Rabbi Goldberg’s compassion is not theoretical. A devout male member of his Shul (in his 60s) asked him a Shaila about whether he could change his sex and become a woman. He apparently always felt that he was female despite the fact that he was born physically male. He was miserable as a man.
The fact is that people with this condition have a very high rate of suicide. Rabbi Goldberg asked a world class, widely respected Posek this Shaila and was told that he got asked this Shaila twice a week. I used to think this condition is quite rare. But it is apparently not as rare as I once thought.
The Halacha is clear. One may not change their sex for a variety of reasons that are beyond the scope of this post. (Whether Pikuach Nefesh is a factor because of the high rate of suicide is well beyond my paygrade). But that doesn’t mean we can’t have compassion for such individuals. We should and I do. They deserve to be treated like the human beings they are.
There are however some interesting questions that come to mind. Does the surgical procedure known a sex re-assignment surgery really change one’s sex? How should society treat such people? Do they have a mental Illness? Or is changing one’s sex simply a choice – even if it is based on the deepest and most profound emotional distress. What about transgender people that were miserable and after surgery are now happy with their lives? And what about those who do not undergo the surgical procedure - only being treated with hormones, Are they in the same category?
I think that last one is clear. If the surgery is not performed there is no sex change regardless of how such an individual lives.
Not sure how to answer the rest of these questions. But they are dealt with in 2 books reviewed by Mary Harrington in First Things. The authors identify as liberal. But do not assume the obvious.
In essence they seem to argue that the reality is that the sex one is born with is the one they are - regardless of what they do to their bodies. Treating them otherwise ignores that reality. And yet that is exactly how they are treated in liberal circles and increasingly in society at large - influenced by a sympathetic mainstream media. In fact advocacy groups are so convinced that one can decide which sex they want to be, that they virtually ostracize (or worse) those that don’t:
On the identitarian left, refusing to pay lip service to the belief that humans can literally change sex is now a serious heresy. If perpetrated by a female, it results in being dubbed a “trans-exclusionary radical feminist,” or “TERF.” In “antifa” circles it is common to claim that punching TERFs is as legitimate as punching Nazis. Even those who disclaim violence often support ostracism, loss of employment, and online harassment as appropriate punishment for those deemed to hold TERF opinions.
This kind of thinking is the ‘religious’ dogma of advocacy groups like LGBTQ. They insist that transsexuals be fully treated as they wish to be treated regardless of how they were born. I believe they even apply that to those that have not undergone the surgery.
I suppose that it is compassion that underlies this approach. Transsexuals want to be treated as completely normal. It surely impacts their mental well being. But should we? I believe that kind of compassion is misplaced. Is there no room left to actually consider gender dysphoria a mental disorder? Can we not be sympathetic to someone that suffers from it if it is?
The motives behind the compassion by LGBTQ advocates might come from a good place. They want to alleviate the distress transgender people have always had now that they’ve transitioned. Total acceptance helps them accomplish that. But as both authors point out, the biology just isn’t there.
That becomes apparent in the field of sports. Male athletes that have transitioned into women have an unfair advantage by now competing with women. Trans advocates like LGBTQ dismiss that idea and believe that trans athletes should be able to compete with the gender with which they now identify. That is patently unfair. No less a trans-athelete than Olympic Gold Medalist, Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner feels the same way. Genitalia are not the only differences between man and women. Men have greater upper body strength. Women have greater lower body strength. The sexes are shaped differently and thereby the weight distributed differently. That gives trans-woman athletes an obvious advantage over women born women.
My view compassion cannot be based on a falsehood. You cannot make up reality. Reality is what it is. Surgery cannot fully change an individual’s sex. No matter how much society says it can. Society should not allow itself to be bullied into acceptance of it, no matter how much compassion we feel for people with this condition. Compassion - which basic human decency demands - must nevertheless reflect reality. Because if it doesn’t, it isn’t really compassion at all.