I was recently surprised to learn recently that eminent Johns Hopkins University’s school of medicine, which pioneered “sex-change” (a.k.a. gender reassignment) surgery in 1966, abruptly abandoned the practice in 1979.
I found this news disorienting in America’s current transgender-focused and -accommodating cultural moment. I wondered whether such surgery is still banned at Baltimore, Maryland-based Johns Hopkins.
Jettisoning of the gender reassignment program in ’79 came after Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the school’s psychiatrist-in-chief from 1975-2001, had declared that transgenderism was a “mental disorder,” and that reassignment surgery was tantamount to “collaborating with and promoting a mental disorder,” according to a 2015 article in right-wing CNS News online.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, I also learned that Christianity was involved, if tangentially, in the medical school’s sudden about-face those many years ago, because McHugh was not just a devout Catholic but “one of the adornments of American Catholicism” and “a healer after the heart of the Divine Physician” (God), according to a recent article in the Christian website First Things.
And we know how perpetually unnerved devout Catholics are about all things sexual and about gender fluidity in particular, and how they rigidly adhere to so-called “natural law.” As the website USCatholic.org defines this concept:
“Broadly understood, natural law refers to a range of moral theories that rely on rational discernment of the natural order as a means of telling good from evil. Within Catholic moral teaching, natural law arguments are commonly invoked to denounce “unnatural” and therefore immoral acts: contraception, same-sex sexual relations, and many assisted reproductive technologies, for example.”
After doing a little more digging, I discovered that some four decades later Johns Hopkins came to its senses, reinstituting transgender surgery in 2017, despite Dr. McHugh, who today is now 90, then still being active as a Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at the school.
Dr. McHugh’s reservations about gender reassignment surgery — he contends that sex change is “biologically impossible” — tend to mirror those of the Christian Right and Natural Law crowds, although he insists his views as undergirded by rock-solid science.
The CNS article notes:
“Dr. McHugh, the author of six books and at least 125 peer-reviewed medical articles, made his remarks in a recent commentary in the Wall Street Journal, where he explained that transgender surgery is not the solution for people who suffer a ‘disorder of ‘assumption’ — the notion that their maleness or femaleness is different than what nature assigned to them biologically.”
Considering McHugh is a psychiatrist, it seems cognitively dissonant that he seems to differentiate between physical sexual biology and psychological gender and sexual orientation manifestations, as though the twains never meet. I’m no expert, but I strongly suspect that transsexuals who seek reassignment surgery and hormonally influenced physical changes don’t expect to be magically remade into fully actualized males or females; I suspect its to achieve an approximation of the gender they feel most natural with, to ease their body-mind disorientation.
What exactly is a “disorder of assumption,” as McHugh labels it? He says it is an assumption where a person is in fact “different than the physical reality of their body, their maleness or femaleness, as assigned by nature.” That would make aberrant any feelings, thoughts or behavior if they’re not in concert with a person’s born sexual equipment, including homosexual tendencies. This strikes me as thinking corrupted by religious notions that sex organs, bequeathed by God, infer a divinely unchangeable destiny, no matter whatever independent notions may be bubbling in one’s psyche.
No matter. McHugh views those suffering from gender dissonance as similar to already “dangerously thin” persons suffering from anorexia nervosa who are convinced they’re overweight,” the CNS article states.
Except that you can die from anorexia but not gender dysphoria (except by suicide when ravaged by a continuous assault of cultural prejudice and persecution).
In a 2014 Wall Street Journal essay, “Transgender Surgery Isn’t the Solution: A drastic physical change doesn’t address underlying psycho-social troubles,” McHugh lamented that a “government and media alliance advancing the transgender cause has gone into overdrive in recent weeks” promoting such policies as Medicare funding for sex reassignment surgery and authorization for transgender troops in the U.S. military.
“Yet policy makers and the media are doing no favors either to the public or the transgendered by treating their confusions as a right in need of defending rather than as a mental disorder that deserves understanding, treatment and prevention,” McHugh wrote. “This intensely felt sense of being transgendered constitutes a mental disorder in two respects. The first is that the idea of sex misalignment is simply mistaken—it does not correspond with physical reality. The second is that it can lead to grim psychological outcomes.”
McHugh says society’s acceptance of “mistaken” transgender “assumptions” is the same as the 1990s “craze” of accepting people’s false “recovered memories” regarding reputed parental sexual abuse in years long past.
He claims studies at both Vanderbilt University and London’s Portman Clinic show that 70-80 percent of people with reported transgender feelings “spontaneously lost those feelings” eventually and without medical or surgical intervention. Twenty-five percent, however, experienced persistent gender dysphoria, he said. And he mentions one 2011 study by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute that reportedly indicated a “20-fold increase” in suicide of transgendered people long after sex reassignment intervention, but broad misrepresentations of the study, including McHugh’s, have been debunked.
In any event, he contends all transgendered are wrong in how they interpret their feelings and choose to heed them.
“‘Sex change’ is biologically impossible. People who undergo sex-reassignment surgery do not change from men to women or vice versa. Rather, they become feminized men or masculinized women. Claiming that this is civil-rights matter and encouraging surgical intervention is in reality to collaborate with and promote a mental disorder,” McHugh wrote.
Tellingly, even McHugh’s own Johns Hopkins medical school colleagues don’t agree with him anymore, not to mention the 76 percent of Americans who fully accept LGBTQ fellow citizens and reject dismissal of their concerns and public discrimination against them, according to the 2020 American Values Atlas study by the Public Religion Research Institute.
And that’s four points higher than just last year.