Is being transgender a mental illness? Before I met my daughter, I did not know a transgender person. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, Sally Jessy Raphael would flaunt her red glasses and Maury Povich would sensationalize people under the guise of an interview. In these seemingly polite, congenial conversations, transgender people who transitioned later in life, discussed their transition. In addition, family members, usually their children, would march on stage to answer questions about how the person’s “choices” harmed them.
Now seeing through the eyes of a parent, I witness the shame and harm levied against the transgender community. In fact, on a recent Super Soul Podcast Oprah described feelings of remorse for her contribution to tabloid television and committed to never “demean, diminish embarrass or dehumanize others.” I appreciate Oprah’s willingness to acknowledge the past and commitment to uplift my daughter and her peers. I too want to uplift our transgender community by highlighting three truths:
1) Transgender people are not a circus act. The majority of transgender people just want to feel comfortable in their own skin. Just like their cis counterparts, some transgender people choose to perform in the arts, on stage, and in public. To stereotype transgender people as flamboyant or attention-seeking is a generalized, oversimplified idea of a particular type of person. Simply put, it is irresponsible to further a narrative that dehumanizes any group of people. To calls\ into question their value to society. Further, promoting this farce strips transgender people of their uniqueness and humanity and encourages violence.
2) Transgender people do not have a mental illness. It is a learned misconception that transgender people “choose” to be trans. It is a degradable, deleterious narrative to label transgender people as crazy or mentally ill. Labeling others in this manner cements the idea that a person’s very existence is criminal and should have access to fewer rights and privileges. We see this harmful rhetoric play out time and again against marginalized communities.
3) Identifying as transgender is not rare: According to the Williams Institute, in 2016, approximately 0.6 percent of adults in the United States identified as transgender. This translates to just over 1.3 million adults. Centers for Disease Control data from 2019 reveal that 2% of students surveyed identify as transgender. These numbers are believed to be underreported for fear of reprisal due to transphobia and discrimination.
4) Shaming is harmful to everyone. Each of us has the power to listen instead of casting shame or judgment. To seek to understand those who are different from ourselves and relish in the beauty of diversity. It is time to acknowledge the enormous burden of manipulative and intentional shaming, even when it is subversive. To speak louder than those in power who use humiliation and the criminalization of the transgender community as a rally cry to their constituents.
As Oprah stated in her podcast, “what we dwell on is what we become.” It would be difficult not to dwell on the overt discrimination, segregation, and criminalization being placed on transgender youth. Elected officials have the audacity to debate their right to play sports, use an affirming bathroom, right to medical access. It is killing our transgender community. Literally.
If you are looking for resources or book suggestions, please visit our website at Narwhal Magic Kindness or the Human Rights Campaign‘s Guide to Supporting Your Gender Nonconforming Child. Please also feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
So, is being transgender a mental illness. If you know me at all, you probably didn’t need to read this post to know the answer. But, I hope you walked away feeling more empowered to challenge someone who believes it is.
5 thoughts on “Is Being Transgender A Mental Illness?”
I think the name change from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria in the DSM-5 was a step in the right direction. People’s gender identity is not a disorder, but it makes sense to me to have a diagnosis for the massive dysphoria that people can experience from being in the wrong body in a society that has such rigid, restrictive expectations about gender.
I like your point but as a person who is shepherding a person through puberty blockers I see it a little differently. It allows insurance companies and healthcare providers to require proof from multiple specialists prior to providing any type of medical intervention. I know hundreds of families with transgender children. Not one of them need a doctor or psychiatrist to sign off on a disorder for their child to receive life-saving treatment. The decision to move forward with blockers or, i suspect, surgery is not taken lightly. It is a very private and personal conversation with your trusted medical team about risks and benefits. Healthcare should not be used as a gatekeeper or monitor over my or my child’s medical treatment. It provides opportunity for transphobic practitioners to further invalidate who you are.
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