In most cases, the argument has been that transexuality is a mental disorder and that using surgical techniques to treat it is at best complicity with (mentally ill) transexuals' choices.
In short, SRS for transexuals is replete with discourse about choice, who should be the proper agent of decision making, and the consequences of making those choices.
(29) I argue there that "transgender" does something that "transexual" does not: it provides a collective name for all and any kind of gender-variant identity and behavior--from transexuals and transvestites to (potentially) stone butches and effeminate gay men.
(14.) Cressida Heyes argues powerfully that the discourse of suffering at the heart of transexuals' disanalogies of SRS to "cosmetic" surgeries is politically complicated by reducing transexual selfhood to victimhood.
(1) I ask this apparently counterintuitive question--framed in terms of choice--as a male non-transexual who has conducted ethnographic research on transgender and transexual politics over the past twenty years.
Thus, in this paper I will not make simple analogies between SRS and other kinds of modern self-making practices to argue that SRS is just one of many "enhancement technologies" (5) of which modern transexual and non-transexual subjects may avail themselves, and that as such, it should escape critique.
I do this by exploring the tension between the theoretical and the visceral evident in my opening question and in the conversations I describe: between a willingness to consider the constructed nature of gender/sex and the visceral realties of thinking about SRS for the female and male non-transexual; between the avowed pragmatic support of a transexual's right to SRS and the quietly voiced reservations about the politics of SRS; and between social analysis and the idea of a surgeon at work down there.
The obvious response is that non-transexuals don't choose to have--in fact, never have to think about having--SRS because our core gender identities are aligned with the sexed bodies that we have (i.e., the reverse of a common transexual narrative).
For many of my transexual study participants, however, all these claims--feminist, medical, and voluntarist--are forcefully countered by the argument that SRS is never a "choice." Rather, SRS is the only possible solution to life-long suffering and a struggle with the sexed body and its social and personal meanings; it is no more of a choice than any other medical procedure that might save a life.
Thus, in the accounts of authors such as Hausman, Raymond, and the medical professionals cited above, the choice to undergo SRS is a bad choice, the result of a regressive and misplaced agency that misrecognizes the "structure" of binary gender or fixed sex for an individual transexual's "agency."
"WHAT ARE THE POLITICS OF THIS?" ENHANCEMENT, ANALOGY, AND TRANSEXUAL EXCEPTIONALISM
This is a second reason for the ambivalence Elliot notes, for if cosmetic surgery and Botox injections seem somewhat radical to some of us, they exist on a continuum of body enhancements and self-improvement techniques that far more people (transexual and non-transexual) engage in.