To be, or not to be? The role of the unconscious in transgender transitioning: identity, autonomy and well-being.
Lemma A., Savulescu J.
The exponential rise in transgender self-identification invites consideration of what constitutes an ethical response to transgender individuals' claims about how best to promote their well-being. In this paper, we argue that 'accepting' a claim to medical transitioning in order to promote well-being would be in the person's best interests iff at the point of request the individual is correct in their self-diagnosis as transgender (i.e., the distress felt to reside in the body does not result from another psychological and/or societal problem) such that the medical interventions they are seeking will help them to realise their preferences. If we cannot assume this-and we suggest that we have reasonable grounds to question an unqualified acceptance in some cases-then 'acceptance' potentially works against best interests. We propose a distinction between 'acceptance' and respectful, in-depth exploration of an individual's claims about what promotes their well-being. We discuss the ethical relevance of the unconscious mind to considerations of autonomy and consent in working with transgender individuals. An inquisitive stance, we suggest, supports autonomous choice about how to realise an embodied form that sustains well-being by allowing the individual to consider both conscious and unconscious factors shaping wishes and values, hence choices.