Ableism, Access, and Gender Identity Disorder
This past weekend I was invited to be a speaker on the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference’s plenary panel “Five on Five: Winning The Removal of GID from the DSM-5.”
The panel was interesting, but with the conversations I could guess where the Q & A was gonna go. One topic was, deservedly, a focus: Trans vs. Crazy. Possibly the most common argument against Gender Identity Disorder (GID) is that trans people aren’t “crazy” so we shouldn’t be listed with mental health conditions. Its a simple enough statement but there is a huge underlying message here. When people say “Trans people are happy, successful people. We aren’t crazy.” they often don’t realize that what they are actually saying by default is “We are just like normal (aka good) people. We aren’t like those crazy (aka bad) people.”
I like to think I’m a pretty happy, well adjusted person who is also reasonably successful. And in addition to that I am bipolar, I have a panic condition with phobias, psychosis, depersonalization, OCD, PTSD, learning disabilities, self-harm, and suicide. I am what people consider to be crazy (and I have listed each condition specifically to fight my own hesitations about talking about it), and yet I’m a functional person who works hard to contribute to society along with millions of others who are “crazy.” Mental conditions and success – or even sanity – are not mutually exclusive. Yes, it can be hard to deal with this shit, and as a result I often don’t mention it. I don’t want people to make assumptions about me. Similarly, sometimes I don’t come out as trans because I don’t want assumptions put on me. But being trans is not a mental health condition, it is one of many points on the spectrum of human existence. With that you may ask “isn’t that also true about mental health conditions?” I would say yes. I can only speak from my own experience. A mental condition may alter my functions or feelings, and it may or may not be a bonus factor in my life, but does not make me any less of a person, or make any “normal” person better or more competant. And while I can’t honestly say this is a great way to be, I can’t say it is a horrible way to be either. Trans identity can correlate to that as well. My mental condition is not a weakness, it is a part of my humanity. My gender is not a disorder, it is a part of my identity.
We need to acknowledge that any trans identity is not mental illness without being ableist jerks out to get ours but not helping anyone else. Saying that GID, TF (Transvestic Fetishism), and the relating “disorders” are bad because they make trans people look crazy may drive the removal of GID, but it is also signing into the larger oppressive stigma against mental health conditions. I am not willing to oppress others (and in this case myself) in order to gain rights as a trans person. What our argument ought to be is that GID delegitimizes trans people as a part of the larger, existing stigma of mental health conditions created by societal constructs of normalcy, conformity, and control. Stigma against mental health conditions promotes the idea that if you have a mental health condition then you are unable to be autonomous because something is WRONG with you. Sound familiar? It should, because it is exactly what GID does to trans people. We’re all in this together. And in that solidarity, some argue that GID should not be removed from the DSM because we need to change the entire mental health system. While I agree that the mental health system needs to be 100% reformed, I am not willing to wait for GID to go with it. I want GID gone now. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day and mental health reform isn’t gonna happen in a day either. There are things I can do to avoid the DSM system, or at least lessen its effect, when caring for myself mentally but there is no amount of self care that will replace a prescription for T, checking my blood work, or screenings for health risks. I need a doctor for that and GID does not help me get one unless I want to give up my rights as a sane, autonomous adult.
GID restricts rights, access, and health care for trans people – it has to go. I am willing to admit that I have mental conditions, but those mental health conditions ARE NOT related to my trans identity. I have repeatedly been refused transitional care because the physician could not and would not understand that my mental conditions or my a physical disability was not related to me being trans. Lesson learned; when I go to get trans-specific care I don’t tell doctors that I have mental health conditions or that I have a disability. And even though I drive 6 hours one way to go to a non-profit clinic for informed consent, non-GID health care I still hide my conditions because I am terrified of being refused care. If I am too afraid to tell my doctor the truth, I obviously will not get all the care I need. This is what a system like GID forces trans people to do; Put ourselves at risk.
Something worth mentioning is a point brought up in a GID conversation on Reconno (trans)Man.
“Having a medical diagnosis won’t protect me from transphobic violence, and it won’t protect you, either.”
This highlights the very important fact that GID is not all we are dealing with here. GID is a part of a greater system that oppresses trans people, making us less than human. But creating a medicalized code would at least cover the medical part, enabling trans and genderqueer folks of all shapes, sizes, and spectrums to get whatever they need for transitional care without being pathologized and without being afraid. It is my hope that the removal of GID would then lead to legitimizing trans identities, helping us to gain rights that as of now are easily denied us. We need a health care system that is supportive and affirming of whatever is going on with our bodies and our minds. Sometimes doctors know best, sometimes they don’t. We, the patient, should have control over our care and the doctor should help us, not harm us and definitely not control us.
Keep your eyes out for GID-out.org – Coming June 30th.