Human beings, I have read, are simply not hedonistic enough. I tend to agree with the sentiment entirely, and this week more evidence came along. It was in the form of a story about a mother and child, both pleading for the world to accept the girl as a boy. The issue, said the story, was gender dysphoria – the feeling one is born into a body of the wrong gender. But I don’t think that’s what the story was about at all: it was about a mother’s search for the happiness of her child. It is, of course, the most natural thing in the world for a mother to seek such a thing and I don’t blame her. I do think, however, she has stopped the search too soon.
You see, happiness is like looking at a very faint star in the night sky. The harder you stare, the more difficult it is to pick out. Insisting on finding it will only make you miserable because, at some point, the search will fail. It’s only when you stop looking and start to gaze at the entire night sky that the strange little glow finally makes itself visible. My point is that happiness is a byproduct of how we learn to look at life. It is not the result of getting certain things we want.
Unfortunately, we have made for ourselves a cosy little lie that tells us just the opposite – in every advertisement, movie and song – because it is much easier to buy something, even a sex change, than it is to train our unruly minds and hearts to be content. So instead, we create superficial selves – on Facebook, at work or through surgery. We know none of it is true, because we teach our children not to judge by appearances. But we cling to the comforting lie anyway, claiming that a man dressed as a woman really is a woman, claiming that which can’t be seen – his genes and hormones and bone structure – mean nothing. We cling to it when we throw away hundreds and hundreds of generations of DNA that go into making every individual exactly as he or she is, and say identity is nothing more than emotion. Identity is hard enough for adults to wrangle with, let alone children, yet we encourage them to make choices they can’t comprehend and fail even to talk through the evidence that sex changes simply don’t work.
Studies such as those done by Portman Clinic in London, or Vanderbilt University in the United States, which show 70 to 80 per cent of children who experience transgender feelings lose them over time, aren’t talked about. Famously, the first hospital in America to offer sex-change therapy, Johns Hopkins, withdrew it after a study a decade later found psychological troubles persisted in sex-change patients. As Dr Paul McHugh, former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital, points out in the Wall Street Journal, even a long-term, 30-year study out of Sweden covering more than 300 people is ignored. It shouldn’t be, because it found the group’s suicide mortality rate rose 20-fold compared with their peers starting from 10 years after sex-change operations.
It all makes perfect sense if you think of gender dysphoria for what it is: an issue of the mind, not the body. Which brings us back to happiness and hedonism.
That’s why I agree with writers like C S Lewis, who say we give up too early. We – all of us – stop the search for happiness amid superficials like sex changes, making money or gaining reputation, which only ever change appearances and cannot last.
We need change deep inside of us if we want true happiness, and that is something worth insisting on.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz