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. It helps me to beat my gender dyasphoria.
Before I go any further, I will remind you of Conrad’s five principles of gender variance: number 1…
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.
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 professional 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.
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?