Why are we Trans?

T-Notes

by Robbi Cohn    
Published: September 20, 2008 in Opinion, T-Notes

Ed. Note — In deference and with all due respect to Gwen Smith, who has, for years, been writing under the name of Transmissions, this column will hereafter be called T-Notes.

Why are we trans? We really don’t know. There have been many theories for the etiology of being trans, ranging from genetic to environmental (estrogen increase studies) to fetal experience and others. One recent and absurd conjecture raised the possibility of possession! Suffice it to say that there is a far greater amount of viable research available today, or currently underway, then there was 40 years ago. That consideration notwithstanding, there still needs to be significant investment into new studies and research and a movement towards the depathologization of gender diversity.

Some at the Canadian Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) have their own ideas, however. Even though these theories have found little support among therapists actually working with trans clients, they have sadly been tacitly, if not overtly, supported by both APAs — the American Psychiatric and Psychological Associations. On the part of the psychiatrists, the DSM V revision workgroup addressing trans issues has CAMH’s Ray Blanchard as a working member; the psychologists, themselves, have not repudiated the DSM V workgroup membership which has undue representation from the CAMH cadre. They’ve taken a “sitting on the fence” posture regarding Blanchard and the rest of the CAMH gang, including J. Michael Bailey, Ann Lawrence, Alice Dreger and Kenneth Zucker.

Ray Blanchard’s theories are based on the assumption that trans women are either homosexual men who validate their homosexuality by dressing as women, or that they are in love with the idea of being a woman, a characteristic he calls autogynephilia, one of many alleged “paraphilias.”

The understanding of paraphilias and how they relate to being trans is so extraordinarily convoluted that it boggles the mind. Those who espouse this philosophy are often the first to posit their model of sexual deviancy, broadly painted, as virtually anything that exceeds the desire to procreate. It is society which creates the sense of what is and is not taboo and that is learned and certainly not essential to our behavior. The inability to accept diversity in the bedroom is equalled by the inability to accept diversity in gender identity and expression. But, what is even more absurd is the insistence upon conflating sexuality and sexual orientation with gender identity and gender expression. Both these fallacious and pernicious concepts are incorporated into Blanchard’s theories, for which, we must add, there appears to be no substantive statistical evidence.

The part of the theory that asserts trans women are really homosexual has two inherent flaws. The circular argument created by this reasoning denies the thesis. If trans women are homosexual men, and if homosexuality has been de-pathologized, how can there even be a diagnosis? The only thing which remains is the alleged paraphillic cross-dressing element, but, according to most clinicians (and the DSM), if the behavior does not consitutute “distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning,” to the the client, than there is nothing to diagnose. In most cases, if there is stress, it is socially induced. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that all trans individuals have this experience. The other flaw is the conflation of gender identity and expression with sexual orientation. If there has been one goal of trans educators, it has been the effort to dispel the myth that being trans means that you’re gay.

The autogynephilia part of Blanchard’s theories has been given extensive coverage in its relation to J. Michael Bailey’s book. “The Man Who Would Be Queen.” Bailey is a student and protégé of Blanchard and his understanding mirrors his mentor’s. The typology and pathology of so called paraphilias, as originally defined by Money, effectively malign personal essentiality as well as behavioral diversity and, under the guise of scientific and therapeutic endeavor, make a mockery of what it means to be an individual. There is little evidence to suggest that a sexual component is always present. In those cases in which it is, no thought has been given to the possibility that often “fetishistic behavior” is a result of repression. The patriarchy which has traditionally characterized much of psychological and psychiatric thinking is again unduly rigid and can’t see the broader picture. Behavior which has been repressed generally finds some way to express, and the traditional and patriarchal conflating of gender with sex often means that gender issues may express as sex issues, as seen through society’s lens. There is, however, neither causality, nor identity between sex and gender, even though they may intersect at times.

It is possible that Blanchard and CAMH’s theories may not merely represent a failure to understand but a conscious effort to effect and mold behavior. Gatekeeper mentality is anathema to being trans. The result is a series of ever changing hoops through which an individual must jump and a protocol of dogma to which that individual must conform, while being considered mentally ill and in need of corrective therapy. That’s how Blanchard’s and Zucker’s mindset coalesce to create a pervasive control regarding choices available to trans persons. In the last part of this series, we’ll see how that control is wielded and some potentially eye opening reprecussions of the CAMH philosophy.

— You can email any comments, criticisms or corrections to robbi_cohn108@yahoo.com.