It’s possible, though often not easy, to alter our circumstances: occupation, residence, nationality, marital status, social class, educational and economic levels, and religious and political preferences.

But until now, there wasn’t much we could do about our human condition: gender, genetic heritage, anatomical features and mortality. Though for ages unable to change our condition, at least we learned to fudge appearances. With cosmetics, clothing, styles and disguises we became shape-shifters, making ourselves look younger or more attractive and in cases of extreme deception, even passing for the other sex.

Now we may be on the verge of something much more fundamental: changing our condition as readily as our circumstances.

But why should we? Because our circumstances constitute the general arena of our happiness, whereas traditionally our condition has restricted us and put much of life off-limits. Until now, for example, as men and women we couldn’t experience life directly as the other gender, but only through art and imagination, which partially offset the tyranny of our condition.

Through drama, books or movies we can live vicariously as either sex.

The urge to improve our circumstances, and therefore our happiness, is as old as humanity. Hoping for a happier life, we may leave ancestral lands for more promising countries. Likewise, we hone our skills and increase our knowledge in order to earn and enjoy the better things of life.

Slowly at first and swiftly of late, mankind’s hope for happiness, once often stoically postponed until the next life, has morphed into a belief that it’s our human right here and now, and that regardless of condition there’s no justifiable reason to deny ourselves happiness.

If changing our circumstances has always obeyed this general imperative of happiness, the possibility of altering our human condition for the same purpose is unprecedented. There have always been members of one gender who felt they belonged to the other, just as members of one race or ethnicity sometimes prefer another.

But if such changes were impossible in earlier times, today cases of transgendered persons, though still relatively rare, continue to accumulate. Indeed, lately we hear the argument that gender itself isn’t an absolute, but a choice that may be made after one has a clearer vision of what constitutes the happy life.

The procedures could turn out to be as commonplace as changing our profession or residence. In other words, converting our human condition into yet another circumstance may become a mundane — or monstrous — option. I concede the possibility of the former; I much fear the prospect of the latter.

The first question these possibilities raise is whether, and to what extent, human condition and personal circumstances can be interchangeable concepts?

Second, what are the social, ethical and religious implications of these transformations? Third, does this call for a new understanding of what it means to be human? And, fourth and finally, do they lead to enduring happiness or eventual heartbreak?

Harold Raley lives in Friendswood.


(18) comments

Bailey Jones

"Third, does this call for a new understanding of what it means to be human?" No, it simply means that we need a better understanding of what it means to be biological beings. Transgenderism - if that's a word - has been around since people, as the writer acknowledges, but the writer misses another obvious fact. Transgenderism exists in many other species on the earth. I saw a recent story about lionesses growing manes and changing their behavior from female to male. Some species change their gender based on environmental conditions - some fish, for example. You may have seen the photo that made the rounds recently of a half male / half female Cardinal (a bilateral gynandromorph).

Issues of gender, sexual identify and preference always seem to ruffle feathers - because they are so tied to societal norms and religious prejudices. But I would just suggest the following bit of insight. Human characteristics are not binary. People are not just tall or short, fat or thin, smart or stupid. They aren't just black or white, blond or brunette, etc., every characteristic that we know of falls along a spectrum, it follows a Bell curve. Most people are what we call "normal", but this is a statistical norm, not a moral judgement. Most people are of "average height" while some are very tall, or very short. And we accept them all as being part of the spectrum of what a person can look like. Most people have 5 fingers, but not all - my granddaughter was born with 6 and I know a guy who was born with 4. It's exactly the same with gender. We all know men and women who are more or less masculine or feminine, even among heterosexuals. Sexual preference follows the famous Kinsey curve. Gender identity is just another of these characteristics that follow a spectrum. Most people (more than 99%, I believe) have a psychological gender identity that more or less matches their biological gender. A few do not. A few have no identity one way or the other. Some people have a well expressed gender identity but are born neither obviously male or female, or both male and female.

And all of this is fine. Say it with me - ALL OF THIS IS FINE. All of this is natural (existing in or caused by nature). It may take some getting used to, but it is. I still remember decades ago, the first time I shook hands with my four fingered friend and thinking "something isn't right here". But the problem wasn't his hand, it was my expectation. I got over it. The rest of you will too, just as soon as you realize that it's OK to be something besides "normal".

As for the forth point - "do they lead to enduring happiness or eventual heartbreak?" You could just ask them. I know a few transgendered people. Some are happy. And some are not. Just like "normal" people.

Carlos Ponce

"I saw a recent story about lionesses growing manes and changing their behavior from female to male." Not a good example, Bailey. The ovaries in the lionesses began secreting higher levels of testosterone due to genetic factors.

"Given all five known maned females [in the wild] come from the Okavango region, there must be a genetic component in this population underlying the phenomenon."

The lionesses did not go to a hospital to have the surgery to look and behave like lions. However, a maned lioness held at the National Zoological Gardens of South Africa (Emma) returned to normal appearance and behavior after her testosterone levels were corrected.

Mary Gillespie

Attempting to surgically change genders does NOT bring happiness: the suicide rate among transgendered people is much higher.

Bailey Jones

Surgery has nothing to do with transgender teen suicide. Trans people generally do not have surgical procedures until they reach adulthood. The reason so many trans youth commit suicide is because of rejection, as your article points out - “For transgender youth, we know, for example, that peer, school, community, and family based rejection, discrimination, and victimization are associated with greater risk for suicidal behaviors.” It's extraordinarily difficult to be happy in an environment when your very existence is a source of scorn, ridicule, abandonment, and abuse.

Carlos Ponce

So you're saying there is inadequate post-surgical psychological support groups. It's ma'am to sir, sir to ma'am and they're on their own? From what I read, psychological support is there but transgender apologists will tell you the reason for suicide is rejection. Perhaps the real reason is the surgery did not remove the inner demons that drove them there in the first place. They were unhappy before and remained that way. The surgery did not solve the real problem.

Bailey Jones

"So you're saying there is inadequate post-surgical psychological support groups." No. I didn't say anything remotely like that. Please read before commenting. Don't listen to your inner demons, they also don't read.

Carlos Ponce

"I didn't say anything remotely like that." Not exactly, but you did mention " rejection, discrimination, and victimization are associated with greater risk for suicidal behaviors". Since you and everyone involved know this then someone is dropping the ball in providing psychological support for these individuals.

Bailey Jones

I agree that someone is dropping the ball - society. There's no excuse for rejection, discrimination, victimization or demonization of people whose only "crime" is not being born under the fat part of a Bell curve.

Carlos Ponce

As I pointed out, it's not always rejection. They have problems. They think sexual reassignment will take of it. It doesn't. The problems are still there. There are histories where friends, family, everyone accepted ..... but they still committed suicide.

Wendy Maceo-Melton

Perhaps the suicide rate may be related to acceptance of society and religious biases. To live in a body that doesn't match your essence must be (and IS) a difficult thing to do. Rather than attribute it to changing one's appearance, it may be because of the rejection and phobia of an uneducated and biased populous that hated, bullied, and ostracized this man or woman or child their entire life. Compassion and empathy should be the religious answer, yet it is the opposite.

Carlos Ponce

I still believe it is better to make people feel better in the body they were born in. A bullied boy thinks that girls don't get picked on or are treated like a princess so he thinks he would be better off female. A girl who is molested thinks this would end by becoming male. Better to stop the bullying, stop the molestation. These are not the only two examples. Tons more reasons why people think it would be better to change their gender.

Mary Gillespie

It's not just teens. During their lifetime, 25-43% of trans people attempt suicide at least once.

Bailey Jones

The report is clear - the prevalence of attempted suicide is correlated with the prevalence of rejection and victimization (see pages 11-12). Also these statistics -

Family chose not to speak/spend time with them: 57%

— Discrimination, victimization, or violence at school,

at work, and when accessing health care

• Harassed or bullied at school (any level): 50-54%

• Experienced discrimination or harassment at

work: 50-59%

• Doctor or health care provider refused to treat

them: 60%

• Suffered physical or sexual violence:

— At work: 64-65%

— At school (any level): 63-78%

— Discrimination, victimization, or violence by law


• Disrespected or harassed by law enforcement

officers: 57-61%

• Suffered physical or sexual violence: By law

enforcement officers: 60-70%

— Experienced homelessness: 69%

One thing is crystal clear - the transgender path is not an easy one. And not one that could ever be taken lightly. This should put an end to the notion that gender identity is a "choice".

Carlos Ponce

But according to your statistics there are still those who commit suicide.....without the rejection, etc.

Bailey Jones

Well, yes, Carlos. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow in a woman's body. You'd probably not be happy about that. Imagine going through every day telling everyone you meet, "No, I'm Carlos, stop calling me Carla". Imagine that you've being doing that for 60+ years. Now imagine dealing with that as a child. There's a reason trans people are willing to endure the pain and trauma of surgery and hormone treatments, and the struggle of coming out as the opposite sex - because it's preferable to the pain of living in a body that doesn't feel like theirs.

Carlos Ponce

"because it's preferable to the pain of living in a body that doesn't feel like theirs." Riiiiight.......

Accept the body God gave you and surround yourself with people that affirm you for WHAT YOU ARE.

Read the article on being BODY POSITIVE:

Although it concerns other aspects the conclusion is to be happy with what you are.

The topic of waking up in a body with a different sex is common in much anime and manga. In the end that person usually accepts the body they have.

Hey, I prefer to be over 6 foot tall.... I see myself as over 6 ft tall. I have relatives over 6 ft tall. Should I seek painful surgery to make it so?

Bailey Jones

I think you should go for it, Carlos. I know a freakishly tall guy who would like to be a little shorter - maybe you could collaborate.

"Now there's no more oak oppression

For they passed a noble law

And the trees are all kept equal

By hatchet,


And saw"

Carlos Ponce

No thank you.

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