This post is part of a series on Debunking the 10 (+1) Lies About Trans People.
Myth #3: Transgender people are mentally disturbed
It’s understandably impossible to make sense of transgenderism from the outside looking in. Heck, as a transgender person I’ve spent my whole life with it and I still don’t feel like I know anything.
However, there’s a frightening way in which people – not understanding us – turn all our cries for help into proof of how demented we are. The fact that we trans often suffer from depression, anxiety, and bewilderment are taken as proof of how horribly deranged we are. It is as if our inner identity is a malignant tumor that secretes black bile into our bloodstream. We are hosts to some delusion-generating parasite that has latched onto our brain stem. We are victims of alien brainwashing. Our overactive imaginations hallucinate a topsy-turvy world in which male means female and female means male. Alas, how derangéd a state! Let such invalids be shipped off to Bedlam!
This kind of mindset is very damaging to trans people (to say the least). Not only is it unproductive; it’s counter-productive. Not only is it counter-productive; it’s just incorrect!
So how is it incorrect? Psychology used to treat transsexualism as a mental disease, but then something funny happened. Even before transgender politics began to push its interests, psychologists began noticing something. In particular, a Dr. Harry Benjamin (1885-1986) noted that the people who came to him with transgender issues did not act delusional. The people who came to him for help acted like people in distress over a difficult reality they had to deal with. They were sober about reality and wanted to deal as best they could in practical terms with the issue before them. The issue was their gender identity and apparent biological sex did not match. It wasn’t as if they had phantasms of being another gender, or that they had a second personality that happened to be of the other gender. It was straightforward: they had an identity that didn’t match what society expected of them, and this caused them unbelievable levels of stress.
For the most part, transgender people are otherwise mentally healthy individuals. It has been suggested that many trans people have above-average intelligence and creativity. Many, especially among late-onset male-to-female transsexuals, hold high positions in society and contribute generously to their local communities.
NOTE: Transgenderism is in the DSM-5 as gender dysphoria. Being transgender is a mental disorder insofar as it causes excessive distress in a person’s life. Given how society treats transgender people, it would take an amazing individual to remain unphased about their own gender variance. Some people favor taking any reference to transgenderism entirely out of the DSM because they feel pathologized. I like it being there because it reassures gender variant people that there is a name for the distress they feel.
I sometimes get the sense that people think transgenderism is something like schizophrenia or disassociative identity disorder. They imagine that an “otherwise normal guy” like me is swallowed by the crazy fantasy of being female. While some transgender people have mental disorders (just like the rest of the population), what is important is that the mental disorders are distinguishable from transgenderism. When a psychologist screens someone with a gender identity disorder, s/he must first determine whether the person is transsexual or rather has a borderline personality disorder, dissasociative identity, schizophrenia, etc. The point is that there is a difference; a person’s core gender identity is distinguishable from fantastic notions of self.
There is a danger in using the word “disorder” for transgenderism. (At a later date I’ll be sure to pen a post on the Catholic culture’s sometimes slanted use of the word). Is it more “ordered” for a person’s gender identity to line up with their biological sex? Technically, yes. I don’t know of many transgender people who are glad to be gender-variant. The “disorder” is there in the sense that it is obviously more ordered for our bodies and minds to conform with each other. The whole reason for transitioning is to make the body line up with the mind to create a more “ordered” life.
The problem is when the word “disorder” is associated with evil, chaos, and insanity. Technically Down’s syndrome is a disorder, but anyone who knows people with Down’s knows they are the most angelic and humane individuals on the planet. Like Down’s, transgenderism might be considered an anomaly in development. In this sense I agree that I am “disordered.” However, this is a far cry from literal insanity.
So why is the idea that trans people are mentally disturbed counter-productive? Because calling a trans person ‘mentally disturbed’ is like dousing a fire with gasoline; by doing so, you are adding to the very cause of the trans person’s suffering. Probably the biggest cause for transgender pain is social pressure. We trans live in a social schema in which we feel we have no place. Telling us that we belong in a mental hospital is simply reinforcing our worst fears.
Why are we depressed? In part, because society hates us. Why are we anxious? Because it doesn’t seem like we can be true to ourselves and accepted by our loved ones at the same time. Why are we bewildered? Because it doesn’t seem like there is a way out for us since the road to freedom is so difficult.
The undergirding of gender dysphoria isn’t phantasm; it’s a cry for love! Transgender people want to be loved for who they are! They don’t want to have to perform, act, lie, cheat, steal, masquerade, compromise, and repress in order to be liked. They don’t want to have to be a puppet-person in order to get an applause. They want to live life above-ground, in the Sun. If these are disordered desires, then the world needs a little more disorder!
- Myth #1: Transgender people live crazy lives.
- Myth #2: Transgender people are confused.
- Myth #3: Transgender people are mentally disturbed.
- Myth #4: Transgender people are gay.
- Myth #5: Transgender people are radical liberals with crazy ideas.
- Myth #6: Transgender people hate their bodies.
- Myth #7: Transgender people perform in drag shows.
- Myth #8: You can tell someone is transgender just by looking at them.
- Myth #9: Transgender people aren’t “real” men or women.
- Myth #10: Transgender people are weird.
- Myth #11: Sex and gender are straightforward.