Trans-abled: Just Another Disability?

Guest Post by DragonDyke

A trans-abled person is someone who wishes they had a particular disability, and, as much as possible, lives their life as if they actually had that disability. This could mean using a wheelchair whilst being capable of walking, not using a limb that feels alien or any other number of variations. Often individuals will think of self-harm or actually attempt it in the hopes of bringing about the desired disability and some trans-abled people seek surgery from professionals.

Those who see themselves as trans-abled believe they have the right to live as if they had the disability they want. This is viewed as their right to personal freedom which doesn’t harm anyone else. They also point to the condition of Body Integrity Identity Disorder (BIID) – described as a psychological condition where an individual would feel happier e.g. living as an amputee – as a reason for their condition.

However, trans-abled people do not see their condition as being based on wants or personal desires but on need. As transabled.org says, (a site that aims to promote the rights of the trans-abled), “the dichotomy between what our psyche tells us and what our body tells us is ripping us apart.”

Those who see themselves as trans-abled do not see any conflicts in their desire or need to live as disabled, with those who have medically diagnosed disabilities. In fact, a 2011 article on the Australian ABC website attempted to argue that wanting to live as a disabled person could, in itself, be considered a mental illness that should be treated as a disability. There is even a hazy theory of neurological disorder put forward as ‘scientific’ justification. In this way, those who are trans-abled could be included under the disability umbrella even if they did not have their preferred disability.

There does not, however, appear to have been much consultation with disabled people themselves, or with charities, welfare organisations or lobbying groups that represent the interests of disabled people. One has to ask, for example, whether those who are trans-abled, should be allowed into disabled-only spaces or to access services for disabled people. This would no doubt make the trans-abled feel more accepted in their desired self-image of someone who is disabled, but how would it feel to a paraplegic to have to listen to the experiences of someone who wishes they were paralysed, or feels they should be, as being the same as their own experiences of actually being paralysed? To be expected to validate those experiences or be labelled an intolerant bigot? To have to not speak about certain aspects of his or her actual experience of paraplegia for fear of upsetting someone who has a strong internal feeling that he or she should be paraplegic, and who believes they know what it is like due to having an identification with the condition? If there is trans-abled, does that mean that those with actual disabilities would be labelled as ‘cis’ and if so, how will the expectation of them seeing themselves as comparatively privileged be perceived by people with disabilities?

Rather than seeing trans-ableism as a unique condition, a number of those active within the trans-abled movement are keen to draw parallels between being trans-abled and transgendered. The two conditions can often coexist, and an article on Transabled.org explicitly draws similarities between the two conditions and argues they should be treated the same way by society. This means that trans-abled people should be accepted as if they really were disabled, and they should also be supported to have medical intervention which will create their preferred real disability.

The author argues,

A transsexual feels that their body is different from the concept of self they have for theirself. That is to say that while they may outwardly appear to be female they actually are male. This is confusing for the transsexual and people around them since other people see a female and naturally assume that the person is female.

A transabled person is in a similar position. For example a person may have an identity of someone that is paralysed but is not actually paralysed. Any disability may be substituted in for paralysis such as blindness, amputee, deafness, ceberal palsy, AIDS, and so on.

In each case the problem at hand is the discongruity in self image from bodily reality.

In this person’s estimation, the main problem both groups face is that they are not viewed by others as they wish to be viewed. They have a strong feeling they should be seen in a particular way, and they feel that society has a moral obligation to help them realise their desired self-image. Whilst the individuals involved in this movement may see their actions purely within an individual context, it is not hard to see that their actions have wider consequences for the oppressed groups they emulate. It is extremely problematic for an individual’s strong feelings of personal identity to be translated into a political right, particularly when this involves fetishising oppressed minorities.

This is the logical end point of individual identity politics; in which defining oppression as based on classes of people with shared characteristics who are discriminated against in particular systematic ways, becomes impossible, and internalised and subjective reporting of feelings is elevated to political analysis.

The trans movement has been viewed as mostly relating to those wishing to change their gender, but clearly there is a broader analysis, and growing movement, focused on individual identity and ‘fitting in’, but is this at the expense of materially subordinated groups?

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12 comments
  1. ybawife said:

    Normally such behaviour is seen as fraud. But this is the muddle mainstream has fallen into . And how will you get all that understood when their is already legally requirements and human rights laws in place that enable fraudulent claims to be upheld. Identity fraud appears to now be drenched in rights enshrined in law. Soon we shall see demands for ‘I feel like. Squirrel , therefore You must identify me as a squirrel!!!!

  2. The last two paragraphs seem to be making a generalisation that most of the transgender community would not accept. There is no slippery slope from being trans to fetishizing disability, and transgender people aren’t oppressing anyone by being trans. I’m afraid the “trans-abled” analogy is appropriation, and I wish people with BIID (including transgender people with BIID) wouldn’t use it; it’s not helpful to anyone.

  3. lisaprime said:

    It’s good to see this subject raised and in a non-inflammatory manner.

    The radfem critique of transgenderism, as I think of it anyway, looks something like this:

    1. The negative impact on feminist theory is that the emphasis on individuality downplays or erases women as a class that experiences historically-defined ongoing oppression and acts collectively to remedy it. Also, the structure of legal protections for transgender people is resulting in increasing “genderization” of people, not liberation for women from oppressive gender roles.

    2. The negative impact on women is that, since the transgender community has not yet carefully distinguished who is trans and to be protected by law as such, and since it does not police the opportunistic use of the name by predators, women are exposed in vulnerable situations, such as locker rooms, to potential sexual assault. In meetings and conferences they are triggered into silence by male-socialized behaviors of M2Ts.

    3. The negative impact on lesbians is twofold: extreme transactivists are pressuring lesbians to alter their sexuality to include engaging in sex with people with male genitalia, and lesbians are being especially pressured to “transition”, even when they are lesbians and not transgender.

    4. Any critique based on these impingements on women is being actively silenced by various methods.

    5. As for transableism, transspecism, and transracism, the analogy to transgenderism is unmistakable, and it is the responsibility of the transgender community to demonstrate that there is some conceptual difference such that transgenderism should be treated as a human rights, not a disability, issue. This has not been demonstrated at present.

    Only when the transgender community develops substantive responses to these points can a discussion with radfems commence.

  4. lisaprime said:

    What’s going on? Did I say something that can’t be discussed? That was not my intention. Please, sisters. let’s hear from you.

  5. rainsinger said:

    Lisa: I think you’ve basically said it all beautifully. I can’t think of anything useful to add!

  6. lisaprime said:

    Thanks, Rain, I wrote this as a response to the trans commenter who stated above , “transgender people aren’t oppressing anyone by being trans.”

    I doubt any radical feminist has a problem with “transgender people being trans.” We aren’t transphobic, unlike mainstream men and especially MRAs. Some have called us “the garbage sex”. We are the refugee sex, the place where a lot of people go when society casts them out.

    Transactivists of course cannot engage with men as they are too violent, and find women easier to attack, even though we are just scapegoats. I suppose we are the “low-hanging fruit” who are relatively easy to silence as we are used to it and nonviolent. Do we understand this fear, or what! Even so, it is illegitimate and shameful.

    The problem is the aggressive/masculine stances being taken by transactivists, which are outlined above, with destructive consequences for women. The legal consequences of their untrammeled and inconsiderate politics are harming women as I stated.

    We are being called TERFs (trans-exclusionary radfems). May I have the honor of inaugurating a much more accurate term: MERFs. We are male-exclusionary in certain cases and at certain times.

    Thanks to Dragon Dyke for this article.

  7. accusative said:

    lisaprime: You just summarized the radfem transactivist critique in a brilliant, eloquent and non-inflammatory way – kudos! You don’t happen to have a blog anywhere?

  8. lisaprime said:

    Thanks, acc! No, no blog, Any radfem may feel free to use this comment for the purpose of clarifying our position.

  9. Ob Knox said:

    Daira said: “There is no slippery slope from being trans to fetishizing disability, and transgender people aren’t oppressing anyone by being trans.” But :
    (1) whether any individual trans person is on a slippery slope is irrelevant because, conceptually, these two ideas are related and it is a conceptually slippery slope. Also, a legal one. How will we prevent “trans-racial” people who are White from demanding the right to appear in (perhaps a technologically-enabled) blackface and gain membership in– and eventually, no doubt, pursuing leadership in– Black organizations, communities, and history-writing once we have conceded IN LAW that trans people who are men have a legal right to demand inclusion in women-only spaces, communities, and movements?
    (2) being trans just is to fetishize gender because to fetishize means to attribute (often supernatural) characteristics to something that in fact that something does not have. That’s all it means, and those attributes can be sexual or not– it’s still fetishization. Gender is a system that assigns characteristics to bodies that, in fact, those bodies do not have. In the trans understanding gender identity is a sort of supernatural characteristic of bodies– invisible, untestable, “womanhood” is in this understanding a supernatural characteristic of bodies in feminine regalia. The emblems, symbols, or paraphernalia possessed by women are taken to be visual representation of that supernatural “reality.”

    Daira also said: “I’m afraid the “trans-abled” analogy is appropriation, and I wish people with BIID (including transgender people with BIID) wouldn’t use it; it’s not helpful to anyone.” I truly do not understand how you can’t see the similarity, Daira. In fact, I don’t believe that you don’t see the similary, I believe that trans activists have a vested interest in pretending not to see the similarity so that they never have to address the issue. These are at the very least structurally identical claims: “I am a woman inside” and “I am a paraplegic inside” when spoken by a man and an able-bodied person, respectively. And as Lisa’s brilliant comment said, “it is the responsibility of the transgender community to demonstrate that there is some conceptual difference such that transgenderism should be treated as a human rights, not a disability, issue.”

    The “trans-abled” will never be the vanguard of this movement– the “trans movement” which, as the blog post brilliantly distills, believes that inner feelings should be equivalent to or trump political analysis and the protection of politically oppressed classes– because they are much more clearly bizarre. Wanting to injure yourself in order to “be who you truly are inside”, all the way to amputating your own healthy limb(s) in a trashcan full of dry ice in your garage, is bizarre. Of course, to women and feminists, femininity and gender are bizarre, we feel that in our bones, so we’ve already caught on. But I have no doubt that if the trans activists are successful in their quest, the “trans-abled” and “trans-racial” (et al, *sigh*) will follow and will have a much easier time of it, too.

  10. jdmarsh89 said:

    What kind of postmodern bs is this? I mean, really? Real life is not like a video game where you can tailor your avatar to a specific “ideal” in order to be treated differently by the other “players”. Trans-everything is just Münchausen syndrome. All these people want to feel like special snowflakes. M2Ts want to feel like the “best” woman in the room, because they are not able to disown their socialized privilege as males; They want to be at the top of the food chain wherever they go. Moving down a social class enables them to feel they are a big fish in a small pond instead of trying to climb the ladder as a man, which, let’s face it, is much more competitive due to socialization. Women are ever so much nicer… except when they are thinking critically and organized as a group, so let’s keep them from doing that, call them bigots if they try to, and everything will be hunky dory.

    “Transabled” people are no different. They don’t want to be just anyone with a disability. They want to be the “best” at having a disability. They want people to marvel at how fit they are and well they look, and how effortlessly they seem to navigate the world with their “disability”, all while trampling on the rights of people with, you know, actual disabilities. It’s all so ridiculous, I want to scream.

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