Sexual Identity and the Mind/Body Problem


We are all aware these days of people that wish to change gender.  Such people feel, in essence, that, although they have a woman’s body, they ‘feel’ like a man (or visa versa).  That is, that, although they appear to be female, they ‘identify’ as male.  In essence, they have the wrong body.  Or the wrong brain.


Let us start out by identifying the different kinds of individual one might encounter.  The first is genuine ‘non-binaries’ – these are individuals that are born with genuinely ambivalent genitalia – you literally cannot tell whether they are male or female – from infancy.  These individuals make up only a tiny percentage of the population.  What invariably happens is that doctors tend to choose the gender of the child, and the child then is treated, from that point forward as a male or a female.

Non-binaries are a special case – it is not that they have the wrong body or brain, but that they do not know which gender the body is, or which gender the brain is.

But most transgender people are certain that they have the wrong body.  So they change it, at enormous risk and expense.


Well, it just occurred to me that, if you feel there to be a mis-match between the gender of your body and the gender of your brain, it might be easier, cheaper and less risky to change your brain, rather than your body.  If, for example you have a woman’s brain, but a man’s body, why not elect hormone therapy (androgens?) to ‘re-sex’ your brain?  Now your brain is masculine, to match the body you were born with…


There must be many advantages to changing the way you think, versus changing your body.  For a start, brain treatments will probably be reversible.  If, after changing your brain from female to male, you change your mind (pun intended), then possibly the whole process can be reversed by prescribing oestrogen and progesterone and dialling back on testosterone.  Changing your body, on the other hand, will usually involve treatments that are not easily reversible (like having various bits amputated).

Next, we must consider the financial aspect.  I have no idea of the costs involved but a quick Google search tells me that I can expect a bill of at least £50k.   Who pays that?  Who should pay that?  In America you would have to find this money yourself.  In the UK, this surgery is available on the NHS.  Should it be? 

But, whoever foots the bill, it’s expensive.  Drugs would be relatively cheap by comparison.

And presumably there would be less pain and suffering – no painful, unpleasant operations.  None of the risks associated with general anaesthetics.

And then there is the cosmetic consideration.  I have no data on this and have gone out of my way not to find any, but I cannot imagine that a body that has had a sex-change operation is going to look as good as a natural body.


Well, the first problem I can foresee is that people will object that the essence of themselves is in their brain, not their body.  So, the existing personality needs to be preserved, and the brain should remain unaltered.

Thought Experiment:  If we remove your brain and my brain, and then put your brain in my skull and visa-versa, where are you?   Have you had a brain transplant, as conventional wisdom has it, or is it not the case that you have, in fact, had a body transplant?   Most people would say that ‘you’ are now in my skull with my body (poor you!).  You have had a body transplant.  For surely the essence of an individual is to be found in the brain, not the body.

And, if that is right, is it not ethically problematic to advocate the use of drugs (or any other therapy) to change a person’s brain?  Then again, if the decision to take drugs that changes the gender of a patient’s brain is the patient’s own decision, that is a matter for the patient, isn’t it?  And, one could argue, this patient has been remarkably unselfish, agreeing to change the way they think, rather than what their body looks like, saving, along the way £thousands.

Also, we routinely prescribe drugs to patients that are mentally unwell.  Those drugs change the way their brain works.  Why would this be any different?   I mean to say, could it not be argued that someone who believes they have the ‘wrong’ body is mentally unwell too?  If we prescribe Ritalin and Benzodiazepines to patients, what is so different about prescribing drugs that change the way we think about our gender?  

If I believed myself to be a brick, or a bird (something I demonstrably am not) presumably it’s ok to give me drugs that help me change the way I see myself.  Or should I change my body to that of a brick – or a bird?

‘Identifying as’

There is much talk these days of ‘identifying as’ something.  I look like a man, but I ‘identify’ as a woman.  I take this to mean that ‘I see myself’ as a woman.  That seems fine.  If one wishes to identify as a member of another gender, why not?  Indeed, if one wishes to identify as a brick, or a wooden fence, all power to you.  One can see oneself precisely how one wishes.

But what ‘I identify as’ actually means, in practice, is “I see myself as a woman, and I expect to be treated as such, by you and by society at large.”   And there is the problem.  Here, you are imposing your wishes on others. 

Is this really so different to the situation where a white man says ‘I identify as a black man’.  One can ‘identify’ as anything one wishes – that does not make it so.  Michael Jackson spent his entire life seemingly wanting to change form being a black man to being a white woman.  But this did not alter the fact that he remained black, and male.


One can ‘identify as’ anything.  If you identified as a brick but were in fact a man, this would be treated as a mental illness.  If a white person ‘identified as’ a black person, they would, again, be seen as having some kind of mental problem.  Are there no white people who identify as black, or visa versa?  And, if there were, should they have expensive and risky surgeries or other treatments to change their skin colour?  Presumably there’s a lot more to being white, or black, than merely the colour of one’s skin.  Likewise, presumably there’s a bit more to gender than merely the nature of the dangly bits with which one is currently endowed.  But where one identifies as a different gender special rules apply.

That seems wrong.

Published by neopolitic


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