Gender Identity is NOT a Disorder!Posted: August 29, 2011
Recently I was watching an episode of TLC’s Strange Sex I had recorded some months back, and I did something I’d never done before – I yelled at the TV.
The episode was about a young person’s experience of transitioning from a female body to a male body. When they used the term “Gender Identity Disorder” I kinda flipped out: Disorder?!? You morons, that’s not a disorder!
This perhaps shouldn’t have surprised me. I never did like the show’s title. According to the dictionary definition of strange, it’s the right word, but in common parlance there’s an undertone of “it shouldn’t be that way” or “something’s wrong here”. The title sounds just a hair away from “freakish” and in that sense, the program could be just a hair away from being a sexuality freakshow. And the notion of anyone’s sexuality being exploited as a freakshow offends me. I’ll grant that some of what they present is uncommon or unfamiliar, but there’s nothing “strange” about anything they’ve shown. Usually I’m impressed when they find a respectful way to tell people’s stories of dealing with unusual sexual situations, and hearing the term “disorder” was a real disappointment. I expected better.
I also expect better from the upcoming DSM-V, and I might be disappointed there too. Homosexual attraction was considered a mental illness until the DSM-III was published in 1980, when it was more-or-less renamed to “ego-dystonic homosexuality”, which amounted to being homosexual when people around you think you should be straight. In 1987, it was finally delisted with the publication of the DSM-IIIR. Attitudes certainly are slow to change.
I have a similar peeve with the term Seasonal Affective Disorder – to me, it’s Seasonal Affect. No disorder. And don’t get me started on Attention Deficit Disorder. Why not Oxygen Deficit Disorder? or Hunger Affective Disorder? or…
In this over-pathologizing society, “disorder” is in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder is often selling something to “fix” us or telling us how we “should” be, rather than us telling them it’s a problem. If there’s some aspect of yourself that you find troublesome, you may discover that it’s described as a disorder and there are likely treatments for it. On the other hand, if you know something is true about yourself and you’re okay with it, it’s not a disorder; it’s your authentic self.