The religious right is of course pushing the idea that transgender people are seriously mentally ill. Those folks know that calling us crazy is a way to invalidate our identities.
It is also a way of cynically using the unjustified prejudice against those who do suffer from a serious mental illness.
I once spent a couple of years working in a psychiatric hospital. Most of the poor souls I met there were far more sinned against than sinning and were about as dangerous as toy balloons. I would far rather spend time among them than with “normal” people who enjoy hating others simply for being who they are.
A few months ago I attended a large, all-day training class on mental health first aid for those of us working or volunteering in situations where we might encounter someone in real emotional trouble. I happened to be seated near a “Christian Counselor.” We went around the room and gave our names and the organizations with which we were associated.
In my case it was the transgender center. So I outed myself.
At one point someone asked the instructor about whether being transgender was a mental illness. (I will pass over whether that was intended as a dig at me.) The instructor made it clear that it is not.
This is a point worth spending time on.
Being transgender is a naturally occurring variation, like being left or right handed or having light or dark skin or being gay or straight, but that isn’t an illness because it isn’t having the trait that is the problem—unlike schizophrenia or severe depression which create horrible difficulties for someone even when they are alone—the problems arise when transgender people aren’t allowed to transition early in life and live as themselves and in the way this society generally treats us: with ridicule, open hostility, discrimination, and violence.
Members of marginalized groups that experience chronic discrimination and persecution sometimes develop emotional problems as a result of the ill treatment, but it isn’t membership in the group that causes it.
We trans people don’t kill themselves because we’re trans; we sometimes kill ourselves because of how straight people treat us.
Anyway, a few minutes after the instructor answered the question, the “Christian counselor” passed me a note that having confusion about one’s identity is a mental illness.
He was smirking. Smug, straight, white, male, fundamentalist Christian who had probably never in his life known even a moment of prejudice or discrimination or had to live every single day with a realistic fear in the back of his mind of being murdered simply for being who he is.
I sent a note back informing him that I am not in the least confused about who I am. I have known exactly who I am since I was a small child and that knowledge has never wavered.
The confused are those who don’t believe what I tell them about my inner life and who won’t open their eyes to how my femininity shines through in every moment of my life in the way I move through and engage the world.
On a lighter note—yes, I prefer lighter notes when I can indulge in that luxury!—there is a wonderful story about an encounter Sigmund Freud had with a mother who went to see him about her son.
She wanted her son “cured” of being gay.
Freud said, “Is he terribly anxious?”
“No, not really.”
“Is he depressed?”
“Not that I’ve noticed.”
“Would you say then, Madame, that he seems to be reasonably happy?”
She sighed. “I suppose so.”
Freud flicked ashes off his cigar. “Then, for God’s sake, leave him alone! He’s doing better than most people.”