Feb 07

“You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!”: Transgender Myths

This is the book every trans ally needs to read this year. Cristina Arreola, Bustle, 2017, regarding “You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!,” a book that presents myths about transgender individuals

“You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!”: And 20 Other Myths and Misconceptions About Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming People, by psychiatrist Laura Erickson-Schroth and therapist Laura A. Jacobs, aims to educate people about some frequently held but misguided beliefs on this topic.

How do the authors, for instance, counter the title’s implied trans myth? With the important fact that “there are no documented cases of trans people assaulting anyone in a bathroom. Ever. In fact, trans people are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and many groups keep statistics on the number of trans people murdered each year because it is so common” (Jacobs, HuffPost).

In the same HuffPost article Jacobs lists some additional trans myths that are addressed:

  • You’ve Never Met a Transgender Person
  • All Trans People Want to Be Either Barbie or Ken

  • Trans People Are “Trapped in the Wrong Body”

  • Trans People are Mentally Ill and Therapy Can Change Them
  • Laws Support Trans People

The facts regarding each, in brief, follow:

Chances are good that you actually have met a trans person—but may not realize it. The thing is,  many don’t have surgeries or gender reassignment, for one thing. Related to this, many transgender individuals now identify as “genderqueer” or “gender-nonconforming” or “non-binary” and aren’t interested in traditional concepts of masculine and feminine à la Ken and Barbie. They just are who they are and may not broadcast this in ways you’d necessarily perceive.

Evidence is lacking about the notion of being “trapped in the wrong body.” Some trans folks feel this way “while others understand their identities as more complicated, and as potentially involving choice rather than being predetermined by biology.”

Although being transgender is not a mental illness to be changed via therapy, listing “Gender Identity Disorder” as recently as 2013 in the DSM, the primary psychiatric diagnostic handbook, did serve to unfairly stigmatize. Similarly, the newer DSMs use of “Gender Dysphoria” remains problematic. Just because someone’s identity may be in variance with the mainstream doesn’t mean they have “dysphoria,” or dissatisfaction. And if they do, it’s likely to be a byproduct of oppression, one type of which is manifested when such unwarranted psychiatric diagnoses are misguidedly assigned.

Interestingly, homosexuality also was once a psychiatric disorder per the DSM, which in 1973 was eliminated, leaving “ego-dystonic” homosexuality as an option in a newer edition. Eventually “sexual disorder not otherwise specified” was all that remained for clinicians to misuse when seeing lesbian and gay clients. Today homosexuality is gone from the DSM, as transgender issues also deserve to be.

Jacobs additionally states regarding the myth of transgender mental illness:

Although being transgender is not a mental illness, trans populations do have higher than average rates of depression, suicidality, and substance abuse, though researchers have shown that this is largely due to social stigma and not being trans in itself. Trans youth in supportive environments show no higher rates of mental illness than their cisgender peers.

As for laws, federal protections for transgender people don’t look promising under the Trump administration. At this point, therefore, trans rights are sought and better achieved on various other levels, e.g., in cities and states.

For an excerpt from “You’re in the Wrong Bathroom!” click on this Bustle link. It’s Myth 12: Trans People Are a Danger to Others, Especially Children. Hint: they’re not.

Jan 19

Gender Dysphoria As Seen in An Adult Character On “Glee”

In my estimation, although Ryan Murphy‘s Glee hasn’t always been a show worth staying with, it has been a show worth occasional peeks, if only for its presentation of diversity—including ethnic, cultural, sexual orientation, and gender dysphoria and identity issues.

Not many series have dealt with the latter, and Glee‘s contribution is significant. As reported by GLAAD in 2012: “…[Glee] raised the bar for diversity on network television again last night, when it introduced a new character named Unique, a transgender African American student and performer in rival glee club Vocal Adrenaline. The character is played by Alex Newell, who finished as a runner up on The Glee Project; the Oxygen reality show in which a group of hopefuls competed for a spot on Fox’s hit show.”

And that’s not the end-all. But if you’re a regular Glee-watcher and aren’t yet caught up on this season’s episodes, you may not want to read ahead due to SPOILERS.

A new development involves football coach Shannon Beiste, played by Dot-Marie Jones. Part of her past storyline on Glee was that her character left her husband after she became a victim of domestic violence. Now Beiste is announcing a change in gender identity.

Sunnivie Brydum, The Advocate, about the actor, who happens to be lesbian and married to her partner: “Jones…says that although she isn’t trans, her height and  the fact that she is ‘not the most feminine wallflower’ mean she is no stranger to being misgendered. The 6-foot, 3-inch self-described ‘giant’ says she can only recall a handful of days where ‘somebody hasn’t called me ‘sir.'”

In the scene below, Beiste breaks the news to his assistant coach Sam (Chord Overstreet), a sweet young guy who’s often not quick on the uptake, and to principal Sue Sylvester (Jane Lynch), known for her meanness.

Describing his process, Beiste allows for the term “Gender Dysphoria,” the newer DSM diagnosis that replaced “Gender Identity Disorder,” which had unfairly pathologized many transgender individuals. “Dysphoria,” on the other hand, indicates a state of distress often experienced before coming to terms with one’s trans identity.

A similar DSM change was made years ago regarding sexual orientation. When homosexuality was removed as a diagnosis in 1973, “ego-dystonic” homosexuality emerged as a diagnosis intended to represent those who were not yet self-accepting. This terminology relatively quickly fell into disfavor, though, and was eventually eliminated altogether.

So, the recent Glee coming-out speech. As these (TV dramedy) things tend to go, it’s pretty moving with a dash of humor. And I don’t think it matters much whether you’ve ever watched Glee or not.

 What we need to do is learn to respect and embrace our differences until our differences don’t make a difference in how we are treated.” Yolanda King, daughter of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oct 28

Chaz Bono: Transgender Star Accepted By Many (Ignore Dr. Keith Ablow)

We learned this week that Chaz Bono was the latest contestant to leave TV’s Dancing With the Stars (DWTS) competition. From many accounts, he lasted longer on the show than his dancing deserved, which may have reflected an extra boost from voters who wished to show him acceptance and support in the face of considerable controversy.

In case you don’t already know, Chaz Bono was known as Chastity Bono, a female author and activist, before identifying as transgender and transitioning to male. His recent memoir is entitled Transition: The Story of How I Became a Man. In addition, a documentary, Becoming Chaz, has aired on OWN. Below, the trailer:

Following the announcement in late August of the current season’s DWTS contestants, some people were unhappy about the idea of Chaz dancing with a woman on TV. But probably nothing got as much media attention as the misguided misgivings of a particular mental health professional, psychiatrist Keith Ablow. Even if you’re not familiar with Ablow by name, it’s entirely possible that you’ve seen him on Oprah or elsewhere on TV.

It started with Ablow’s opinion piece, written for Fox News, entitled “Don’t Let Your Kids Watch Chaz Bono On Dancing With the Stars.” In it, he revealed his fears that kid viewers could see Chaz dance and decide that they also want to remove their breasts or penis. He adds:

It would be wrong to think that gender dysphoria cannot be kindled by celebrating those who have undergone sexual reassignment surgery. Human beings do model one another—in terms of emotion, thought and behavior. By broadcasting, applauding and mainstreaming the journey of a very disordered person who endured, and likely will continue to endure, real suffering based on extraordinarily deep psychological problems, we suggest that that journey is a smart—even heroic—one to take.

He goes on to describe in detail how he would have helped her (Chaz) if he had been her shrink. Read it if you’re curious, but this deliberate misuse of pronouns may be all you really need to know. 

In an interesting turn of events, even Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly let it be known publicly that she wasn’t having Ablow’s nonsense.

In a clip below from The Ed Show, more is reported on this topic. But before you watch, put the kids to bed, as watching Dr. Ablow—according to his own contagion-type reasoning—may make them into right-wing psychobabbling bigots stuck in a time-warp world.

Although Chaz has now departed DWTS, he has done so graciously, and his presence on the show has been hailed as “a great victory of transgender visibility” by GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). In a blog post on their site, Matt Kane also noted:

No other transgender person has had the opportunity to tell their story to so many people for so long a time, or to do it with such humble generosity.  Whatever his next steps, chances are good that Chaz will continue the great advocacy work he has been doing for years, such as showing support for LGBT youth through both Spirit Day and GLAAD’s new “Amplify Your Voice” PSA series.

So, Chaz has some meaningful work to do, but what will become of Dr. Keith Ablow? Will he now reach out to all the children whose parents allowed some Chaz-watching? And, if he doesn’t, whose job will it be to ensure that these kids don’t inappropriately defect to another gender?

One thing we supposedly can count on from this man whose website says he’s officially “America’s Psychiatrist” (don’t let the APA find out), is that he will continue to put forth his “message” that he admits is “always the same”:

By harnessing your innate capacity for courage, faith, truth and compassion you will find the power to reach most any goal.

Ahem. I mean, unless (cough) you’re, you know, someone transgender who…scares me?