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A Response to New York Times ‘Ethicist’ Chuck Klosterman

In the February 3rd New York Times Magazine, Chuck Klosterman (‘The Ethicist’) addresses the following Question from a reader:

I’ve been living the life of a married man for 20 years. I have a successful career and three children. All this time, however, I have battled gender dysphoria and the deep sadness that comes from living a lie. From the earliest age, I’ve been unhappy being male. I believed I would find happiness only once I was true to myself. I recently had my self-diagnosis confirmed, and I’m initiating a transition to living as the real me. There is a cost involved: pain to my family and stress on my career. Ethically, is it right to be “true to myself” even if that authenticity ends my otherwise happy marriage and damages the emotional stability of my three children? If I had to maintain the lie, the emotional cost would be tremendous; a transition would share the pain with all who love me but might result in happiness. What’s the ethically correct thing to do? NAME WITHHELD, MASSACHUSETTS

The following is my response (which I also sent the the New York Times).

In Response to Chuck Klosterman’s February 3rd ‘Transition Point’.

Ethical Issues Gender TransitionChuck Klosterman (The New York Times ‘Ethicist’) response to a (natal) Massachusetts man’s question on gender transition wraps itself around the idea of measuring happiness.  He talks about the potential happiness of the transitioning man vs. the loss of happiness of his wife and kids.  He notes that there already “is happiness in your life”, and that the transition “might do damage” to the children who “lack the intellectual and emotional maturity to comprehend what’s really happening”.

What is really happening?  As a therapist who has specialized in Transgenderism for the past 18 years I know that people of this age come to see me when they can no longer live with their Gender Dysphoria.  It’s not about happiness; it’s about no longer being able to continue as they have in the past.  Gender Dysphoria is an intense, psychologically painful and anxiety laden state which can intensify over time to the point of being intolerable.  Gender is our first and most intimate identity, and to have that be wrong in some way is deeply disturbing.  I have had many people say some form of:  “there is no choice, it’s either this or I kill myself”.  Furthermore, transitioning is a process of becoming who one authentically is.  I think that’s a pretty good lesson for kids.

The ‘problems’ inherent in all this is that there is significant stigma and discrimination around being transgender in our society.  The only way to combat this is for brave people to acknowledge and be who they are and try and maintains good relationships with those around them.   I think if we envision a person in other (and now less) stigmatized groups in Mr. Klosterman’s article, the issue becomes clearer.  For example – an African American man in, say 1940 wanting to marry a white woman, or a gay person of the same era wanting to be an “out” school teacher… all things that the individual’s family would have not been too happy about.  Transgenderism is at the point in its own unique history of discrimination evolution where these groups were 30 years ago.   Is it easy to have a family member who is a member of a stigmatized group?  No.  Is the answer to have that person disavow their membership and suffer in silence in order to not embarrass anyone?  I don’t think so.

Mr. Klosterman’s “advice” is a good example of a person attempting to grapple with the issue of Gender Dysphoria while possessing only surface knowledge of the subject.   When public figures, doctors, psychiatrists and others do this – they do harm.   This is decidedly ‘un-ethical’.  Mr. Klosterman  – please do your homework and write a better response.

Ami B. Kaplan, LCSW

New York City Psychotherapist

Member of the ‘Policy and Procedures’ and ‘Child and Adolescent’ Committees of WPATH – the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

www.amikaplan.net, www.tgmentalhealth.com

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6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Justine-Paula Robilliard #

    How do you define happiness? What is to be happy? And if you always give up this in order to make others happy ie, as in this case, the wife and children, is that not being a bit selfish… Happiness or being true to oneself is a very personal aspect of a human life.

    Is the wife truly happy with an unhappy husband that is living a lie?? We of course cannot know what is the true state of affairs, Chuck Klosterman (The New York Times ‘Ethicist’) is making things worse not better by going to a position that in the end will make the wife feel even worse.

    Gender Dysphoria is not something anyone other than the person in the condition really understands, outwardly you seem fine, but inside it is a death of a million cuts, every day that passes, a minute part of your soul dies, and a dying soul is the worst kind of thing to have.

    “When you made the decision to have children, you committed yourself to the sacrifice of significant personal freedoms for the betterment of their lives”, yes for the most part this might be true, however children grow up, they mature, they are more and more able to understand the situation, and saying that you will harm them, is not true, many hundreds of people have transitioned with children and those children have gone on to lead productive successful lives, Jennifer Flynn-Boylan is a case in point, her children have flourished and excelled in school.

    In fact we are now at a point where children are themselves coming forward and transitioning, with the advent of the world wide web, and an accepting media, it is less shameful know than it was 20 years ago when I was a child wanting to be the true gender I was, and not the birth male I was.

    My advice talk to the children, the wife, have a family conversation, you never know what might be the response, and if it is negative, then the problem is not the “dad” it is the wife and children, they have issues to deal with..

    February 3, 2013
  2. Danica Criss #

    I started transitioning I was 37 , I am now 43. My final draw to transition was terrible, I lived on the seventh floor of a apartment building! I climbed over the railing of my balcony and was going to do a head drop straight down, what saved me was my three incredible children popped into my head. I ended up sobbing on my couch for three hours, when I decided it was time to transition! Two fail marriages because I was trapped in the wrong body. I have since completed my physical transition, and at peace with myself now. My three children have been supportive and accepting and very helpful! I am blessed that my family is accepting except my father, who I hope one day accepts me as his daughter! I would like to note that when we transition we continue to transition, our family friends, co-workers and employers, society transition with us. Am I happy, yes of course , I am, i’m not living a lie any longer. I have a great relationship with my children ages 13, 18, and 19, that I did not have before as I bottled up my emotions out of fear of someone figuring out I was Trans. Transgender people have nothing to apologize for , as we are men and women , such as society ! Sadly way to many people think gender is what is between our legs, it is not, in fact gender and sexual identities are in the brain! I have had Gender Reassignment Surgery in June of 2012 , and content with that! Sure we find happiness , who doesn’t? I get irate with how the media depicts trans individuals , in all factions of media! Being Transgender is not glamorous , we just want to be ourselves and accepted as who we are, just men and women! I use my transitional experience to educate , with the hope it changes people’s thinking about Trans persons. Thank you for allowing me to post this Reply!

    February 3, 2013
  3. Interesting. All the online comments on the column disappeared midday Sunday, including yours, and there is no ability to comment on the piece anymore.

    February 4, 2013
  4. By far the most selfish act possible is to deny your spouse and children from ever getting to know your true, authentic self and to see you happy in your own skin as the human being you truly are.

    I cannot speak for anyone else of course, but almost all of my relationships with my children, extended family, and friends, are fuller, richer, happier and the joy shared is mutually beneficial in that happiness is contagious.

    Sharing our lives with others and bringing children into the world of course require that we all make some compromises and sacrifices. No one denies that fact. To deny one human being’s authentic self to them out of a desire to shield others around them from having to accept and support that person’s happiness as well as their own… to say that only that one person should be the one to suffer eternally so that all around them are free to continue in a life which never sees compromise, and never requires some give and take is to say that the person’s life and needs have no value.

    All people in a long-term relationship change over time, that is fact. Some learn to share and adapt to those changes, some do not. This is a hard lesson in life repeated daily around the world and not just by families with a trans* family member.

    Children learn many valuable lessons from their parents also, when parents teach them that sometimes the answer is “No” and sometimes you all have to give a little to share ass a family, and that parents are human beings as well, not automatons. Mom and Dad are not selfish to take time for themselves once in a while. We have as a society, come to confuse being a martyr with being a dedicated parent.

    There is no reason for a child of a trans* parent to be lessened by the experience. If anything there is a chance to share growth as a family and bear witness to an incredible life journey. I would venture that most issues around the transition for them would come as a result of outside forces, people who spread hate, bigotry, prejudice, and lies.

    August 16, 2013

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. On Transitioning Later in Life: TG Mental Health article | Tula Health
  2. New York Times ‘Ethicist’ Tells Transitioning Reader To Weigh Others’ Happiness When Coming Out | News 47News 47

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