Yet another piece of … writing, this time by Moira Fleming at right-wing blog The Federalist, has tried to compare gender dysphoria to anorexia. In making this particular argument, Fleming’s post joins a tall stack of similar half-assed blog posts and position papers from transphobic “pundits” in recent years. Here’s the crux of Fleming’s piece, which is headlined “Why Is Transgender An Identity But Anorexia A Disorder?”:
The certainty that one is a woman despite being born a man sounds awfully similar to the conviction that one’s body is overweight even when body-mass index is at starvation levels.
You can almost see the wheels turning in the minds of people making this argument: “Anorexics think they’re fat, even though they’re really thin; transgender people think they’re women, even though they’re really men.” And everyone who says this seems to think it’s some brilliant revelation, and they’re the first to ever think of it.
Fleming, like former doctor Paul McHugh, Fox News contributor Keith Ablow, the Witherspoon Institute, and many other “experts” who have asserted this gender dysphoria = anorexia correspondence, makes a critical error. Ablow even goes so far as to assert that gender dysphoria is an “exact parallel” to anorexia nervosa (the clinical name for the condition).
The type of anorexia these “pundits” are describing (the condition presents differently in different people) is the delusion that the sufferer is fat or is at risk of becoming fat, when she (they’re almost always women) is actually thin. She looks at her body in the mirror and sees something that is at odds with reality.
Transgender women (Fleming doesn’t seem to be aware of transgender men) are not delusional. You may deny that our gender identity is really what we say it is, but that is not the same as saying we’re delusional. When we look
You may deny that our gender identity is really what we say it is, but that is not the same as saying we’re delusional.
To be transgender is to be acutely aware of our biological birth sex, and to be sufficiently unhappy about it to want to change it.
Now, the difference between how an anorexic woman sees herself and how a transwoman sees herself could conceivably put down to semantics. Maybe the people making this equivalency are talking less about self-perception and more about outcomes. What happens when an anorexic’s belief about herself is indulged and supported, versus the result when the same is done for transgender women?
In a sense, it’s not a fair fight, because I’ve never heard of a woman with anorexia whose loved ones and friends told her, “yeah, totally, you’re fat! Let’s take some pounds off,” while it’s the standard treatment paradigm to accept a person’s well-diagnosed gender dysphoria and recommend they embrace their gender identity.
But there certainly have been many people with anorexia who persisted in their beliefs and continued to shed weight, despite the efforts of those around them. Here are some famous examples.
The singer of the 1970s brother-sister duo, The Carpenters, lost a dramatic amount of weight and died of related heart failure at the age of 32.
Henrich was a world-class gymnast in the 1990s. Her weight dwindled to 47 pounds before she died of multiple organ failure.
Author of the memoir, My Life As A Male Anorexic. The 5′ 9″ American weighed 64 pounds when he died at age 28.
There’s another case, which is looking to turn out better than those three; that of Rachael Farrokh, a 5′ 7″ actress in her thirties whose weight dwindled to under fifty pounds. I’m not linking to any of the stories about her, because most of them contain some shocking photos of her ravaged, wasted body. You can Google her forewarned.
Ms. Farrokh is on the road to recovery, but only because she managed to break the hold her disease had on her and began gaining weight. She was on the brink of death before then.
Now, here are some transgender people whose self-perception was validated:
Jennifer Finney Boylan
Boylan transitioned over ten years ago. She is a respected novelist, college professor, and New York Times columnist.
Since transitioning, Cox has become a motivational speaker, activist, and an Emmy-nominated actress.
Green is an academic, activist, and author.
All three of these individuals are affirmed and respected in their gender identity, and all are thriving, by any objective standard. Yes, this is an anecdotal list of names that I selected myself. Yes, you’ll be able to find transgender people who haven’t done this well after they transitioned. Poor outcomes include detransitioning and suicide. But the evidence is overwhelming that transitioning makes the vast majority of transgender people happier; in almost every case where it hasn’t, the reason is likely to be transphobic persecution, which originates outside the person, or that the person was misdiagnosed with gender dysphoria in the first place.
But finding transgender people who haven’t thrived isn’t necessary for the analogy to fail. If even one transgender person transitions and does well, it’s bullshit to compare gender dysphoria to anorexia, because anorexia’s sufferers always, 100 percent, grow weak and sick. Either they overcome their disorder, or they die. Every single time.
Show me even one verifiable counterexample of a person with anorexia flourished after she came to believe she was overweight when she wasn’t, and I’ll start taking this claim seriously. It’s not going to happen.
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