A couple weeks ago, I came across a rather disturbing piece of information. The condition of being transgender is listed as a mental disorder in the DSM.
Yup, it’s true. Unfortunately, people who don’t conform to binary gender roles are treated as being mentally ill. I’ll state a caveat that mental-health professionals are starting to recognize a problem with this line of thinking, but homosexuality wasn’t removed from the DSM until 1996; so, those who identify as a transgender may still have a fight on their hands.
The insult here is that transgendered individuals need to be fixed. Once again, we have another case of people – in this case, transphobes – believing that their way of thinking, feeling and behaving is the default state for the rest of humanity. They define their experiences as “natural,” and therefore transgendered individuals are deviant. Last week, I pointed out that the first justification for this kind of prejudice is the belief that those who don’t conform choose to be deviant. When that fails, people often rationalize the so-called deviant behaviour as a mental illness that needs to be cured. However, there’s no pill that can turn a trans-man into a cis-woman; so transphobes are often tempted to see the condition of having a transgender identity as a symptom of some other mental illness.
“No, Peter, you’re not a girl; you’re just depressed.” Then, of course, the kid actually becomes depressed because she can’t make her inner feelings match what the world seems to expect of her. This causes the child to display the signs of depression, which only serve to reinforce the ad-hoc “diagnosis” of her family and friends. The child may even be treated for depression that might not have existed if the label had not been forced on her.
Self-fulfilling prophecies are a very real thing.
Jeremy Fink, a licensed clinical social worker in Beverly Hills California, wrote this on the subject of premature diagnosis in children. “The primary influence that parents have over their children comes from showing them who they are through attuned interaction as opposed to telling the child what or who they are. By relating to the child as though he or she is in some way disordered we may be ignoring other aspects of them, disconfirming the relational existence of those aspects of the child’s self and resulting in a developmental trauma. Hence, the label becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
So, if you’re not a licensed clinical therapist – or better yet, a doctor – then I strongly urge you not to go around diagnosing people. You’re not doing them any favours.
Searching for a magic cure for behaviour that doesn’t fit your definition of “normal” is ultimately selfish. Doing so proves that your primary concern is not the well-being of the individual in question but the preservation of your own personal concept of normalcy.
There is no such magic pill. You cannot cure a transgender identity (or homosexuality, or owlishness for that matter), and thank goodness that you can’t. Every Saturday, I work with an autistic man in a program that teaches life skills. Two years ago, he and I attended a conference by an autistic speaker. While there, I asked him, “If there were a drug that could make you like everybody else, would you take it or-”
Before I could finish the question, he firmly said, “I’d choose to stay the way I am.” That immediate response tells me that this is something he’s thought about before. My autistic friend has spent time contemplating his identity and his place in the universe. Even if we could magically “fix” him, does it automatically follow that we should? Shouldn’t the patient’s rights matter? Would we really be “fixing” him, or would we be destroying everything that he is and replacing him with someone else?
I don’t have an answer to these questions. When my eyesight began to fail and I had to cope with constant headaches, nausea and mental fog, one of the first things that my doctor offered was anti-depressant. I was very apprehensive because deep down inside, I thought the drugs would destroy me and replace me with someone else. That they would change me. Believe it or not, this is something that many patients fear.
I had to try several varieties, but I finally found one that worked, and I feel more like myself than I have in years. I’ve even regained some of my youthful idealism. I tell you this because I want you to understand that I am not 100% anti-treatment. Treating mental health issues is a very good thing. But these are the kinds of questions we have to ask. In my opinion, having a transgender identity should not be viewed as an illness. Even if we could make a pill to turn a trans-woman into a cis-man, I think doing so would be destroying her very identity. Society has no right to dictate who an individual is at his or her innermost core. Here’s a great Ted Talk on the subject.
For more interesting discussion on this topic, check out Charles Sonnenburg’s review of the ST-TNG episode “Suddenly Human” at http://sfdebris.com/videos/startrek/t176.php. Oh, and guys, please turn off your ad-blockers. I really think Chuck is one of the deepest thinkers on the Internet, and we need to keep sites like this alive.
Hey, looking for some great fiction? Check out Symbiosis, the book reviewers have called the illegitimate love child of Star Trek and Buffy.
Now available on Kindle
It’s had some great reviews!