Bioethics: Whose Body is it Anyway?

Whose Body is it Anyway? Sexual Transformation in Germany (1890 – 1933)

Presenter: Sander L. Gilman, Emory Univeristy

Respondent: Max Cavitch

Gilman focused a great amount of his presentation on the story of Karl M. Baer and uses this to lead into the idea of the third sex. Baer was, however, not transgender but had an ambiguous sexuality which was reassigned by law. Raised as Martha, Baer changed his gender in adulthood as he felt he identified more as a male. In published texts, Baer went by the alias N.O. Body which he felt properly represented how he felt about himself. He parallels his story with scenes from The Odyssey where Odysseus refers to himself as “Nobody.” This depiction provides distinction as well as a great amount of confusion for the recipient in the conversation. Baer uses this description because he feels that it was difficult to find a place between the two genders. As a Jewish German, he also found difficulty and wanted to distance himself from the Jewish culture. The dichotomies of gender and religion, made it difficult for Baer to designate an identity.

A point that stuck out to me in Gilman’s presentation was his discussion of Mühsam’s ideology. It appeared that Mühsam believed that changing gender was similar to doing psychotherapy through surgery. The presented ideas suggested that surgeons transformed the body to operate on the mind. One of Mühsam’s more recognized patients requested to be changed back into their original sex. According to Gilman, this was a transformation that was necessary in both directions. Exploration of both genders allowed for the patient to find comfort in themselves and deduce what body they felt greater ownership over.

It seems that there is a lot of indecisiveness in terms of making gender transformations. In the cases of children being switched after birth, it may appear that a number of them would have preferred their born genders. Even for adults who have made the decision after much development, it seems that there still exist individuals who decide to change back to their original genders. Although the goal is to create a body that persons are most comfortable in, the increasing accessibility of doctors to perform such surgeries draws from its seriousness. Gender transformations should not be equated to jacket removable. It appears as such with the switching to and fro of genders. Also, it does not seem healthy for individuals to undergo continuous surgeries as physicians facilitate their patients’ indecisiveness. How can doctors assure that their patient’s decision will not change in the future to prevent excessive use of surgery?

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