Thursday, June 04, 2015

A New Way to Be Mad and the World's Gone Glad

Fifteen years ago the Atlantic Monthly published an article entitled A New Way to Be Mad. Reading it is not for the faint of heart. Writer Carl Elliot described what he called the 'new' phenomenon of healthy people seeking to amputate limbs. At the time fewer than a half dozen articles had been published on apotemnophilia. Elliott, who has a medical degree himself, writes that most people who intentionally cut off otherwise healthy limbs "feel that their body is incomplete with their normal complement of four limbs."

This feeling of being trapped in an incomplete body is why many doctors and psychiatrists use the term  body integrity identity disorder. In 1977 the Johns Hopkins psychologist John Money published the first modern case history of an individual intentionally amputating an otherwise healthy limb and coined the term apotemnophilia from the Greek "love for casting off." In the four decades since, the Internet has seen an explosion of people who coalesce around the desire to saw off healthy fingers, toes, arms, and legs.

Most of us gasp at the bizarre pictures of people cutting off and throwing away otherwise healthy limbs. Yet gender identity disorder is seen as very similar to body integrity identity disorder by most clinical professionals. Elliott quotes British psychiatrist Russell Reid as saying "Transsexuals want healthy parts of their body removed in order to adjust to their idealized body image. I saw that people wanted to have their limbs off with equally as much degree of obsession and need and urgency (as transexuals)."

In other words, there is little if any difference between Bruce Jenner, a man conflicted with gender identity disorder who intentionally cuts off his penis, and a person afflicted with body integrity identity disorder who intentionally cuts off an arm, leg,  foot, etc....  (edit: The Vanity Fair article states Bruce Jenner places the cutting off of his penis as Step 10 in the process of his transformation; a step he has not yet taken). Yet the world recoils at body integrity identity disorder and praises gender identity disorder.

Why the disparity?

Atlantic Monthly reporter Carl Elliott gives us an answer in his article. His words are profound, prophetic, and politically incorrect.
"Clinicians and patients alike often suggest that apotemnophilia is like gender-identity disorder, and that amputation is like sex-reassignment surgery. Let us suppose they are right. Fifty years ago the suggestion that tens of thousands of people would someday want their genitals surgically altered so that they could change their sex would have been ludicrous. But it has happened. The question is why. One answer would have it that this is an ancient condition, that there have always been people who fall outside the traditional sex classifications, but that only during the past forty years or so have we developed the surgical and endocrinological tools to fix the problem.  
But it is possible to imagine another story: that our cultural and historical conditions have not just revealed transsexuals but created them. That is, once "transsexual" and "gender-identity disorder" and "sex-reassignment surgery" became common linguistic currency, more people began conceptualizing and interpreting their experience in these terms. They began to make sense of their lives in a way that hadn't been available to them before, and to some degree they actually became the kinds of people described by these terms."
ESPN is bestowing on Bruce Jenner the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the 2015 ESPY's this year. If Atlantic Monthly writer Carl Elliott is correct, a large number of young men will begin moving toward having their otherwise healthy penises cut off and discarded. It may be just a matter of another fifteen years before ESPN gives the courage award to someone who intentionally cuts off their arms, their legs, their ears, and their nose in order to feel normal.

I have several friends who have lost their limbs due to disease, combat, or natural birth deformities. They understand their identity is not determined by having healthy limbs, but if you ask them if they would have them back, they would say yes. They are looking forward to their day of restoration. They would also call those who intentionally cut off their limbs disturbed, and some might even go so far as Carl Elliott and call them mad.

I will have sympathy for anyone afflicted with this new psychological disorder for cutting off otherwise healthy limbs, but count me out as one who feels glad for this expression of the new mad.


Beth D said...

Well, I read that Jenner hasn't had the genital surgery, but other than that, I can see how there would be a parallel. Not too sure why people would think he's a hero (heroine?); transsexualism is no longer going against the societal norm. Thought provoking post, Wade.

Steven Stark said...

In this case best to live and let live.

And love.

The transgender folks I know have felt themselves to be of the different gender since they were children. If it's something they really want to do, and have wanted to do for a long while, then where is the harm? It may challenge our comfort zones, but love and happiness are not always aligned with comfort.

To think they are making it up to get attention, or because it's a fad, is not a charitable starting position. It seems more like trying to reaffirm our own worldview at their expense.

Wade Burleson said...

Beth, he has.

Wade Burleson said...

Steven, I agree with your call to love.

I think the more difficult call is for a doctor who is asked by his patient to cut off a healthy limb so his patient can feel better about his identity.

Ramesh said...

I have been a fan of Iain M. Banks fiction series on The Culture. One of the explored concepts there is of automorphism or gender change on demand.

This would be very apt for SBC in realizing that gender differences are mostly meaningless. Also it would create sea change in thinking if men were to have periods and carry babies to birth :)

Also look up on Jon Stewart comment on media, sexism, and Caitlyn Jenner. No links. Please google.

Ramesh said...

This might sound off topic but I believe it is related to how people view themselves either whole or broken and twisted by design.

Try reading Ayn Rand on Comprachicos and Noam Chomsky on Education is Ignorance to current bible teaching ... You will see similarities as to why the masses are being controlled, subdued and stilted all by design and it shows up in body AND mind mutilation (Sex change excluded).

My 2 cents :)

Ramesh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ramesh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ramesh said...

Trying to post comments from phones and moving back from blog post is leaving multiple comments. Very weird. Noticed it before but forgot to compensate by closing the blog page before going to a different page.

Lesson learned. Sorry about duplicate comments.

Christiane said...

I think what we don't know about gender issues is a whole lot more than what we know, and herein lies our human problem with addressing 'Bruce/Caitlyn'.

When I think about 'Caitlyn/Bruce', I realize that the trials this individual has been through are personal and extremely difficult
. . . if I haven’t been able to help 'Bruce' bear his burden, how can I then address 'Caitlyn's' situation with Christian integrity ???

The thing about God’s merciful view of human suffering is that it is much greater than what we are able to envision.
Only HE knows the heart of any individual.
Only He knows the sufferings of this world and of ALL humankind from the ages to the ages . . . He knows personally, from the cross.

And Christ, having taken on our humanity, understands our suffering caused by all of our human weaknesses and all of our human imperfections.

It is Christ's complete understanding of ‘Caitlyn/Bruce’ that I trust. Only His.
We WILL find Christ present within the sufferings of ALL humankind, including those of ‘Caitlyn/Bruce’.

Are we called just to compassion? Or to something infinitely more healing?

If we look on Christ and we will find our response to ‘Bruce/Caitlyn’ within Him, then any comments we make to or about 'Bruce/Caitlyn' will be reflective of the greatness of Our Lord's commitment in assuming our broken human condition which, only through Him, can find its ultimate peace and healing.

Chris Riley said...

My struggle is that if "God knit me together in my mother's womb", then to wholly modify that is akin to "God, you messed up." At its root is "Who is the God?" I totally affirm grace, mercy, and love, but how do we also communicate core truth?

Victorious said...

Oh my...this is a loaded topic. There are so many thoughts running through my head that I hardly know where to start. But I'll try a few for starters.

We tamper with our bodies in a million (slight exaggeration) different ways. We alter large noses; remove unsightly warts or moles; women have hysterectomies to avoid pregnancy; men have vasectomies to avoid impregnating; Jennifer Lopez had a perfectly healthy breast to avoid the possibility of breast cancer; women have breast augmentation; a sixth finger can be removed successfully; conjoined twins can be separated; men and women both cut their hair and nails....

We call these things "normal" changes. But once an "official" name is assigned to an unusual phenomenon, it legitimizes a condition that many may experience and not understood previously.

Additionally, correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't see an especially idolized perception of the human body in scripture. Nowhere is a eunuch criticized or condemned and Jesus even suggested cutting off a hand or gouging out eyes as a remedy to sin.

And one more "food-for-thought" thought. Many are penalized or rewarded based on body parts. My conclusion (at the moment:) is that we can't possibly know what motivates an individual to alter any body part as there are no easy answers.

stevenstarkmusic said...

Victorious, nice thoughts.

I joked the other day that an orthodontist should change his slogan to "Fixing God's mouth screw-ups since 19..."

We often pick and choose what we deem ok based on habit and comfort.

Wade Burleson said...

Victorious and Steven,

As you consider the alteration of teeth, noses, skin, and hair, remember that the purpose of an orthodontist is to repair what's broken, the dermatologist to heal what is scarred, the plastic surgeon to construct what's deconstructed.

This post is about cutting off what is healthy, removing what is functional, and destroying what is alive.

I see a difference, but your comments are good food for thought.

Victorious said...

This post is about cutting off what is healthy, removing what is functional, and destroying what is alive.

With all due respect, I think you are making an assumption under this circumstance. Obviously Bruce didn't see his penis as healthy or functional. My guess is that he saw it as a part of his body was as broken and in need of healing. I might liken it to someone born with a sixth finger on one hand. It makes him feel like a freak and while his hand still functions with no problem, he wants it removed.

I hope this remark isn't too crude, but might be the opposite of Sigmund Freud's "penis envy."

What are your thoughts about eunuch's and those who are intersexed?

Ramesh said...

I am sorry. I have to say this. The function of a penis ... It is just plumbing.

The removal of piping is trivial.

The psyche or the mind is the place where the removal or addition is taking place.

Same with breast augmentation.

Ramesh said...

I am sure Lorena Bobbitt will agree it is just plumbing.

Wade Burleson said...


The concept of eunuchs is an interesting one!

I have not developed thoughts on this, but you have challenged me. I am familiar with eunuchs in biblical times, including the Babylonia, Ethiopian, and Egyptian eunuchs, but I haven't really given it much thought for this discussion.

Also, the statement, "it would be better to cut it off" by Jesus is a dynamic worth further study.

Thanks, all for your comments. Thy Peace, I laughed at the last one! :)

Ramesh said...

Castration is slightly different. It does produce some internal changes.

I still feel and think the external changes are fairly superficial. Castration little bit more so. As in no passing of male sperm.

Ramesh said...

I am sure you are all aware how important it is to have a penis. At least in SBC it will allow you to preach. For some reason it is highly valued in that regard. A pity.