Should I Become a Woman and Risk Causing Pain to My Wife and Children? –

Ethics ConceptI’ve been living the life of a married man for 20 years. I have a successful career and three children. All this time, however, I have battled gender dysphoria and the deep sadness that comes from living a lie. From the earliest age, I’ve been unhappy being male. I believed I would find happiness only once I was true to myself. I recently had my self-diagnosis confirmed, and I’m initiating a transition to living as the real me. There is a cost involved: pain to my family and stress on my career. Ethically, is it right to be “true to myself” even if that authenticity ends my otherwise happy marriage and damages the emotional stability of my three children? If I had to maintain the lie, the emotional cost would be tremendous; a transition would share the pain with all who love me but might result in happiness. What’s the ethically correct thing to do? NAME WITHHELD, MASSACHUSETTS

The difficulty of your problem lies in the specificity of your desire. If you framed your situation in abstract terms — “Can I choose to do something for my own happiness that will potentially damage those whom I most love?” — it would seem as if the safest advice would be to place others before yourself. But this situation is unique. You’re arguing that this is not so much a choice as it is a correction to your central identity. My natural impulse is to tell you that every person has the right to decide (and become) whoever they feel they are. The desire to be yourself is not a selfish impulse. But there are some mitigating details in your specific case that make the answer less straightforward.

You believe you will “find happiness” only by being your true self — but that’s not exactly accurate. You describe your marriage as happy, you love your children, and your career is (at the very least) satisfying enough to make you worry about how a gender transition might complicate things. There is happiness in your life. Now, I realize what you’re referring to is a deeper, existential version of happiness that all people crave (and which goes far beyond having a good relationship or a good job). There are, however, many people who never experience that level of happiness, regardless of how they view their sexual identities. Even if you become someone else, you may never find it. So what we’re really weighing are the ethics of taking an irreversible gamble that will potentially improve your own interior life while significantly reinventing the lives of those around you.

Here again, the conclusion is not as simple as the question suggests: it’s impossible to know how much damage this would actually do. Your family may already sense that something is wrong. I could argue that an honest, difficult relationship is still better than a comfortable marriage based on the unreal; it’s also possible that your children (as they mature) will understand your desires completely. It’s entirely possible that this evolution could be positive for everyone involved. This, however, is all speculation. I don’t know you or anyone in your family, and it would be idiotic of me to pretend as if there were one irrefutable response to this situation. The person you need to talk to is your wife. You need to consider what this action will do to your three children, in both the short term and the long term. When you made the decision to have children, you committed yourself to the sacrifice of significant personal freedoms for the betterment of their lives; this is a profound extension of that reality, but that’s your ethical responsibility as a parent. So the question you really need to ask yourself is this: Is your psychological damage from gender dysphoria greater than the psychological damage that its restoration will inflict upon the lives of any (or all) of your children? If the answer is yes, proceed. If the answer is no, don’t do it. Your sadness is tragic, but at least it’s confined to yourself. This advice might seem reactionary, but it’s not a position on whether transitioning is ethical in and of itself. There’s no inherent ethical problem with that decision. It’s about the possibility of improving one life at a greater cost to three others who might lack the intellectual and emotional maturity to comprehend what’s really happening.


On Jan. 20, I responded to a query about the ethics of housing a beehive on your property (as a hobby) even if your new neighbors are allergic to bee stings. My response was that “it’s not ethical to pursue a recreational activity that puts unwilling third parties in nonspeculative danger, regardless of the legality.” I’ve received an inordinate amount of feedback to this response. Interestingly, most of the feedback takes issue not with the overall tenor of the advice, but rather with the specific danger that bees pose to humans.

I concede that the failure is my own.

When I received the original letter, I worked from the position that keeping a beehive next to a highly allergic person posed an authentic risk. But I have since received many, many responses that suggest living next to a beehive is not particularly dangerous for anyone, and that the annual number of deaths in the United States from bee stings is around 50 (which, relative to numerous other possible pastimes, is low). Moreover, bees have a habitat range of two to five miles in every direction, so the direct proximity of the hive is almost irrelevant to the risk. What can I say? I will never write a newspaper column called The Apiologist.


Should I Become a Woman and Risk Causing Pain to My Wife and Children? –

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