Increasingly, wave after wave of young people reaches adulthood armed with pop-Butlerism via university and Tumblr alike. No wonder growing numbers long to edit their meat avatars as they might their online ones, and that this isn’t confined to young girls pursuing unattainable beauty ideals. Reddit hosts anecdotal reports from individuals who decided to transition after using the digital funhouse mirror to feminise themselves, and deciding they liked that look better.
But the trouble is that this is only true until you log off. The digital age holds out a promise of total emancipation from material reality — one that, in politics, is now driving an increasingly bitter divide between those who can sustain this illusion and those still forced to deal with the real world. And, implicitly, we’re told we can apply this digital Prometheanism to our bodies, too. But it doesn’t work: the gap between protean sex-swap fantasy and sutured, bleeding, often complication-filled reality can be the stuff of nightmares — one that’s now prompting a surge of lawsuits. All that happens is that we open up a new, futile (but still highly profitable) war of attrition against our own nature.
As I have often noted, the highlighted phrase is absolutely key. Maybe one way to talk to people who have been captured by the allure of transformation-by-biotech is to ask them to think about all the really cool things they could do with that money. (Though, come to think of it, I’m sure they expect insurance — i.e., everyone contributing insurance premiums — to pay for whatever they want.)