Trans people have suffered hugely under the definition of transgenderism as an illness in pychiatrical manuals such as the DSM.
The DSM: as the so-called “Bible” of mental health, whatever is listed in it as a mental disease, is considered a mental disease. Some years ago, the DSM listed homosexuality as a mental disease. Later, the listing was partially removed and then finally removed.
Only a few months ago, the latest edition of the DSM removed transgenderism from the list. However, “gender dysphoria” was added elsewhere (meaning the anguish someone feels when their body doesn’t fit their gender). It’s rather similar to what they did when they were first making concessions to the rights of homosexual people. Hopefully, in future revisions they will follow the same pattern and remove any reference to transgenderism from the DSM.
For now, transgender people are still suffering from the stigma and outright fallacy of having transgenderism considered a mental disease. I suspect these attitudes will continue for a long time.
For comparison, a medical manual in 1999 stated that vitamin B12 produced by bacteria in the gut is effectively absorbed and utilised by the body*. However, more than 10 years later, most doctors will still tell you that animal foods or supplements are the only way of getting vitamin B12.
What’s wrong with transgenderism being considered a mental disease? Well, for one thing, it just isn’t one. I see transgenderism as being an identity issue. Some people like to have long hair, some people like to have big muscles. Some people like to modify their bodies with tattoos and piercings. And some people want to modify their body to express a different gender.
Society is what makes gender such a big thing and tells us that transgressing the doctrines of gender is a pathology. For society, gender is absolute. There are women and men, and women should be with men. Even now that society is starting to accept homosexuality, it wants gay men to always be with gay men, and gay women to always be with gay women. Blurring the lines of gender or sexuality is just out of the question.
Society wants to place us all into little boxes. When we’re in little boxes, we’re understandable, quantifiable, controllable. Throwing away the boxes and affirming that we are not our gender but people, that we are not gay or straight or even bi but just people loving people, that scares the crap out of society.
And so, being trans defies the doctrine of absolute gender and brings in the radical idea that we might not be defined by our bodies, either as a woman or a man, but are each just a person, first and foremost.
This is why people want to diagnose transgenderism as a mental illness. Because transgenderism shows them how sick our society is. Rather than admit that, they want us to be sick. Same story as always.
If you want to have big muscles, you go to the gym. If you want long hair, you grow it out. And if you identify as a different gender to what your body suggests – you transition. It’s not that different. It’s not such a big deal. Society is what makes it a big deal. For us, it is, in a way, just simple and easy. We want to be what we want to be.
While I use the word “gender dysphoria” to describe my feelings sometimes, I don’t like its origin as a medical term. Dysphoria is a weird feeling, it’s true. But I don’t think it is radically different from any other feeling in a way that would make it a mental health issue.
Dysphoria is anguish, because we feel strongly about who we are and we see something else in the mirror. A thin person who wants to be muscly might feel the same anguish, I imagine.
And dysphoria is a sense of shock and discord, because we see ourselves as something and then being in front of the mirror is almost a surprise somehow. It’s not really, but some part of us is already who we want to be, which makes it kind of mind-bending when we see what the mirror shows us.
My partner had this sense of shock and discord when they cut their hair recently. When they looked in front of the mirror, it seemed unexpected and weird because it went against their self-image. I could tell that this was the same kind of shock and discord as I experience as a trans person.
In order to demonstrate my point, I want to copy something I posted to Facebook a while back. It consists of a video and my commentary on it (below). I think it demonstrates clearly that gender dysphoria is not unique to trans people:
(Use this link if you can’t see the embedded video).
“I loved being the man, because when I looked in the mirror I couldn’t even see myself, which was really the first time that’s ever happened, despite all the various things I’ve done to myself on film, I’ve never looked in the mirror and actually thought ‘..Is that Chris Walkin’s cousin or something? .. Who is this person, what’s going on here?’ And that was just a startling experience, you know, to not recognise yourself at all.”
Cloud Atlas is interesting enough on gender because actors are playing different genders in many roles. But what makes this interview so interesting is that she described the EXACT feeling of gender dysphoria for me. Imagine someone putting on makeup on you so you couldn’t recognise yourself. Then imagine not being able to take it off. That’s what gender dysphoria is.
It’s a weird experience, but her words just capture it. “Startling” is the best word for it.
Now, aside from it just being wrong, the pathologisation of trans people stigmatises us and invalidates our experience. If you can say that someone is just crazy, you don’t have to listen to them or take them seriously.
I assure you that trans people, on the whole, are not crazy. We are coherent, sane. We just want something and we’re looking to get it. If wanting something is insanity, we’d better lock up everyone on Earth.
When trans people are treated under the assumption that what they have is a disease, they are not given the respect their choice deserves. They are subtly shunted into the role of “victim” which is where most mental health patients reside. No, we are not victims. We are not sick. We just are who we are. We don’t need or want your pity. It’d be disempowering and humiliating to accept it.
First and foremost, we are people.
Being transgender can be considered a health issue in the same way pregnancy can be treated as a health issue. A pregnant woman isn’t sick, but she is still entitled to free healthcare in countries with healthcare systems. In the same way, a trans person isn’t sick, but should be entitled to medical attention as is necessary for their transition.
As it is, trans people are often forced to play the part of a poor mental health victim in order to get what they need through the system. It’s humiliating, damaging and erodes at our self-esteem.
I am sure some, if not most, pick up on the messages being given that transgenderism is an illness, and internalise those messages. If they do, they’ll be inclined to disempowering ideas and disempowering self-perception. They’ll see themselves as victims or as crazy, broken people who need to be fixed. We don’t need that.
Trans people, locate these assumptions in yourselves and shed them.
Cis (non trans) people, examine what you believe and shed these fallacies too.
Let’s see if we can make the 21st century a more enlightened and inclusive one, for transgenderism and all other groups who were previously not acknowledged.