The next wave of "body diversity": Disabled by choice

If a person can claim gender based on their mental and emotional orientation, what other forms of “body diversity” exist? The rapid acceptance and even celebration of Caitlyn Jenner’s debut onto the social scene (and social media) may soon bring another form of body diversity into the light, or so the Canada National Post argues today. “We need to move away from pathologizing people,” says Clive Baldwin, including those who chop off their limbs or fake paralysis in order to live as disabled people. “For many, amputation is the only way forward,” the St. Thomas University, Frederickton professor tells Sarah Boesveld, and “it isn’t beyond the pale.”


When he cut off his right arm with a “very sharp power tool,” a man who now calls himself One Hand Jason let everyone believe it was an accident.

But he had for months tried different means of cutting and crushing the limb that never quite felt like his own, training himself on first aid so he wouldn’t bleed to death, even practicing on animal parts sourced from a butcher. …

People like Jason have been classified as ‘‘transabled’’ — feeling like imposters in their bodies, their arms and legs in full working order.

“We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,” says Alexandre Baril, a Quebec born academic who will present on “transability” at this week’s Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa.

“The person could want to become deaf, blind, amputee, paraplegic. It’s a really, really strong desire.”

When I first read this, I had to double-check the references and do a little research to make sure this wasn’t something the Daily Currant had launched in the wake of Jenner’s re-emergence. Dr. Clive Baldwin appears to check out as advertised, as the Canada Research Chair in Narrative Studies at St Thomas University, Fredericton. “Narrative studies” sounds a little ambiguous as a discipline, but his website states that he lectured in the UK on mental health in social work and on dementia studies. A YouTube search for more on the topic raised videos spanning at least four years, including an unfortunate Jerry Springer segment, which Springer himself said would be the strangest segment he’d ever done. That’s a tall order, one I’d really prefer not to research, but it’s probably correct. Feel free to click the link, but I’ll pass on embedding it here.

So this is not a hoax, or at least the story isn’t. The impulse to mutilate one’s body in various ways has been known and documented for a long time, but only recently have we begun to accept it as an expression of self rather than a pathology, as Dr. Baldwin dismissively notes. The measure of the latter, though, has never been the sincerity of those impulses but their destructive nature and disconnection from reality.

This brings us to Caitlyn Jenner, of course, and other transgender people who have operations to change their gender to match their mental and emotional identity. There doesn’t seem to be much of a moral or medical difference between surgically removing one’s sexual genitalia to address gender identity issues and removing a leg, arm, or eyeballs to address “transability” issues. One can argue that there is a difference between do-it-yourself “modifications” to chop off one’s arm and a surgeon to remove male genitalia and construct artificial genitalia in its place, and there are differences. The latter has been made much safer, of course, and much more socially acceptable, but that’s only a matter of being ahead on the moral-relativity curve. Surgeons can do amputations, rob eyes of sight, and the like, just as safely as they now perform gender-reassignment surgeries.

That is, in fact, what Baldwin and others propose — to supply medical treatment not to the mental issues that drive these impulses, but to conduct drastic body modifications to cater to those impulses. It won’t be long before we start hearing arguments about the dangers of allowing people to do these amputations and the like on their own as a way to press for allowing and even demanding such surgeries, just the way some now expect taxpayers to pay for gender-reassignment surgeries for prisoners and people on public medical coverage.

Color me much less sanguine than Amanda or AP on this point. We’re celebrating the end of natural and objective truth, and turning dysfunction into virtue on the basis of celebrity. Not only that, but many people suffer from disability without much choice in the matter — my wife, for one, who lost her sight at 24 from diabetic retinopathy. This turns their challenges into sport or status symbols in a very odd manner, and mainstreaming it the way Baldwin suggests legitimizes the fetishization of their pains and struggles.

I don’t wish Caitlyn Jenner any ill will, and I have no problem addressing people by the names or pronouns they wish. That, after all, is their business. However, don’t expect me to wave flags as the parade of self-mutilation keeps processing toward eventual oblivion, regardless of whether that makes me out of step and hopelessly old-fashioned. Western society has become unmoored from objective truth in favor of  anything goes, and I don’t think the end game looks terribly promising — especially with the parallel tyranny of the Tolerance Police punishing any dissent along the way.