Pathologizing

Transgender is an perversion, the fevered sickness of a deluded mind.  Birth sex defines who people are and anyone who tries to deny that, can’t accept that truth, harbours warped values that make them dangerous.   We need to constrain them for the good of society, need to keep them away from the women and children their transgression puts at risk.

This is the message of those who promote so called “bathroom bills,” designed to wall off transpeople from good, righteous and normal people.

By identifying transgender expression as pathological, it becomes easy to lump transgender with other pathologies, from child abuse to schizophrenia. Emotional buttons are pushed, releasing fear which justifies any effort to constrain, marginalize and dehumanize transpeople for their own good.

The essence of this argument is that transgender people should not be allowed to steal our babies (1998), stealing their virtue and their future.   By putting transpeople in the sick bin, we keep our children pure, untainted and under our control.  For those who see the world as a place of sin, following preachy preachers who strive to draw a line between the faithful and the evil, this demonetization of those who don’t follow the strictures of their church comes easy.

The notion that transgender expression (including other gender variant expression, like homosexual behaviour) stems from sickness, from a perversion of the normal, natural and healthy working of the mind and body, is far from new.  It was the default idea for all of the last century and before.

I know that I struggled with the question of sickness in my life, evaluating “differential diagnoses” (2006) which tried to identify what was good, true and pure and what was broken, cracked and warped.    Being lumped in with every dysfunction of desire meant that I had to know where acting on those drives was wrong and where it was just claiming expression past oppression and convention.

Struggling through the issues of truth and falsehood (1997), how we express what we know and what we feel in the world while staying in a framework of veracity was the first set of challenges I had.  I knew that I was not female bodied nor was I raised as a woman, but I also knew that my nature was not that of a normative man.

The other set of challenges were about behaviour in the world.   Where could a moral line be drawn that respected others but also allowed freedom?  For me, that boundary was around queerness, and the demarcation was consent (1998).

As much as I came to rational understandings about the health of transgender in the world, the emotional understanding has been much harder to integrate.    I acutely feel the discomfort of those around me, feel the mirroring of erasure, fear and anger.   I know that when others don’t understand, they tend to pathologize,  casting me as sick, broken and warped.   If they are normative, I am fractured.

This is one reason why I never look to the medical profession to provide solutions for transgender.  I didn’t want to have to sign up as sick to try and get a cure or even a dispensation for my assigned affliction.   I knew they couldn’t deliver what I needed.

Instead, I looked to anthropology and theology for cultures where transgender people were seen as a natural part of the culture, offering special benefits to their families, bands, tribes, villages and communities.  The story of human culture turns out to be full of understanding and affirmation of people like me.

The problem seemed to be located not in biology but in belief, in belief systems that drew crisp binaries between us and them.  In examining those systems, what I saw were economic fundamentalism, the attempt to expand and control populations by having rigid and compulsory structures around reproductive biology and breeding pressure.

It doesn’t surprise me at all that those who believe in creating huge families also believe in enforcing gender stereotypes.    You serve the church by being fruitful and multiplying,  so whatever is in your heart, your obligation is to breeding biology over all.  This is the economic pressure at the heart of heterosexism.

Gender, though, does serve an important purpose in controlling copulation, reproduction and child rearing.   We do need a system that enforces the responsibility to care for children, wanted or not, and that is a system that must be based around families.   That doesn’t necessarily mean two person female/male families — there are other models in human culture — but it does mean safe and consistent space for for children to grow in.

As a transperson, my response to people who propose bathroom sanctity bills comes on two levels.

First, I understand the economic basis for this push, the attempt to control gender expression so that people don’t have to do the work, feel they can isolate their children from queerness, and have a common enemy to rally around.

Beyond that, though, I feel the hurt and trauma from others who would pathologize me and people like me in the world.  The old wounds and attacks come up, making me tense up expecting the “third gotcha,” a re-traumatizaion at any time.  The attacks make other transpeople distressed and I watch them lash out in painful ways, often lashing out at allies and others who they see as too queer and perverted, bringing this down on us.

Allies often get caught up in these arguments, deciding that it is right to compromise and draw a line between good transpeople and sick transpeople.   Once that happens, their own fear blossoms and they cannot stand up for our queerness.   We ask for affirmation,  we get quibbles and distancing.   Researchers who studied transpeople and found them broken often decided that damage must be the cause of their transgender nature rather than the effects of being pathologized in the world from a young age.

“We are the normal ones and you are the freak.  We paid the price to fit in and you did not.  Which one of us is then the problem?  Which one of us is causing disturbance?  Which one of us deserves whatever shit they get?  I’ll give you a hint; it’s not me.”

The facts are clear.   Transgender access to appropriate gendered public sanitary facilities make everyone more safe rather than less safe.   People who are going to violate others without their consent will do so anyway, as they are already not compliant with laws.   Public safety officials across the country agree with this.

For those who feel the need to pathologize and demonize transgender people, these facts are irrelevant.  To them, transgender sickness is a matter of obvious belief and those who do not see it are themselves warped and corrupted.

That hurts my heart.  Being lumped in as sick, perverted and dangerous is deflating, especially when you know that the more you fight their blanket denigration the more you feed the battle, stoking their fires and creating more damage.   Defence is attack, so fighting just makes the attackers stronger.

The long term effects of being classed as pathological and demonic are crushing, even if you know very clearly that the accusations are not true.  The cost of fighting false accusations which support stigma, ostracism and marginalization has smashed many humans.

I know this, she said sadly, firsthand.

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