Transgender

Is it ever useful to think of being transgender as a mental illness?

Google+ Pinterest LinkedIn Tumblr

INTRODUCTION

Today I would like to tell you about something I’ve never really shared before: that sometimes I see being transgender as a mental illness. Not only that, but I find the mental illness narrative to be a useful coping mechanism for a non transitioner.

Before I go any further, I will remind you of Conrad’s five principles of gender variance: number 1…

Don’t project your own narrative of gender variance on to everyone else in the transgender community.

Therefore, although I sometimes find it useful to think of my condition as mental illness, I don’t think that the transgender condition is a prima facie mental illness. As ever, mine is a subjective narrative (a biological male with a history of crossdreaming and gender dysphoria who chooses not to transition) chosen by me. I’m not suggesting you or anyone else follow it.

So, with that caveat…allow me to explain why I find the idea useful.

Let’s start with Ariana Grande (Watch first 30 secs)



THE CONTEXT

Just before I started writing this article I was watching the video for Side to Side by Ariana Grande – a woman who I greatly admire. She also triggers the f**k out of me with her intense femininity, causing the following state of mind…

…a simultaneous rejection of my male body and an intense desire to be female.

Shit! All I wanted to do was pass a few minutes watching pop videos, and now I’m feeling like shit about my body and my being. What’s the best way to deal with it?

Personally, as somebody who needs to get on with his day and look after children, I don’t find it useful to think the whole experience was caused by being a woman trapped in a man’s body.

In fact, I find it far more useful to think that I have a mental condition which makes me want to be a woman.

As I repeat ad-nauseum, nobody knows the underlying neuro-biology of the transgender condition, so whether I tell myself that I’m a woman or a man or an autogynephiliac or a non-binary monk from the planet Zubi, it’s all conjecture. Therefore, in a world of infinite narratives, I might as well choose the one that will make me happiest. Right now, that’s mental illness.

Don’t get Stroppy!

Now, before you splurt out your coffee and start writing me angry comments, let me explain.

I’m a non-transitioner (excuse the  clumsy term) who has no intention of living as a woman. Therefore, for me, it’s a much better narrative to see my desire to be female as a quirky abberation – rather like my desire for alcohol.

As someone with a passion for alcohol, I have to deal with cravings. When I have these cravings I don’t tell myself they’re a sign that my body needs drugs and alcohol…I see them as my addictive personality calling out to satisfy its desire. Similarly, I see Ariana triggered desires as my transgender personality demanding satisfaction.

In both cases, I  reject the request (generally).

It won’t be good for my children or my work if I start drinking a lot, and it wouldn’t be good for them if I suddenly announce I’m a woman. Therefore, I see these requests (and my disposition to addiction and dysphoria) as the result of genetic anomalies beyond my control. They’re a form of mental illness, as described by the American Psychiatric Association. 

Mental illness involves changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these) that cause distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.

THE CRUCIAL POINT

People go nuts when you say the transgender condition is a mental illness because they have a limited definition of mental illness. It doesn’t mean locking people up in the looney bin, or going on lithium, or chaining dribbling idiots to radiators. In fact, mental illness doesn’t have to involve empirical facts. It’s often subjective.

For example, at this point in my life, dysphoria distresses me and transition would hamper my familial and profesional functioning (thus qualifying for the term ‘mental illness.’) Therefore, I interpret the desire to transition as mental illness.

However, if I had Caitlyn Jenner’s money and a teams of doctors and family counselors, it might be the perfect time to transition. Therefore, the desire to transition would be all about becoming my true self i.e. not a mental illness.

Therefore, the term mental illness – although seemingly harsh – is really just another way of saying that transgender stuff is not convenient right now…and I’d do best to control it. It doesn’t mean that I regard my desire to be a woman as ill, or sordid, or shameful.

In fact, I view my transgender personality as one of the most important things about me. I am not ashamed at all of being transgender and if there was some kind of cure that could make me a man’s man – I would run a mile.

But, at the same time, I do not believe that this part of my mind comes from the fact I am a woman. In my opinion, it’s more likely to come from a psychological state that we can not label normal or abnormal – it just exists. That state causes people of one gender to want to be another gender and for me personally, it’s far more useful to see that state as a beautiful thing…but ultimately a mental illness that I need to control.

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL

Trans people tell me: “Okay…so if you’re cool with being transgender…and the only problem is ‘convenience’…why not just call it an ‘inconvenience’ rather than a mental illness?”

The reason is control…

The mental illness tag allows me to control and deal with gender dysphoria. You see, while I respect and love my transgender voice – the illness tag allows me to dispute its ultimate authority.

If I didn’t see it as a form of mental illness then I would inevitably see it as the voice of my true self and would obey it. It would then dominate my life…and my children’s life…and cause a shitload of chaos…and go from inconvenience to harbinger of chaos.

Therefore, my particular strategy for dealing with gender dysphoria depends on delegetimizing the voice which tells me I’m a woman. My method is to label it as a minor mental illness.

NUANCE

I will finish our chat by citing my third principle: the quantum one…

3. It is perfectly valid to follow a number of different (even contradictory) narratives of gender variance at the same time. In fact, such nuance may be your best chance of happiness.

You see, there are other times of the day/week/year when I flip everything on its head and allow my transgender voice to dominate and I see myself as a woman. And other times when I see it all as a sexually inspired obsession (that’s why I write different books and articles from different perspectives.)

This may sound like a recipe for schizophrenia, but what unites us as transgender is not how we identify but that we all suffer from gender dysphoria. The prime goal of sufferers must be to manage this dysphoria – and to do it, each individual has to do do whatever works for him or her.

Therefore, if transition and womanhood works for you – perfect. Personally though, I find it helpful to see this voice in my head in multiple ways. Sometimes it’s the authentic me…sometimes it’s not. But most of the time I see it as a seductive voice that stems from mental illness. A beautiful mental illness…but a mental illness none the less.

Right now, that’s what works for me…

…what works for you?



3 Comments

  1. “Right now, that’s what works for me…
    …what works for you?”

    I used to tell myself that I was bigender. Now, there are really bigender people in the world, but in my case I was telling myself that to get out of doing anything about it. It doesn’t work anymore. I know what I have to do about it now, but it was a way of holding back the urge to do anything.

    Now I’m in a position were transitioning is NOT in the best interest of my family, so I’m holding back the urge for them. But I’m not fooling myself. I know who I am, and know that in the future, I will transition. Having a date set in my mind helps.

    Telling myself that I have a mental illness would be the same as telling myself that I am bigender. It would would be a lie, albeit a lie with a purpose. Other peoples reaction to what you are, no matter how drastic and life impairing, does not make it a mental illness.

  2. I find your formula useful in that it works for you and that’s all that matters. As my life circumstances have changed that needle has shifted for me and hence my approach to my management of my dysphoria. Therefore the possibility of transition has become more present in my mind. You are right in that we understand nothing of what causes the transgender condition and we all have lives to lead based on choices we have made. Whatever approach we find useful will be the right one.
    That being said I do not think that being transgender is analogous to being mentally ill and the desire to be a woman (which can admittedly become all consuming at times) is linked to the draw to come closer to who see as our true selves.
    This is the great thing about the human condition: our ability of our brains to shift and change and respond with a corresponding change in our reality. This is why sometimes older people will transition once their children are grown and can finally focus on themselves and their needs.

  3. Somehow I don’t like the term mental illness because it implies that there is something wrong with yourself and that we should find a cure or treatment.

    I understand that transitioning can make you more unhappy than if you don’t but we could also blame society for the first case, not your mental illness. Under this perspective, you could say that you accept your transgenderism but unfortunately the society is not ready for you yet therefore you compromise so that you can feel happy within the given constraints. On the other hand, this is not a very liberating thought and actually sometimes if I think like that, I’d prefer to rebel against it rather than accept it (although I might end up more alone and miserable, btw I don’t have children but may want to have in the future).

    To be honest, I am rather new in this and I don’t have a strategy to cope with it yet (practically, in daily life) and I am still looking for peacefulness. So far, I also find the term bigender the most helpful to me, although I don’t know what it means exactly. One of the things that helps me the most is to think that I have a woman soul, although I also don’t know what that means either. I find it very empowering however.

Write A Comment

Skip to toolbar