Gender Identity Disorder: Concerns and Controversies

Posted: November 22, 2010 in Uncategorized
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The article I’d like to discuss today is Chapter 6 of the Handbook of Gender Research in Psychology, “Gender Identity Disorder: Concerns and Controversies” by Kate Richmond, Kate Carrol, and Kristoffer Denboske.

Richmond et al.’s artical was largely just informative for me, giving me some factual backing for a lot of things I had heard or had gleaned without having a source to cite. For example, when they wrote that “To meet the criteria for transsexualism, an individual had to express continuous interest in changing his or her sexual anatomy and corresponding gender-specific role for at least 2 years” (111), it backed up my feeling that there was far too much control and concern about the way a person feels and how committed they are to changing their gender. This article also talks about how a desire to be a different gender than the one biologically assigned to a person is widely considered to be a mental disorder, something that is fundamentally wrong with the person. Thankfully, Richmond et al. eventually move to show why this is a terrible thing.

But along the way, there are some interesting little factoids, like that “1 of every 2500 men seek out SRS [Sexual Reassignment Surgery],” or that “GID has a prevalence rate of 1:500” (or .5% of the population), or that “Boys are six times more likely than girls to be referred for gender identity disorder,’ which is largely because “society is more tolerant of cross-gender behavior in girls than in boys, which derives from an underlying social devaluation of femininity” (113). All of this suggests, for one thing, that GID isn’t exactly rare. Which in turn helps suggest that it’s not something ‘wrong’ with a person. If anything, it’s something wrong with our idea of gender.

It’s hard to really research these groups, they tell us, because of how hidden it tends to be. Richmond et al. tell us that the “Transgendered populations tend to be even less visible than other minority groups because of (1) the ability to ‘hide’ a transgender lifestyle and (2) the unusually high physical and social risk of being ‘out'” (114); being openly transgendered can be dangerous, both from a social point of view and just simply from the point of view of violence; transgenderism seems to attract violent retribution, deplorable as it is, moreso than membership in other minority groups. I think it’s because people still see transgenderism as a ‘choice,’ and therefore are somehow justified in expressing their disagreement with that choice in a violent manner.

The article goes on to tell us other important and interesting things about the transgendered population. Like, for example, they tend to be from higher socioeconomic backgrounds, tend to have higher IQs (116), or that about 1 in 3 attempt suicide (121) and that they are at a higher risk for homelessness, poverty, addictions, prostitution, and aids (121). Even though fewer than 1% of post-SRS clients report dissatisfaction with their gender or with their bodies (119), there are still a lot of hoops to jump through to be able to get the surgery. For example, it’s almost impossible to go halfway (changing the torso but not the lower body), and candidates need to prove that they really want the surgery, partially by having to ‘admit’ that they have a mental disorder.

This brings up a really important question in my mind: who are they afraid is faking it? (by ‘they,’ I mean those setting up these hoops, not the authors of the article) Seriously, who would pretend that they wanted to be another gender just so they could get the surgery? Is that the kind of ‘practical joke’ they really think is happening? That someone wakes up one morning and decides that they’re having a bad day, so they’ll go through extreme and traumatic physical surgery, months of rehabilitation and a complete change of their life and their identity just to feel better? On a whim? It just seems ridiculous. But then, most of these kinds of insistence people have on their ‘right’ to tell people how to live seem ridiculous.

What’s important is that Richmond et al. point out that part of the problem is that gender is seen in a heteronormative binary. If someone isn’t a boy, they must be a girl (117, 124); this may be the prevalent understanding, but it doesn’t seem to be especially accurate or true.



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