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Please Stop Being On My Side! - Sarah, The Bringer of Tea
10th October, 2009
09:29 pm

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Please Stop Being On My Side!
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.

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From:whisperkit
Date:10th October, 2009 09:55 pm (UTC)
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Jesus Christ. I've seen some of this campaign, and raised the same points. I didn't realise it was all organised by a cisguy, though. What a twit.
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From:auntysarah
Date:10th October, 2009 09:59 pm (UTC)
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I don't know who's behind the wider campaign. Den seems to have simply lathed on to it and is running with it in London, regardless of whether we want him to or not.
From:ex_drakyn
Date:10th October, 2009 10:05 pm (UTC)
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I still love how he pulled out that old chestnut, "I'm not CIS, I'm just a person!!!111eleventyone" (his comment at 6:58 yesturday according to the timestamp).

I also think removing "transvestite fetishism" or whatever it's called from the GID would be great. As would including a body dissonance diagnosis; one that focuses on the individual's feeling about hir body that would include genderqueer transsexuals and that doesn't push the idea that you must want to "completely transition" (hate that idea; just wanting hormones is just as valid as wanting hormones & surgeries).
Mind you, I'd also like to get the mandatory inclusion of shrinks out of the picture. If someone feels the need to talk to someone about their feelings about their gender, transition choices, medical choices, discrimination, etc they should be able to, but forcing us to jump through hoops isn't doing anyone any favors.
From:ex_drakyn
Date:10th October, 2009 10:06 pm (UTC)
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Gah, that should be DSM, not GIC from the first line of my second paragraph. -_- *fails*
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From:ailbhe
Date:10th October, 2009 10:22 pm (UTC)
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That's... really scary.
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From:meepettemu
Date:10th October, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC)
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what date? I'll be in london on 24th, so hoping it's him, just cos I'd be interested in going to see the idiot.

ffs. do people not learn that you know, if not OF that group, you have to actually LISTEN to that group, not just decide *for* them?

:o(
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From:auntysarah
Date:10th October, 2009 10:31 pm (UTC)
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The 17th - this coming Saturday.

ffs. do people not learn that you know, if not OF that group, you have to actually LISTEN to that group, not just decide *for* them?

Yeah *le sigh* :-(
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From:amokk
Date:10th October, 2009 10:55 pm (UTC)
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Honestly, it needs to be removed from the DSM, and actual "standard" treatment options need to be set up. Because right now? The DSM is just what it says it is, diagnosis. From there, it's up to someone to decide how to treat it: transition, reparative therapy, etc.

It's not the diagnosis that's the problem, it's the treatment side of things. And that needs to be fixed regardless of the DSM, actually.
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From:aesmael
Date:11th October, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
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I think I agree with that, yes. And it is not as if we will need to protect hordes of cis people from 'wasting' money on their own treatment.
(Deleted comment)
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From:auntysarah
Date:11th October, 2009 12:10 am (UTC)
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Facebook group is here:

http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=147494409183

If you're not a member (I no-longer am, he banned me), you can't see the wall posts. He's added some blurb about how you're only allowed to play with him if you agree with him now.

(Deleted comment)
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From:julieisfree
Date:11th October, 2009 02:44 am (UTC)
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Well written, lucid discussion of the conundrum of pathologizing GID. Sure, no one wants to be labeled as sick, but without the label, treatment becomes unavailable.
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From:valeriekeefe
Date:11th October, 2009 03:59 am (UTC)
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Well, perhaps not. The British Government has unequivocally stated that they do not consider trans women and trans men to be mentally ill. Plus if you look at the list of demands here at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=147494409183#/group.php?gid=120317420674 you'll see them say:

That each city can develop its own appeal but having in consideration 5 common points, the following ones:

We demand:The retirement of the GID (Gender Identity Disorder) from the International Diagnosis Manual. (their next versions DSM-V and ICD-11)

> Retirement of sex mention in official documents.

> Abolition of binary normalization treatments for intersex people

> Free access to hormonal treatments and surgeries (without the psychiatric monitoring)

> Fight against transphobia: working for education, social and labour insertion for trans people.

So yeah. We don't call cis women who want control over their own bodies sick, but abortions and birth control pills are freely available, (my American friends might disagree with that, but I'm talking about in countries with publicly funded health care.)

And hell yes, Sarah's right, the stress of trying to conform to a gender role that doesn't fit is sickening people, but an adult language regarding nutrition didn't get doctors to stop treating scurvy, and, considering the argument being made is that we need freer treatment out of the hands of the Standards of Care, I'm inclined to support it. But then, I'm inclined to support most health care going to an informed consent model for pretty much everything but anti-biotics and chainsaw arms.
(Deleted comment)
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From:turkishb
Date:11th October, 2009 05:42 am (UTC)
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wow, uhm, ew. these pockets of reactionary bullshit in leftist circles really creep me out. please stop trying to universalize rights and deal with the practicalities of actual rights, thanks.

god preserve you with your patience for this nonsense. i don't know how you can stand to write about it!
From:ext_132916
Date:11th October, 2009 07:05 am (UTC)

Yup, STP2012 sure sucks from my POV, too

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Why can't allies work for abolishing the actual, oppressive things that happen to you if you're trans, such as having to justify your existence to doctors over and over again - medical research into TSity might help, y'know? Or perhaps tackle the transphobic violence: beatings, bullying, rapes'n'stuff? Perhaps I'm just cynical, but I seem to see a pattern here: anything that might get your hands dirty with hoi polloi (transphobic bigots, say) or having to do with getting the society at large on your side, instead of trying to disavow the whole spectacle, seems to be avoided. Telling the whole of society to fuck off sure feels nice, but if the society really does fuck off, it's not just the parts you want to fuck off that do (oppressive gatekeeping), but the parts you need go, too (such as state-paid medicine or proper ID papers).

References:

http://cartographies-of-my-interior.blogspot.com/2009/08/why-stp2012-doesnt-feel-right.html ()

http://cartographies-of-my-interior.blogspot.com/2009/04/iden-bugger-tity.html ()
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From:pinkdormouse
Date:11th October, 2009 08:55 am (UTC)
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Gah! Some people just need hitting hard with a mallet until they get some more sensible thoughts in their head.

Surely what's needed is for trans people to be on the same level as people with any other condition that may or may not require medication and/or surgery depending on how the individual feels about it. So change the Disorder part of GID to Syndrome and make it a med rather than a psych diagnosis.

But people with personal experience of the system need to be the ones suggesting the canges, and those with the power to make the changes need to actually listen.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:11th October, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)

Helen mutters

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Reading the FB thread it seems people are walking away from this and DH is taking a lot of criticism and seems to have given up deleting it.

I may well be in town next Saturday. Is there a counter demo or are we just going to ignore him ?
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From:auntysarah
Date:11th October, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)

Re: Helen mutters

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If he doesn't back down, there may have to be a counter demo.

I have nowhere else to be on Saturday, so I plan to at least go and monitor the situation.
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From:paulathomas
Date:11th October, 2009 12:57 pm (UTC)
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The history of this kind of thing goes back a long way. It was, as far as I can tell, first dreamed up over 20 years ago. It is, IMO, a trap. I don't know who set it,, but if they were trans they were idiots. It was the currency of Women's Studies programmes in the '90's.

Surgery, whether NHS or private, has to be justified on medical grounds, so maybe this campaign would also shut off private surgery too! if you don't believe me try getting a surgeon to remove your arm because you've got a Napoleon complex.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:22nd October, 2009 09:59 pm (UTC)
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Napoleon wasn't missing an arm. He's just always painted and drawn with his arm tucked into his waistcoat because that was the fashion at the time. It was a pose supposed to portray manliness. The reason everyone associates it with him is that he was basically the most represented person of the age -- we do, after all, call it the Napoleonic era.

Nelson was the one who was missing an arm...
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From:celesteh
Date:11th October, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)
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Should we be writing letters to the organizations who Den says have given him backing? There's a list of contact people and email addresses on the facebook page for the STP 2012 group. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=120317420674
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From:auntysarah
Date:11th October, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
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It might be some help, yes.
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From:mordantcarnival
Date:11th October, 2009 04:01 pm (UTC)
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SO. MUCH. FAIL.
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From:msstacy13
Date:11th October, 2009 04:37 pm (UTC)
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Mhm. The plan is to smudge us out by, on the one hand, insisting that the greater object of "gay rights" is paramount, and mustn't be obsucured or hampered by inclusion of "trans rights" and on the other, eradicating the very definition of what we are from official terminology. Or maybe I'm just a raging paranoid.
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