic dopaminergic pathway and phasically stimulated dopamine neurons on command,4 you probably wouldn't just have it on all the time. You'd probably only turn it on in certain contexts. And then you'd be more likely to turn it on in those contexts. And then you might become addicted to turning it on in those contexts.5 Here, you're not addicted to the wire stimulation, but the context and the wire is a just a means to bring it about.
This association is usually something avoidant. Alcohol or cocaine are acute ways of avoiding awkward social interactions. Heroin is an extremely acute way to avoid horrendous socio-economic. Cigarettes are an acute way of modifying a stressful circumstance.
So what's interesting about addicts is not so much the drug they're using, but the reason they're using it. When we try to ban the drug, we might have some impact, but the more meaningful intervention would be to address the reason the drug became salient for them because otherwise their self-destructive drug abuse will simply get channelled in other directions. The stress doesn't go away when the cigarettes do.
Here's another example: destructive cults. We love the image of the narcissistic and charismatic cult leader somehow swaying a bunch of people into some delusional (and expensive) belief system. But this is simply not true. Rather, people are vulnerable for any range of reasons, and even weird belief systems that don't pass a casual inspection can seem attractive to a vulnerable person if the system (and the people around it) meets the deficient psychological need. Ipso facto, a destructive cult emerges.
What's interesting about destructive cults is not so much the narcissistic leader. What's interesting is how many kinds of vulnerability lead to people adopting a wide range of strange and problematic behaviour in spite of the fact that the behaviour is obviously strange and problematic. If we focus on the leader, then we're far more likely to be susceptible to the influence of destructive groups when we're vulnerable because we simply don't properly understand the dynamics.
Trans-regret is also just a symptom of something
Our trans-accidents seem suspiciously like they're in some similar kind of boat. One even wonders if they are the same people who might be seduced by drugs or a destructive cult if circumstances were different. People who, in some time of vulnerability, looked to something that appeared to fill some psychological deficiency, but later realised that it wasn't the right fit. In this case, is it really the 'transgender ideology' or the 'transgender medical industry' that we should blame?
What is particularly interesting here is that the most motivated anti-trans 'agenda' group are conservatively aligned people. People who exist in a constellation of thought around things like 'learning from mistakes' and 'picking oneself up by one's bootstraps' in contrast to a more left-leaning interventionist style of policy. And yet, what they appear to desire is that in these, admittedly troubling to the extent they exist, edge cases of vulnerability is that we intervene quite dramatically. If someone is likely to become a trans-accident, or worse a trans-opportunist, we should spend some time thinking about how to institutionally suppress trans-culture.[^6]
More generally, we love to blame the obvious symptom---the drug, the cult leader, the transgender agenda---but in these kinds of cases, this usually seems like the least helpful route to a solution. A more obviously tractable angle would concentrate on the underlying vulnerability.
And rather than a symptom perhaps it could be a benefit
As it pertains to trans-regret, it's not even entirely clear to me that people accidentally becoming trans for a bit is a problem for most people. Obviously it's not really ideal to trivialise what many consider to be a fundamental transition from the wrong gender to the right one. But on the other hand, just how much should we be concerned that our concept of gender is made a little bit more fluid? I'm seriously asking.
Certain conservative perspectives find this quite unappealing of course---if you think queerness is some kind of abomination then this is probably troubling to you. But if you aren't particularly invested, or don't really have any kind of informed opinion, then surely this seems like a step in a direction of more behavioural liberty?
To put it back in context, often drug-addiction is uncontroversially bad. There's no real state of societal drug-addictedness I can imagine that eventually leads to net positive outcomes. But a state in which gender fluidity and discovery is a normal and acceptable part of developing a lasting identity with corollary benefits for the aforementioned fucked-up-ness of the typical transgender journey seems like a pretty conceivable outcome. And I guess I wouldn't really mind that?
My speculations aside, and regardless of whether more gender fluidity seems exciting or dangerous, concentrating on the trans part of trans-regret seems pretty dumb.
Not to mention he was actually working even while he had the audacity to have life-difficulties! ↩
Here's a tongue-in-cheek response to the notion for flavour. ↩
Really, you could just pick a surgery here---transition surgery has a super low regret rate comparatively. ↩
That is, do exactly what most addictive drugs seem to do. ↩
If all the right genetic and social factors were in place to support such a addiction. ↩