The co-opting of diagnosis

T-Notes

by Robbi Cohn    
Published: October 10, 2011 in T-Notes

[Ed. Note — The following column originally appeared in qnotes' Sept. 17, 2011, print edition. It was inadvertently left unpublished on our website with other content from the issue. We regret any inconvenience caused to regular readers.]

Much has been written about the upcoming revisions to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the volume often called the “psychiatrist’s bible.” This is the main tool wielded by alleged gatekeepers who so often smugly deign to diagnose those of us who have self-defined gender and/or sexuality. Not all clinicians fit into this categorization, but enough do that the situation remains problematic.

The newest version, DSM V, contains little change. There has been a consistent emphasis on the pathology of what they believe is non-normative gender identity, along with convenient, but erroneous diagnoses such as “gender identity disorder” and “gender identity dysphoria.” Some “diagnosticians” have even invented pathologies out of thin air, such as “autogynephilia,” or the purported love of oneself as a woman.

WPATH, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, is considered the foremost association of aforementioned clinicians. There are now many professionals, including practicing physicians, psychologists and psychiatrists, who have called for gender issues to be classified as medical rather than psychiatric. This year WPATH holds its annual meeting in Atlanta, Ga., and it’s expected that DSM revisions will be a hot topic.

There are many reasons to abandon the paradigm of pathologization for gender identity, not the least of which is the evidence of thousands of successfully transitioned transsexual individuals whose lives have been restored after coming to an understanding that their medical status may be remedied though a regimen endorsed by the majority of clinicians now assisting them.

Amongst the many reasons to re-evaluate how gender should be treated, and the consequences of not plotting such a path forward sans pathologization, is the case that many in the religious right have used DSM diagnostics as a weapon against those who would affirm their individual diversity. Over the past years and months, I’ve collected a number of citations from such groups. In my opinion, they are representative of how such organizations mobilize people and government entities to legislate unfavorably by citing the DSM, as well as those psychiatrists and diagnosticians who insist upon promulgating the myth of gender pathology.

Although I’m sure there are many more, I’ve found thirteen specific instances over the past four years wherein fundamentalist religious and political leaders have distorted reality and have used the DSM as a weapon of choice.

In 2007, Montgomery County, Md., government had embarked on a path towards gender-inclusive anti-discrimination legislation which would include trans protections. In November that year, the anti-gay “news” website “World Net Daily” (WND) reported on the development and chatted with anti-gay leader Regina Griggs, director of “Parents and Friends of Gays and Ex-Gays.”

“Gender identity disorders exist in the diagnostic statistics manual,” Griggs said. “Why would we want to promote cross-dressing, changing your sex. You’re not a man’s brain in a woman’s body and vice versa.”

Griggs continued, saying the local government was “trying to normalize mental illness.”

In a related WND column, Robert Tyler, general counsel for the Advocates for Faith & Freedom, wrote, “The female residents of Montgomery County clearly have a right of privacy that prohibits all persons of the opposite sex ‘from using a restroom, locker room, or other similar facility designated for females; it is ridiculous to place the desires of persons suffering from gender identity disorder in front of the constitutional rights and safety of 99 percent of the residents in Montgomery County.” Others, including Ruth Jacobs of Citizens for a Responsible Government, have made similar allegations.

In 2008 and 2009, Massachusetts was two bills which would have added gender identity to the state’s already protected classes. In a piece from “Queer Today,” Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute was quoted: “Transgenderism is classified as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Under this bill, if a father and his young daughter went to a public accommodation and the young girl needed to use the ladies room, her own father could not go in with her, but a man claiming a gender identity disorder could.”

A year later, Brian Camenker of MassResistance was cited in OneNewsNow. “Well, it’s a huge problem,” Camenker said. “Number one…it legitimizes the concept of transgenderism among middle-school kids, which is completely absurd and offensive and medically dangerous. The medical community recognizes gender-identity disorder as something that needs psychological help, you know — not this politically correct pandering that actually causes more self-destruction.”

In New Hampshire, a similar legislation dubbed “The Bathroom Bill” attempted trans-inclusion. It was met with just as much hostility. State Rep. Joseph Hagan said gender issues were “one small facet of a much broader psychiatric illness.” Cornerstone Policy Research, a conservative and fundamentally-aligned think tank, also weighed in with ammunition, stretched though it may be, provided by the DSM.

Space precludes the elaboration of other instances wherein the DSM has been subverted to further an agenda which specifically disenfranchises trans individuals. Citations abound and I’d be happy to forward them to any and all interested parties. Venues include Maine, Maryland, Oregon, California and Michigan.

And if you think being gay exempts you from accusations of mental illness, this should disabuse you of that notion: “Despite all the rhetoric, here are the quick and accurate facts about homosexuals and their behavior. There is no ‘gay gene,’ no innate trait or brain distinction between heterosexuals and homosexuals. Homosexuality is not a ‘civil right’ as identified anywhere in our Constitution or its amendments. Homosexuals experience substantially higher instances of mental illness. Homosexuals are, in fact, implicated far more often, per-capita, than heterosexuals in cases of child sexual abuse. The number of ‘hate crimes’ directed at individuals because of homosexual proclivity is minuscule, totaling 267 among 860,853 aggravated assaults in the FBI’s most recent year of record. Homosexual orientation can change, and efforts to correct homosexual pathology are not ‘harmful’ to the individual” (via Mark Alexander in the “Patriot Post,” June 2011).

— Comments and corrections can be sent to editor@goqnotes.com. To contact Robbi Cohn, email robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.