Editors' note: Alice Kalafarski is a law school graduate and transgender activist. She volunteers with Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (BARCC), SpeakOUT Boston, and spent a month with Maine's No on One campaign. Of all the places she helps out, she proudest to be a Camp Trans cat herder.
It's fairly common to find trans people who wish they were born cis, but it's particularly discouraging for me to hear that from a smart young trans woman on a progressive site like this. In a post earlier this week, Austen wrote that she felt being trans was a disease and that: "if I'd had my druthers I'd have been born female." I don't accept that being trans is a disease, but I'm going to set aside that argument for now. We can't go back and change how trans people like Austen were born, but what if some day we had the power to make sure every baby was born cis? Being trans certainly seems to make a lot of people unhappy, so wouldn't the world as a whole be a happier place if nobody had to go through that?
Medical science doesn't yet give parents the power to be sure they have cis kids, but in-vitro screening can catch a variety of disabilities. It isn't hard to imagine that a similar process could be discovered as we learn more about how biology influences gender identity and expression. The scientists who study this would probably discover a way to weed out the gay fetuses with a similar procedure, but you certainly wouldn't want to let parents make that choice! After all, being gay is a natural part of human diversity, it's being trans that's a disease to be avoided or fixed.
This is still a theoretical debate for us, but the battle to determine what type of people are allowed to live in this world is already raging in the disability rights community. There are lots of great activists, but my favorite writer is Harriet McBryde Johnson. In this piece for the New York Times, she debates a college professor who feels it should be legal to euthanize babies born with disabilities since they're less likely to live a happy life. Harriet responds that it's incorrect to assume people with disabilities have to be unhappier than able-bodied people. She writes, "For those of us with congenital conditions, disability shapes all we are. Those disabled later in life adapt. We take constraints that no one would choose and build rich and satisfying lives within them. We enjoy pleasures other people enjoy, and pleasures peculiarly our own. We have something the world needs."
That same argument is at the core of deciding if the world would be better off without trans people. Every parent wants their child to be as happy as possible, so it's understandable they'd want to avoid having a trans kid if that will make their child miserable. I would certainly believe that trans people are less happy than cis people on average right now, but that isn't because we're trans; it's because we live in a transphobic culture. We have to work on making our culture less transphobic if we want parents to embrace raising trans kids.
The difference that truly loving parents can make was driven home to me by a family I met last fall. I was volunteering for the No On One campaign for marriage equality in Maine, and my host family had a 12-year-old boy who was FTM. I happened to talk with the mom about trans rights, and she brought up her son's transition by saying she, "wouldn't have him any other way"; she's glad her kid is trans, and that's part of the reason she loves him. It was so beautiful it just about broke my heart. Parents like her are such a contrast to the ones who want to rush their kids through surgery to "fix what's wrong with them." Which parents would you rather have?
So if trans people can be just as happy as cis people if they're loved by their families and accepted by society as a whole, you could still ask if having us in the world actually makes it a better place. I'd argue that it does because we help all people get a better handle on their gender. For analogy, gay people being open about their sexuality has done a lot to help straight people be more mature about what they want and how they get it; there are fewer straight people stuck in sexless marriages and more that are safely and consensually exploring BDSM and open relationships. Cis people have tons of hang-ups about gender roles that cause at least as much trouble as sexual repression, but trans people prove that you don't need to fit the mold. Nature is a lot more wonderfully diverse than the small boxes our society tries to make everyone fit.
In my own life, I've struggled a lot to love myself for being trans. For the longest time while I was in the closet, I hated that part of me and tried to destroy it. But I couldn't hate it without hating myself, and the more I tried to destroy it the closer I came to destroying myself. This struggle didn't end when I came out, and it didn't end when I got surgery; being trans is a permanent part of who I am because it's done so much to shape my life. If my parents had given birth to a cis girl who had all my genes except for the Y chromosome, then that person would have not been me when she grew up. I'm glad they gave birth to a trans girl, and I'm glad that I've had the chance to live. Being trans has certainly brought a lot of pain, but there are so many great places I've been, things I've done, and people I've met because of it. I'm glad that there are trans people in this world and that I'm one of them.