This is a story of epic fail and woe. At some point someone somewhere, possibly in Spain but I'm not sure, came up with a nifty idea to campaign for an end to pathologisation of trans people by 2012. All well and good - who wants to be pathologised for something which we don't feel is, well, pathological? The idea seems to have caught on and a number of activist groups around the world are now making vaguely positive noises about it.
The particular focus for this campaign revolves around the diagnosis of Gender Identity Disorder, or GID. This is where things start to develop subleties. GID has often been used to label as ill people who simply don't conform to the ender stereotype of their birth sex, adding to the litany of abuse of LGBT people by some members of a medical community intent on "repairing" human diversity over the years. This is, of course, extremely problematic.
However, attempts to abolish GID as a diagnosis tend to set alarm bells off amongst transsexual people, because as things stand, anywhere that follows the former Harry Benjamin Standards of Care (now the WPATH Standards of Care) essentially requires that transsexual people have a diagnosis of GID to access treatment. This is something of a complex issue amongst transsexual people - we don't generally recognise our gender identities as a disorder and would typically prefer to speak in terms of gender dysphoria and the distress and pain it causes us.
In a world where our gender identities were depathologised, we still need to deal with the medical community because they have stuff we need (oestrogen, testosterone, urological surgeons, etc.). This is where it gets a bit complicated because excepting special cases, like pregnancy, public healthcare systems tend to shy away from treating people when they don't feel there's anything wrong with them (they start using phrases like "lifestyle choice", and tell people to pay for things themselves).
Simply abolishing GID as a diagnosis without replacing it with something else therefore has the potential to leave transsexual people up a certain creek without a paddle. In a better world we might instead focus on gender dysphoria as the cause of a range of problems which need medical attention. As with many medical issues, if you treat the root cause, the secondary problems it causes tend to go away. There is therefore often pathology present, but as a result of being denied realisation of our gender identities.
This is a subtlety which can be lost on non-trans activists who see the way other members of the LGBT community have been mistreated by doctors in the past, and start forming simplistic conclusions about how transsexual people must be similarly abused. "Being gay used to be classed as a mental illness!" an enthusiastic activist might chant, "Being trans is like that now, and we need to save the trans people from the evil medics!".
Such people often get terribly defensive when transsexual people aren't instantly grateful for their attempts to save us from ourselves.
Which brings me to the current example of abject failure to engage the brain on the part of one very vocal LGB activist in London. There's this guy called Den Hambridge who's got a reputation as being a bit of a firebrand. I met him at the S'onewall demo, and indeed, he's always up for joining in a campaign on behalf of marginalised LGBT groups that he's not necessarily part of. This can be an admirable quality - such people are often referred to as allies, but a good ally needs to be able to distinguish between the times when they're helping, and the times when they're hindering.
Den seems to have taken it upon himself to organise a demo next Saturday, in Whitehall, in line with the whole stopping trans pathologisation thing. So far, so good. However, in the description of his Facebook group thingy for inviting people to the demo, it seems he's perhaps not aware of the sublety I described above. Here's what he wrote:
Being transgendered is not a mental illness. We are simply part of the diversity of humanity. Gender Identity Disorder is therefore not a valid diagnosis. Homosexuality we removed as a mental health diagnosis diagnosis in 1987. For us to achieve true liberation and recognition we need to throw off this unjust stigma. We are not ill, just different
Here's the thing - when I was stuck in a position of trying to live as something I'm not, a man, the stress of it meant that I was ill. It was quite literally ruining my life, to the point where I couldn't see any future. I needed medical help. Sure, remove GID from the DSM and ICD, but then what? We still need treatment when we can no-longer cope with living in a body that's wrong. Tits aren't going to grow or be removed by magic - there needs to be a way by which transsexual people can interface with medical transition, otherwise we're screwed. Take away GID and fail to replace it with anything else, and you're handing cash strapped NHS trusts the perfect reason to drop funding for gender services like a hot potato.
A few of us made this point to Den. At this juncture, a good ally would have listened and revised their approach. Wanna bet what Den actually did?
He dug in and ignored what we were saying. Instead, he started patronisingly referring to trans women and transsexual neutrois people as "ladies" when talking at us, in a stunning display of synchronised misogyny and transphobia. He stated that this was bigger than any of us, that our relationships between ourselves and our doctors were our own affairs, but that removal of any classification of trans people by the World Health Organisation was "non negotiable", as apparently it's a "human rights issue".
A number of people persisted, trying to explain that while we have no love for the way GID as a diagnosis is constructed, we need something to replace it. We hoped this would move him, but were completely taken aback by the response.
He refused to accept that Gender Dysphoria can require medical intervention, instead claiming that it was a mere artefact of society. In this he's placed himself firmly in the same school of transphobia occupied by those radical feminists who campaign for medical transition to be made unavailable because it's all a plot by psychiatrists to reinforce socially constructed gender stereotypes, or some such nonsense.
A number of us realised that we were getting nowhere, and talk started to surface of a counter demonstration at the same time. I've got visions of placards with things like, "HANDS OFF OUR DIAGNOSIS" and "FAKE ALLIES GO HOME" and such written on them. The little support he had melted away, and calls to boycott the demo gained in frequency and intensity.
Den's reaction to this was to start deleting some of the comments from transsexual people, and then banning us from the group altogether.
So now we're apparently going to be treated to the spectacle of a cisgender man parading up and down Whitehall next Saturday, claiming to be speaking for the rights of trans people while ignoring us, censoring our own words, shutting us out of the dialogue, and campaigning for what amounts to the removal of access to medical transition for us. Apparently it's all about freedom of speech and human rights for him, and if we don't agree then all we have to do is ignore him while he actively campaigns to hurt us.
And he seems bemused that some of us are a bit upset about this. I wonder what we ever did to deserve an ally such as him?
Originally posted at http://auntysarah.dreamwidth.org/211887.html - you can comment here or there.