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Trans advocates add new gender identity: The eunuch

“Standards of care” include acceptance of elective castration


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Trans advocates add new gender identity: The eunuch

Editor’s note: This story contains discussion of castration.

The stories of how men become eunuchs today are as varied as the men themselves.

There’s the motorcyclist who became sterile after being thrown from his bike. The prostate cancer survivor who sought chemical castration to prolong his life. And the young man who was born with XXY chromosomes and got a “back-alley” castration from an unqualified practitioner.

All of these men would be considered eunuchs under the traditional definition—men who have lost the function of their testicles or had them removed through castration. But last month, when a transgender health association added this group to its standards of care, it changed the definition.

Now, “eunuch” has become a gender identity, according to the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH), which released revised standards of care last month. The standards say a eunuch isn’t just a castrated male but now also includes men who “wish to eliminate masculine physical features, masculine genitals, or genital functioning.” This would include men who have not been castrated but want to be one day. The association says eunuchs are part of a “gender diverse umbrella” that includes being transgender and nonbinary.

Christians will be more familiar with the eunuchs of Biblical times, which were very different from the eunuchs of today. Tom Hobson, former chair of Biblical studies at Morthland College, said eunuchs of the past were often used as royal officials. Many were sterilized to give a king subservient employees with little ambition. With a man’s infertility assured, a eunuch could safely guard women and not threaten the king’s succession. “No one was using it to disidentify with being male,” he said.

Eunuchs today exist in relative obscurity. They often voluntarily seek castrations for a variety of reasons. A 2021 Daily Beast article says many will look online for “cutters” and quietly deal with any side effects. Threads on internet forums like Reddit and eunuch.org are full of posts from men looking for doctors who will perform the procedure on them.

To discourage men from pursuing risky back-alley castrations, WPATH now recommends licensed medical professionals perform orchiectomies (surgical removal of testicles) and oversee any hormone treatments.

Facilities and surgeons who offer transgender treatment usually do not offer services for men wishing to become eunuchs. But some already do, including a plastic surgeon in California who performs “gender nullification” procedures as part of a male-to-eunuch operation.

Most self-identified eunuchs suffer from what academics call body integrity identity disorder—a desire to cut off parts of one’s body—or body dysmorphic disorder, an obsession over the flaws in one’s body. While these professionals concur that eunuchs have particular healthcare needs, there is disagreement about how best to treat them.

That’s likely because the side effects of castrations are serious and long-lasting. Darryl Mitteldorf, who founded Malecare, the largest prostate cancer support group in the world, said over a million men have undergone castrations to treat advanced prostate cancer. He said they generally experience “diminished vigor, diminished sex life, really a miserable existence.”

Mitteldorf said the men who desire to be eunuchs are vastly different from prostate cancer survivors. Members of the latter group call themselves “unique eunuchs” to convey the negative effect of cancer on their lives. If they heard about men expressing interest in voluntary castrations, Mitteldorf said, “they’d try to convince them otherwise.”

Some Christians disagree about when men are justified to be castrated. In Matthew 19, Jesus says there are men “who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.” One religious scholar said men wishing to act counterculturally and embody the kingdom of heaven on Earth “remov[ed] the thing that ancients most associated with male power and dominance.”

But Alasdair Groves, executive director of the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, argues that Jesus is speaking figuratively here to legitimize celibacy. An individual’s identity should not be shaped by “the absence of body parts,” he said in an email.

As a counselor, Groves said he would “universally and always discourage anyone from pursuing castration.” But he’s sympathetic to those who feel uncomfortable in their bodies. “Any time you feel like your body is awkward and fighting you, much less at odds with who you think of yourself to be, there is a pain in that,” he said.

This contrasts with the WPATH guidelines, which say “chemical or surgical castration may be experienced as a source of distress to cis men with prostate cancer,” but add that “the same treatment may be affirming and a source of comfort for eunuch individuals.”


Juliana Chan Erikson

Juliana is a correspondent and a member of WORLD's investigative unit, the Caleb Team. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. Juliana resides in the Washington, D.C., metro area with her husband and 3 children.

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