Why do some extreme liberals and some extreme conservatives oppose sex reassignment surgery (SRS)? Strikingly, it may be because of the same kind of teleological bias in their reasoning.
An extreme religious conservative man objects to oiur existence with something like, "Sex changes are just unnatural. It's against what nature intended." An extreme liberal feminist objects to our existence (at least male to female transsexuals with something like, "You're still just a deluded man who cut off his penis. It's wrong to think you can acquire womanhood by turning youself into something manufactured. At best you're a 'male to constructed female' transsexual."
There are some of ways people choose to object to transsexuals having sex reassignment surgery. In one sense they seem like fundamentally different objects. The first objects, in a sense, because we don't live up to their gender role expectations of us. The second objects, in a sense, because we feel we can acquire a gender role we weren't born into. Yet there is another sense in which both of these objections really share the same way of thinking about sex organs. In the following essay I would elaborate what that way of thinking is and why it's not necessarily the way we should think about sex organs.
I'm not a biologist but one thing I study (as a to-be-psychologist) is how people use causal mechanism. There's an issue about the way we (meaning people in general) frequently think about causality that accidently seeps into almost everyone's understanding of the theory of biology. The theory of biology is completely mechanistic. Variations that happened in the past lead to whatever comes next solely because of the past and the mechanisms involved in creating the next generation. The causality is not teleological. That's just to say there is no purpose or goal involved necessarily involved in evolution. Teleology is the belief that things are created for a purpose. Teleological reasoning is considered inadequate for a scientific explanation because it relies on knowing something in the future (i.e. the goal) to say what the cause was in the past. Since science should predict things, all explanations can only be in terms of the past. (Okay, I'm oversimplifing) Anyway, here's an example of different types of causal explanations:
Question: Why does it rain?
Teleological Answer: because it helps plants grow
Mechanistic Answer: because of the water cylce
I feel the teleological explanations imported into our understandings of biology and psychology (people) is one of the major reasons people feel they can say our choices are "unnatural." But really we can point out to these people that they misconstruing our understanding of what nature is.
People can say things like why would you do such things to your sex organs when they work just fine. But that assumes there's a purpose sex organs are designed to fill ... i.e. they "work." Sex organs *do* things ... things which if they didn't do there probably wouldn't be a next generation ... but that doesn't make it what sex organs are *for*.
There are people who object to our "artifactualizing" sex organs. An artifact is just something that's a product produced like a pencil. We can probably meaningfully say a pencil is *for* writing because that's what it was intentionally created to do that. We can even *use* a pencil for drumming but still say it's *for* writings. To me, it seems so weird to say we artifactualize sex organs when all some of us do is make choices about the use of parts of our bodies. I'm just using part of my body in a way others might not (like drumming with a pencil). Certainly those who object to us artifactualizing sex organs are feeling a natural need to protect a sense of what their sex organs are for. But really all we should need to do is remind them that they can still think of sex organs as for something even if somebody uses it in another way. When somebody declares a use of sex organs (like reorganization by a sex change) wrong, those people say there's a "proper" use of the organs (i.e. a purpose). Ironically that makes those critics treating sex organs more like artifacts than some transsexuals.
Both the extreme right and extreme left raise objections to our choices with the same type of reasoning about biology: teleological. This reasoning is inappropriate for understanding biology, animals, body parts, and even sex organs. It still surprises me that there are people who consider my life and my choices a matter for their political debates. But if they feel a need to point out why we're "bad" I suppose it's worth this small essay to point out their bad reasoning.