A reader writes: “I just read this extremely sad news about a transman in Belgium who chose to end his life (legally) after a series of unsatisfactory gender-confirming operations
“I wondered what your take on this news is, more from the perspective of the issues FTM people face than from the question of whether euthanasia should be legal (which is the primary focus of the HuffPost article). Though of course the question of whether euthanasia should have been authorized for this man’s situation is very relevant as well.”
I was also very sad when I first heard about this situation. And even though you said that you weren’t asking about my perspective on euthanasia in general, I’m going to put it out there anyway.
I am a supporter of euthanasia, assisted suicide, or similar arrangements. I believe that people should have as much control over their own lives as is possible, and that includes having control over their own death.
I think if someone is of sound mind, has been made aware of all the other options available, and has determined that death is the best option – not just for the moment, but over the very long haul of eternity – then that person should have the right to pursue the best option.
So based on that, I support what this man, Nathan Verhelst, did. According to everything I’ve read, he was living with unbearable psychological pain. He had to apply for the procedure, go through a waiting period, go through counseling, and so on, before he could die. He made the decision and stuck with it through months of waiting, so I feel as though this was a part of his life that he had the right to control.
Now, having said all that, I wonder what kind of reality checking was done with him prior to his transition surgeries. I am a firm believer in ongoing, and sometimes harsh, reality checks prior to, and in the early stages of, medical transition. Some people think I am being negative when I do even the most minor reality checking with people who write in to me, but I see it as being realistic.
Did this man not know that he was going to have a scarred chest from chest-reconstruction surgery? Had he not seen other guys’ chests – not the ones in surgical photos, but chests in real life, including those who have quite a bit of visible scarring? Did this man not know what complications might occur with phalloplasty, including the possibility of infection, tissue death, and, as he says, “rejection”? Did he not understand that he would have a surgically altered body and that there was a possibility that it would always look that way? Why were these reality checks not done with him?
Of course, it’s possible that they were done. We tend to hear what we want to hear, and we tend to believe that the future that we fantasize about will be the one that will happen. We tend to think, “That’s the way it is for other people, but it won’t be that way for me” or “That’s what happens to other people, but it won’t happen to me.” This is true for both trans and non-trans people, and it’s true in a variety of situations.
It also concerns me that he felt he would be a “monster” with a body that is different from the “standard” bodies out there (of which there are very few, really). In many parts of the world, we have established such impossible standards of beauty, and even standards of normalcy, that most people simply can’t live up to them. The idea that having a less-than-perfect body is reason to commit suicide is tragic.
I think that trans people face this type of thing every day when coming to terms with our bodies, but I think other people do, as well. And what the media and the culture has done to average, everyday people in terms of body image and expectations is unforgivable.
So that part bothers me a lot. But it also sounds as if Mr. Verhelst had a few other issues, both in his present life and in his past, including a horribly rejecting mother who thought he was ugly to begin with (see the video associated with the linked article, above). Transition doesn’t solve all of your problems. It solves one problem. The rest are still there, along with several new ones.
And for Mr. Verhelst, it sounds like a lose-lose situation. If he didn’t transition, he would have been too miserable to live. If the medical aspects of his transition were not favorable, he would have been (and was) too miserable to live. In that case, I support his decision.
But I continue to support strong reality checks in the hope of preventing this type of misery, at least for some people, and I continue to argue against the cultural beauty standards that are currently in place that would lead someone with a less-than-perfect body to believe that he is a “monster.”
What do readers think?