Jun 10, 2015
Human, Transhuman, Transgender
Humans have always used technology to change nature, both the external environment and our own bodies.
We’ve heard a lot about transgender people lately. Not all of it has been kind. Some of it has been exceptionally ugly.
It happens that I am not transgender.
But I am a transhumanist. I think maybe we all are, to some degree.
What this means is very simple: It seems obvious to me that humans don’t need to remain the way that we began. On the contrary, I think the whole point of being human is that we are able to transcend mere biology. We can see the course we are on, and we can decide to change it. We are the only animals who can say a creative “No thanks” to the things that mother nature proposes. Her plans for us are often downright nasty. Avoiding them, and creating new plans for ourselves, is something we ought to celebrate.
We overcome our natural boundaries all the time, and it’s awesome. Nasty diseases: we vaccinate. Pesky pain receptors: we take morphine. Not born with wings: we build airplanes. Can’t talk to the dead: we read books. And on and on.
One key mark of being a human, in fact, is also an act that sets us apart from nearly all of mere nature: Humans wear clothes. We have done so since long before the dawn of history. We do it to keep out the cold, but in hot climates we do it anyway. Just to show who we are.
Being human also means that we consciously modify our bodies: Five thousand years ago, Ötzi the iceman wore clothes. He was also tattooed. Humans practice circumcision, body piercing, scarification—and less consequential body modifications like hair cutting and coloring, perfuming and makeup. We are the animals who change ourselves. We always have been.
Humans are protean. We all dwell at least partially in the world of freely and consciously chosen appearances, capacities, and body shapes. In a species like ours, it baffles me that being transgender isn’t more common than it already is. (Confession: If it were risk-free, and if I could go back whenever I wanted, I’d give it a try. Why not?)
If this is who we are, we should resolve to have fun with it, and to do it in a way that makes each of us individually as happy as possible.
I’m not asking you to endorse every transition that everyone else makes in their appearance, their body, or their self-image. Maybe some of them do bother you. But you almost certainly like some other changes—changes you’ve made, or that others have made, and you wouldn’t do without them. Some of them might even be quite radical. Is it reasonable to expect agreement about all of them, among all of us? Of course not. But it would appear that as with so many other things, we can either repress—or live and let live. And on that, I know which side I’m on.
It’s true, though, that I’d go even further. By my way of thinking, wanting to move from one perceived human type to another—from male to female—doesn’t require any explanation at all. Of course some people will want to do it. Wanting to change oneself is simply what people do, because people have minds, and that’s what minds do: They imagine. They move among and manipulate identities and images. They alter the world of mere stuff to resemble the life of the mind. That’s just human nature, perhaps even more than our current male or female bodies. Luminous beings are we….
So what puzzles me is not transgender people. It’s the people who spend all their time in this relentlessly imagined, meticulously designed, mind-suffused industrial society of ours, this society that’s built up of countless deliberate, thoughtful violations of mother nature’s way—and then say that one limit is natural, and one kind of change is fake, is wrong, or is in some great need of explanation.
Changing stuff, and changing ourselves, is exactly what we have always done.