Saving Kids from Psychiatrists

Listen up people, I am about to ask you to sign a petition. This is not something I do very often, and I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t think it was important. My apologies if some of you are offended by this, but so it goes.

Many of you will know that homosexuality used to not only be considered a crime, but also a mental illness. As recently as 1973 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) listed homosexuality in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Thankfully that has now changed. However, what most of you probably don’t know is that the DSM still includes an illness known as “Gender Identity Disorder” (GID). While this is used as the basis for diagnosing adult transsexuals, it is also often used as an excuse to “treat” children whose behavior is seen as “abnormal” by parents and conservative doctors. And by “treat” I actually mean “torture”, because basically it involves beating and otherwise punishing the kids for “inappropriate” behavior until such time as they learn to conform to what the adults are expecting of them. The primary reason given for this “treatment” is often to prevent children from becoming homosexual, and naturally it appeals strongly to homophobic parents. These days, as gay rights have gained a certain amount of traction, it is often presented instead as preventing children from growing up transsexual, because while persecuting gays is now unacceptable in some circles, persecuting the transgendered is still very much a popular spectator sport. The effect, however, is still the same: kids get bullied into conforming to conservative views of appropriate gender behavior.

Given the overwhelming success of “treating” transsexuals by the novel method of taking them at their word and helping them to live in the gender they prefer, there has been considerable pressure on the APA to remove GID from its list of illnesses. However, a working group set up by the APA to look at revisions to the Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders section of the DSM includes two of the strongest proponents of this sort of cruel “therapy”, Kenneth Zucker and Ray Blanchard. With these people on board (on Zucker is chairing the group) it seems likely that the new DSM will not only still include GID, it will also redefine transsexuals as dangerously perverted.

Obviously very few of you will have much close contact with actual transgendered people because they are a fairly small minority. But this is really just a symptom of something much wider and much more dangerous. The question to ask yourself is whether we really want to go back to a world in which social norms are enforced by declaring anyone who transgresses against them to be “mad”. Remember, it was not that long ago that a woman could be committed to an asylum simply for becoming pregnant outside of marriage.

There is an online petition, and you can find it here. It isn’t the best written petition in the world – it reads like it was written by someone who was upset and angry at the time – but it is the one we currently have to work with. This isn’t a matter of national politics, so you don’t have to be a US citizen to take part. I’ve signed it. I hope that some of you will consider doing so too. Thank you.

15 thoughts on “Saving Kids from Psychiatrists

  1. Very few of us will have much close contact with actual transgendered people? Huh? Are there that few of them out there? I’m friends with at least half a dozen and know several more.

  2. I’ve worked with at least 3 either pre- or post-op (that I know of…) — so perhaps I travel in rarified circles ;>.

    I have to wonder if a well written letter to the APA wouldn’t be more useful than this particular petition… Tho I’ll likely do both.

    Thanks, lady!

  3. Cheryl: Coincidentally, the main transgendered person I know is a psychiatrist. 😉 (I also know someone at work, plus the founder of our local GLBT SF club was trans.) I’m surprised I don’t know more transgendered folks, come to think. Anyway, I look forward to the petition link.

    Matt: I always thought it was pretty rare. I suspect knowing one person of a certain stripes probably increases the odds of knowing more of said stripe (I’m thinking not just of trans, but also other GLBT stripes). Nothing to base this on; just a hunch.

  4. I also think letters to the APA would do a lot more good than this petition. (Their general contact information is and American Psychiatric Organization, 1000 Wilson Blvd, Suite 1825, Arlington, VA 22209. The contact person for the DSM-V organizing committees is Rhondalee Dean-Royce , for all the committees, not just the gender stuff.) I’m not sure how much it would help to have a more coherent, better-written petition, for something like this. Website petitions tend to attract attention online, among the people signing them, but they often aren’t taken very seriously by the organizations they are submitted to afterwards.

  5. Thanks folks. I am of course aware that those of us who live in certain large Western cities may know a fair number of trans people. Science Fiction fandom is also a good place to meet them (especially WisCon). But when I write these posts I’m always aware that I’m writing to the world, not just to the Bay Area and similar places. Right now, of course, I’m in Darkest Somerset, and round here I suspect anyone who is open about being trans will pretty quickly get their head kicked in.

    Writing letters will, of course, be much more effective. If you want to do so, I’d be delighted. Many thanks to Adrian for providing the correct address.

  6. I smell a two-edged sword.

    If “Gender Identity Disorder” is withdrawn as a diagnosis, than any possible insurance or medical coverage for reassignment surgery for those who work the long path of deliberately getting “verified” as gender dysphoric is gone and those few (Few. Very few. I know one person who got their reassignment paid for, but then I don’t ask people about such things and few volunteer them) have no recourse but to save a fortune for a series of surgeries.

    I acknowledge all the arguments against the diagnosis as valid- but I am concerned about this one, possible benefit of such a diagnosis existing.

  7. Daniel – this is not a question of removing GID as a diagnosis, it is a question of removing it as a diagnosis of mental illness. Allowing the likes of Blanchard and Zucker to have their way with the DSM will not help people get gender reassignment paid for, it will get them classified as lunatics who should be locked up and put through “aversion therapy” until they agree to deny their feelings and behave the way their doctors want them to.

    Other countries (including the UK) have taken GID off their list of mental illnesses without any reduction in care for trans people.

  8. Yes – transsexuality could still be seen as a medical condition requiring surgical (and/or hormonal) treatment. I know some people are leary of letting go of the GID nurse for fear of finding something worse, but how many gay people pine for the days when homosexuality was classed as a mental illness? Few or none, I’d guess.

  9. Those of you who are interested in looking more deeply into this issue might want to click through to this blog which is a group effort by a number of prominent trans activists. Mercedes Allen is particularly good on the DSM issue. Obviously trans people are worried as to the practical effects of removing GID from the DSM entirely, but everyone is pretty much agreed that would be preferable to anything Blanchard and Zucker are likely to come up with.

  10. Sometimes I despair of the human race…but things could be worse, believe me.

    Where I live, not only is a transexual regarded as being in need of psychiatric counselling , but they could also run counter to religious law – and end up in jail – not to mention suffering a high possibility of being beaten up or otherwise harrassed by the police as well.

    If they have surgery, it is never legally recognised, as you cannot change the gender written on your identity card. Nor, alas, can you change the religious affiliation written on your identity card, which is determined at birth by your father’s religious affiliation.

    Too bad if you are GLBT and Muslim. You hide what you are – or suffer.

    Right, I’m off to sign the petition.

  11. Cheryl, I know several TGs, and not all because of fandom. I am a really good patterner, though.

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