Debunking Myth #3: Transgender people are mentally disturbed

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.

mental-health

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!

Back to Debunking the 10 (+1) Lies About Trans People.

9 thoughts on “Debunking Myth #3: Transgender people are mentally disturbed

  1. OK. This was very informative, and I thank you for sharing it. I’m willing to concede that gender dysphoria, as it is called above, is a real and distinct issue from any other mental dissonance. (How’s that for a word, as opposed to the loaded term “disordered”?)

    Still, in my mind, I have an objection. Hear me out, please, because I am still conceding your point that TG is real, and is not a disguise for some other mental disorder.

    My objection is simply this: we both agree that a transgendered person is dissonant – their mind and body don’t match each other. However, it usually is demonstrable that the TG person’s body is quite healthy and normal. The body, under any other circumstances, would need no changes at all to be healthy. However, being that we know so much less about the mind, I do not think we are in a position to say the same about the mind.

    So, because of our relative agnosticism about the state of the mind, but our rather certainty about the health of the body, I would suggest the dissonance is with the mind, not the body, because we know the body is healthy, but we have no such certainty about the mind.

    In short, though I concede your point that TG is its own thing, it seems to come down to a simple process of elimination: the body is healthy, so the mind is probably the component needing tweaking.

    I hope this neither comes off as disrespectful nor disdainful. I really do want to make sense of TGism. I am cis, but I think I comprehend your pain. It doesn’t scare me. It’s strange, but I don’t want to hide it under a bushel basket. I think it does need to be understood, and treated. And I just don’t think the proper treatment is to damage the certainly healthy part of the human being.

    Peace,

    Patrick

    • Well, what do we mean by “healthy body”? The human person has to be seen as a whole. If any single part is isolated, it can be deemed healthy because it is doing it’s particular function well. But if what the particular part is doing is in dissonance with the rest of the body, then it isn’t REALLY doing it’s job well, which is to aid in the flourishing of the living organism.

      So I guess I’d call into question the idea that what you consider clearly healthy in the body is necessarily so.

      Also, I don’t think this is a problem of mind-versus-matter. For one thing, the “mind” is correlated to a specific organ, the brain, which is a part of the body.

      Speaking from my own experience, it’s not like I have a disembodied idea of myself that is at war with my actual body. It’s that “within my own members” (to use the Scriptural term) there is a war playing out. It’s not body verse soul. It’s body-and-soul trying to be a coherent body-and-soul. I know that’s super abstract, so let me try to make it more concrete.

      I tried to “fix” my brain. I did everything possible to bring my consciousness into harmony with my genitals. The result was bitterness, disintegration, and feeling disconnected from myself.

      Then I tried the opposite. I started taking female hormones. The result was peace, integration, and a very real sense of embodiment. It’s as if I’d been dehydrated my entire life, and in taking hormones I finally hydrated myself. I feel interconnected, whole, with all my parts in sync.

      I respect your questions and I think they’re valid, but I think the issue of transgender embodiment is too often talked about in a theoretical void. Yes, theoretically it may seem that fixing the brain is a better option than fixing the body. Nearly every trans* person I’ve met has tried to do exactly that, and the fruit of that venture was despair and dissolution. The anecdotal evidence of the transgender community and the data of scientific studies both agree that as far as we know, people who have gender dysphoria past puberty are going to remain so without any significant change, despite any attempts to “fix” the brain. The evidence is equally unanimous that medically treating the body for gender dysphoria has amazing results with very high rates of satisfaction, which I can bear witness to in my own life.

      I think at the end of the day it’s as simple as “a tree is to be judged by its fruits.”

      • “So I guess I’d call into question the idea that what you consider clearly healthy in the body is necessarily so.”

        Well, alright. I’ll give you a definition or two.

        An human being is a composite of two things: a body and a soul (or mind).

        In short, the body is material, and ordinarily dependent upon many things, including the soul, for survival. And the soul is immaterial, and independent of the body. And we can know it is independent because it survives after the body dies. But without both body and soul a person cannot be fully human.

        Can we agree to this much?

        “I tried to “fix” my brain. I did everything possible to bring my consciousness into harmony with my genitals. The result was bitterness, disintegration, and feeling disconnected from myself. Then I tried the opposite. I started taking female hormones. The result was peace, integration, and a very real sense of embodiment. It’s as if I’d been dehydrated my entire life, and in taking hormones I finally hydrated myself. I feel interconnected, whole, with all my parts in sync. ”

        At one time, lobotomy was the only treatment for all manner of mental diseases. And before that, there was no treatment; you were thrown into Bedlam or another lunatic asylum, with no hope of recovery.

        Lobotomy had risks, granted. But it was very effective.

        Same with amputations. At one time, there was no way to save some limbs from amputation. While we still depend on some surgical amputation, some are also made preventable thanks to new knowledge about how to prevent amputations, the anatomy of the limbs and their inner workings, etc.

        And, of course, death, used to sometimes be the only result of the contraction of a disease. Many diseases had no treatments until recently, until the advent of drugs like penicillin and vaccines, or insulin for diabetics – among other things.

        My point being, gender reassignment surgery and hormone therapy – I don’t know that they are bad. I am certainly glad folks such as yourself can derive peace of mind from them. But I hope to God that there is some less physically damaging way to fix your mental dissonance that we will discover within a generation. I mean, amputation is traumatic as it is. And it does make one’s body less functional and, strictly speaking, less healthy. How much more so when the amputation is of an otherwise perfectly healthy body part – the genitals.

        I mean, if it keeps you from suicide, by all means, I’d prefer you entered Heaven an eunuch than be cast into Hell with your scrotum. (I’m hope I am not coming off flippantly.) But would that we did not have to disable what, at least biologically, is healthy and needing no fixing or amendment. And maybe from your point-of-view the mind seems as much and as equal a cohesive whole as the body which is your other half.

        I’m not trying to be ethereal – just as I’m sure you’re not merely trying to be pragmatic. I’m sure you think hormone therapy and gender reassignment surgery are THE solution. I don’t think we know enough about the mind – the soul – that we can make this conclusion. In fact, I would say even chemical treatments of mental dissonance and disturbance – never mind lobotomies and the like – may not be getting to the root of the problem. We might be lightyears away from a proper CURE, but being tied to a dosage of pill for the rest of your life, or destroying what otherwise are normal, functioning parts of oneself – that’s not a cure. It’s a workaround.

        I’m probably just bullspitting. 😄 But the more I think about it, the more I don’t think contemporary psychology has arrived at the root of the problem. The best forms of medicine help the body to heal itself and return to normal itself. Maybe I’m thinking far too high and ideally, but would that mental health would also reach this standard.

        • I think it’s absolutely true that medicine is only barely peeking in on the matter without having as much of a solution as it claims.

          I think though that so much of this comes down to how do we treat a PERSON, and help that PERSON flourish. If someone offered me a solution to make my brain align with my genitals, I would refuse that as a viable solution. Why? Because that kind of fix would erase me as a person. I would no longer be me – I would be a different person who better fits with this particular body part I happen to have. The person who is writing this comment right now would not survive the operation.

          I think modification of the mind to fit the genitals is actually much closer to a lobotomy than modifying the genitals. Lobotomies worked for doctors – the people caring for the insane person were satisfied – but the person themselves and their consciousness were destroyed by the procedure.

          Also, it’s worth noting that genital surgery is NOT mutliation. Mutilation is cutting off a body part. The genital surgery is repurposing old tissue and is essentially reconstructive. Transgender neo-vaginas are often completely indistinguishable from natal vaginas, and this is in part because in utero a fetus has undifferentiated genitals at first, and those undifferentiated genitals eventually form one way or another under the influence of hormones. The tissue which is being reconstituted as a vagina is the same tissue that would have formed into a vagina of its own accord given the right in-utero circumstances.

          I understand that surgery seems extreme, and it’s at the far end of the spectrum of transgender treatment. I think people obsess over it too much. Hormonal treatment, however, which is much more common, is very telling in its results.

          I’d recommend this post for further reading:
          https://catholictrans.wordpress.com/2015/03/12/the-reality-of-transgenderism-a-stern-but-necessary-critique-of-carlos-flores-stern-but-necessary-critique/

        • I see you did not leave a reply button on your last comment.

          Very well. I will make this my last comment. You can reply, or not.

          “The person who is writing this comment right now would not survive the operation.”
          When you put it that way, unfortunately it comes off sort of the way I feel about myself. I have kind of a melancholic disposition. I may even be clinically depressed. I suspect very much that I am. Nevertheless, I wish to seek psychological treatment for it because, although my look on life very much is that it is a crapsack world that we have little chance of changing, I want my mental health – for so many reasons. I still want, at the end of it, the comfort of being able to write from the perspective of, I guess, a survivor of our world’s madness. But if I lose that, I only lose my perspective, and who I think I am. And I think it’s not entirely inaccurate. But perhaps I am wearing a veil that needs to be torn down. Perhaps I am more the warrior – the Crusader – I wish I was. Or maybe I am something else entirely.

          So it may be with you. It could be there’s something inherently female/feminine about your soul. Your body does not reflect that reality, but it could be. It would not surprise me, however, if within a hundred years we discover something in the mind or soul that is not unlike a defence mechanism. Maybe I’m simply ignorant, but the issues you address in your other article I don’t take the same position on as Flores does.

          I mean, I can buy the concept that gender is made up of two parts – the spiritual and the corporeal. And in the case of the intersex, or those without a sex at all, I think the spiritual has to be defaulted to since the corporeal is in a fog. If the body cannot make itself up as it ought, the mind ought to. I am in accord with you, and Melinda Selmys, that sex is not merely a binary of penis and vagina, and hermaphrodites and those born without genitals are evidence of that. I have no qualms with your assessment of this fallacy.

          But what do we do when the body indicates something and the mind another, and neither seems particularly unhealthy? I don’t rightly know, friend. I really don’t. But a human is a composite of body and soul. And I would sooner believe the thing we are agnostic about – the soul – is malfunctioning, raerhther than the thing we understand in far more detail – the body. We may not know how the soul – not the brain, those are two different things, as the mind survives the brain – is malfunctioning. But I would blame the command central that I know little about rather than the plumbing which I understand perfectly well.

          (And, as a side note, while it is true the tissue might have been formed into a vagina in utero, we cannot duplicate the functionality of a natural vagina. My agnosticism about gender reassignment is partially because of this. I would be more accepting of GRS if you received a fully functioning body out of the deal. Otherwise – and again, I admit this is probably my own blindness to your personal problems – it just seems like you become feminine mind in a sculpture of a woman – like Galatea, or Claire from Galaxy Express 999. It could be a satisfying solution. But it is not now.)

          I think I’ve said all I have to say and I’m just repeating myself. And I think that’s all I can do until/unless someone decides to plumb the depths of the mind to understand gender dysphoria better. I’m not going to throw the DSM at you, anymore than I would want to throw you into Bedlam or have the white matter connecting your grey matter twisted into tatters. And, if I read you correctly, surgery is indeed sort of a last resort? OK. Thank God. I still pray that scientists will come to understand the mind more, either so we can stop drastic measures like GRS, or so we can demonstrate their necessity (if they be necessary, which, at the end of time, I severely wish not).

          I probably still come off as a conventional Catholic nutter who thinks TG people are mental. And while it’s nuanced, I think I probably am. Nevertheless, I do wish you a blessed St. Joseph the Worker’s Day, I hope God will bless you with a solution to all your problems, including this one, in this life or the next. If hormone therapy is that solution or not, God will let us all know on the Last Day. So I’m not too worried. I’m just dissatisfied with medicine, that’s all.

        • I’m sorry that wordpress didn’t provide a reply button, but I’m glad you responded anyway. I’d love to leave a larger comment, but I need to get to work packing for a trip. I understand your agnosticism about the medicine of it, and I guess all we can do is wait to see what science discovers, and meanwhile do our best with what we got. Happy belated St. Jospeh’s Day!

      • I guess the TL;DR version would be: it’s not so much that I mind the results now. But, somehow, I don’t find them to be satisfying. There has got to be a way to do better than this.

  2. Have a nice trip! 😀

    I did think about it from another perspective today. How the soul pre-exists the body, and how the soul has its own sex (per the case of God, who is immaterial, and the case of the intersex). And how sometimes hormones can influence the formation of different sex organs. I remember watching something about a woman who had GRS to assume the body of a man, years ago. Juan/Juanita, if it rings a bell.

    Anyway, so I think it may be possible for the FORMATION of the body to go awry. Nevertheless, if it’s not intersex, and the body is clearly identifiable as male – and especially if there are no other apparent problems with the body, other than the soul considering itself to be otherwise – something just doesn’t seem right. Yes, the soul and body are mismatched. But, as parts, the parts themselves are whole and intact.

    It’s a predicament, indeed. My gut is saying the soul ought to have priority. But I do not trust my gut. 🙂 Man is a composite of soul and body. And if both parts work, however they come about, I’m hesitant to mar either.

    I am going to wait and see what scientists discover about the mind of TG folk before I take a position.

    Peace! And I pray your trip goes well. Well, better than a trip someone I know recently went on. She had a horrible time, from what I understand. I pray that does not happen to you.

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