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In my previous occupation, on occasion I worked with burn survivors who would tell their story to allow students to emotionally grasp the outcomes of fire and burns gone wrong. Many burn survivors (survivors are adamant about not being called “victims”- since they continue to survive their burns) endure their burn injuries due to no fault of their own, but nevertheless have something to say about pain, burn prevention, and the permanent change to their lives.

I found burn survivors massively brave and fortified by surviving the initial burns, and the ongoing tortuous burn treatments – among the most painful a person can tolerate. Burn survivors are not changed merely in appearance by their full thickness epidermis burns; their lives have changed relationally, and in ability. Thus some would take up the larger cause of having become “differently-abled” rather than being disabled. But that “play on words” has not been all welcomed, as some consider it offensive.

I confess that I find it difficult to keep up with political correctness and the reasons for changing terms. On the surface, innocently enough, the idea of promoting “differently-abled” was to focus on abilities that are “there” rather than those that are “not.” Thus organizations like the Excel Society state their vision as “Enriching Lives by Enabling Potential.” The word “able” plays into a lot of the thinking in order to “enrich” peoples’ lives.

Another new term for our identity issues

In these days of our massive identity crises, in comes the new phrase and phenomenon of being “transabled.” Sarah Boesveld explains more in her article, Becoming disabled by choice not chance:

‘We define transability as the desire or the need for a person identified as able-bodied by other people to transform his or her body to obtain a physical impairment,’ says Alexandre Baril, an academic who will present on ‘transability’ at the Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities at the University of Ottawa.

It is breathtakingly irrational for “abled-bodied” persons to deliberately “dis-able” themselves under the misbegotten notion that they are “trans-abled.” Surely this stretches the boundaries of identity beyond any sensible limits. And what can be said for doctors’ whose ethic somehow allow them to amputate limbs of able-bodied persons? Did they miss that class on the Hippocratic Oath?

Boesveld reports that “Researchers in Canada are trying to better understand how transabled people think and feel. Clive Baldwin, a Canada Research Chair in Narrative Studies who teaches social work at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, N.B., has interviewed 37 people worldwide who identify as transabled.”

Baldwin insists that ‘We have to move away from pathologyzing people and appreciating the very real distress [transabled people] experience…’

Some of his study participants do draw parallels to the experience many transgender people express of not feeling like they’re in the right body. Baldwin says this disorder is starting to be thought of as a neurological problem with the body’s mapping, rather than a mental illness…

He suggests this is just another form of body diversity — like transgenderism — and amputation may help someone achieve similar goals as someone who, say, undergoes cosmetic surgery to look more like who they believe their ideal selves to be.

Cosmetic Surgery on Steroids!

Some consider this to be Munchausen Syndrome – “a factitious disorder, a mental disorder in which a person repeatedly and deliberately acts as if he or she has a physical or mental illness when he or she is not really sick.” But the Transable Community would rather refer to transability as Body Integrity Identity Disorder, only just added to the “emerging measures and models” appendix section of the DSM-5 in 2013. “Many transabled people want to see it fully added to the psychiatric bible because it might legitimize their experience in the field of medicine.”

Deeply confused about what makes us who we are

Not everyone is willing to accept all the variants of establishing identity (see Margaret Wente’s article Race and Gender: I feel therefore I am in which she observes, “We are deeply confused these days about what makes us who we are”). The author of “the best of social justice” (blog), who self-identifies as being “disabled in some way,” writes rather sardonically:

So, other than the perceived romanticism of certain disabilities (which I think of as Helen Keller Syndrome [sic]), why do people want to be disabled? Part of it, I think, is Tumblr’s environment. Everything has a label on Tumblr. There are so many different types of romantic and sexual attraction I can’t keep up, and romanticism/sexuality isn’t alone. People label themselves with phobias, mental diagnoses, phobias, sexuality, sensuality, romanticism, gender, sex, pronouns, age, MBTI types, literally anything they can think of to make themselves seem interesting. It’s a constant strange contest

The overlabeling phenomena has led to what some call ‘special snowflaking’, whereby people feel the need to peacock every bit of their deviation from the norm in order to gain attention. It’s become almost a Strangeness Olympics, with points added for difference and docked for similarity. This is not being who you are, it’s announcing that YOU ARE SPECIAL!

Should we be surprised by comments like those of gormenghastly? “I am unable to sympathize [with] these disabled people… does that make me incapable?” Indeed, will we experience identity fatigue as we lose our connection to the One who makes us who we are?

Surely self harm of permanent proportions does little to uncover our “true selves.” Talk about extreme cosmetic surgery resulting in self-imposed disability! I have enormous sympathy for the mental/emotional woundedness that initiates, and is deepened by the physical wound. It is biofeedback of a demented order. But to accept this as yet another way to define oneself is madness!

What can I say? Already people in the “transabled community” demand the legitimacy they think they deserve – that they think the transgendered community is getting. But if you follow the reader response to the Boesveld article, you will see the usual disrespect from the opinionated and the anonymous. Add to this confusion, the psycho-babble of academics who do more to increase the fog index than to give true spiritual insight on who we are – and we can safely observe: we live in interesting times – not to be confused with enlightening times.

More to be pitied than scorned?

I am reminded of Alastair Robert’s comments in Call me Caitlyn that I first quoted in Trans-Identity (Part III):

… however we may feel about the transition to Caitlyn, Jenner’s story of lonely suffering and self-alienation should excite our compassion.

Excite our compassion it does in deep listening, in the hard work of understanding, and in speaking the truth in love. What we need more than ever is the truth in love about the genuine basis for identity, about who we are, and about who we are created to be.

For fear of over-statement

Your identity is most profoundly discovered in the One who made you for Himself. This is in relationship, in repentance, in recovery, in restoration. May you hear His voice and respond to the healing of your identity, for which you were intended.

For more, see Identity.