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Wednesday, May 30, 2018
No, Seriously, You Really Don't Need Dysphoria To Be Trans
Last night, in the heat of greasy-haired passion, I filmed and posted a video about dysphoria... specifically, a little bit of a historical takedown of why you don't need dysphoria to be a member of the transgender community. I also expanded that a bit to explain why dysphoria purists (trans people who believe you must have dysphoria to consider yourself transgender) are actually borderline appropriative: That word wasn't coined for them and was actively rejected by them for years.
You can of course watch the video, but if you'd prefer to read it, I've provided the script I used below. It's not verbatim but all the main ideas are there.
Here's the deal: lately I've been really concerned with... community drama I guess? It's not something that I've really dealt with for a while, I've been kind of out of the community loop, so when I started getting back into the community to learn more about top surgery I learned things that I guess I was kind of sheltered from, having been living my life mostly either stealth or around other trans and queer people who are as out of the loop as I am... there are a couple of things people have been saying that have been particularly bothersome to me because they are very ahistoric, and the way they are ahistoric is really personally offensive to me for reasons that will be explained in the rest of this. I knew these perspectives existed, but I didn't know they had become as widespread as they are, especially among teenage trans people who I honestly never expected this shit from.
There are two main topics I'll be talking about here. The first is the idea that dysphoria is necessarily a prerequisite to being transgender. The second is that "transgender" is not an umbrella. A quick note that although I did some quick Googling to confirm what I already knew... a lot of this is from memory as somebody who started transitioning long enough ago that I actually was there for some of the major events that make these wrong.
Recently I saw a young trans person--a seventeen year old trans guy--who tweeted a statement that was basically "well no shit Sherlock, of course you need to have dysphoria to be trans, it's right in the diagnosis: 'Gender Dysphoria.'" And I seriously flipped my shit over this, because it's such an ignorant n00b thing to say, because "Gender Dysphoria" as a diagnosis didn't become a thing until like 2012. Since I went on hormones before that, I actually wasn't diagnosed with gender dysphoria at all... I was diagnosed with gender identity disorder.
And the thing that makes my jaw just drop over this is that part of the reason they switched this diagnosis from gender identity disorder to gender dysphoria was explicitly to acknowledge that simply being transgender is not a disorder and that not all transgender people have dysphoria. They weren't saying that people must be dysphoric to be trans, they were literally saying the opposite: That the only trans people who need to be medicalized are the ones who have dysphoria, and that the dysphoria itself is the disorder, not the gender.
This is a quote from Jack Drescher, who literally was member of the committee responsible for making this change:
“All psychiatric diagnoses occur within a cultural context. We know there is a whole community of people out there who are not seeking medical attention and live between the two binary categories. We wanted to send the message that the therapist’s job isn’t to pathologize.” End quote.
That's literal proof that using the diagnosis title of "gender dysphoria" as a weapon against non-dysphoric trans people is historically inaccurate. I was there and Drescher's analysis here? It's exactly what I remember. There was no point during that change in which any of us thought it was to solidify dysphoria as a requirement for being transgender.
Another quote, this one from Dana Beyer who was working with the Washington Psychiatric Society: “A right-winger can’t go out and say all trans people are mentally ill because if you are not dysphoric, that can’t be diagnosed from afar. It no longer matters what your body looks like, what you want to do to it, all of that is irrelevant as far as the APA goes.” End quote.
Basically, transgender people lobbied like hell to get the diagnosis changed because when folks my age were diagnosed, we were given a label that implied that our genders themselves were mental disorders. The switch not only moved the focus on things that actually mattered, but it reinforced that non-dysphoric trans people--including certain nonbinary folks, binary trans folks who don't have dysphoria, and trans folks who have already sufficiently transitioned already--exist and are not disordered at all.
But here's where it gets doubly insulting: The fact that truscum slash transmedicalists are even trying to claim the term "transgender" at all is borderline appropriation.
The word "transgender" was independently invented a couple of times... there was a time long ago when it primarily meant somebody who lived as the "opposite" gender full-time but who did not desire sex reassignment surgery, often people who still identified as their assigned sex but who were full-time crossdressers, think Angel Dumott Shunard from Rent and you get a good idea. During this time period, trans medicalists would not have touched this word with a fucking ten foot pole, and yet they want to monopolize it now.
As an umbrella the word transgender became popular in the 1980s and 90s, popularized by folks like Leslie Feinberg. It was an expansive umbrella... it included binary trans men and women but also pretty much anybody else who significantly strayed from their assigned sex. When I came out and started navigating the trans community back in the early 2000s, the word "transgender" was an expansive umbrella. When I used to educate local queer groups about the transgender umbrella I would flat out list as members not only trans men and trans women but genderqueer people, genderfuck people, bigender people, and even drag performers and crossdressers. And the folks who we would now call truscum or transmedicalists? They didn't want any part of it. It wasn't that they thought they should be the one true transgender people... they didn't want to be called "trans" at all. They were calling themselves absurd things like "sufferers of Harry Benjamin Syndrome," if they wanted to be called any variation of "trans," they were transsexuals and did not want to be called transgender. Fun fact... the word "transsexual" wasn't only limited to binary dysphoric trans men and women at first, either. But I digress, this is about the word "transgender."
This is why there's a level of appropriation here... this is an ideology that has been around for a while, but has spent *decades* trying to stay as far away from the word "transgender" as possible, only to suddenly try monopolizing it as soon as it's beneficial for them to do so? And I get that a lot of these people are quite young and weren't around when these shifts were happening, but it doesn't take much to actually talk to trans people who are more experienced than you, and if you're going to make blanket statements like this that have the potential to incite harassment and possibly even ruin people's lives, I expect you to at least learn the history of the words you're trying to lay claim to. And in this case, it just doesn't follow. It makes no sense. It's entirely ahistorical for truscum to call "transgender" theirs and theirs alone.
Finally, I want to talk about all of this as it is "in practice." One of the problems with trans-medicalist ideology is that it's like a lot of bullshit ideologies... there are some ideas there that look good on the surface. For instance, claiming that dysphoria is necessary to be transgender doesn't seem so ridiculous when you factor in that a lot of us think that we aren't dysphoric when we really are... if you want surgery or hormones, for instance, you're almost definitely experiencing dysphoria on some level otherwise you wouldn't do that. But because of the way this argument is set up, truscum try to be the gatekeepers of what constitutes "dysphoria," too, and they tend to change that bar depending on whatever would exclude the person they're trying to invalidate at that time.
For instance, I was goaded into an argument with a couple truscum where I was basically begging them to acknowledge that I was a valid trans person because I had been dysphoric in the past--even though I wasn't dysphoric anymore at the time--and that if I hadn't gotten hormones I definitley would still be dysphoric. But they didn't like my transition methods and so they changed their already-bullshit standards specifically to exclude me. Plenty of people experience dysphoria that is relieved by a change in expression, name, and pronouns rather than hormones or surgery... this should count as transgender just fine, it's still dysphoria, and yet truscum often exclude these people. There have even been some super insulting cases where people have insisted somebody wasn't truly trans for not going on hormones or getting surgery when the only reason they weren't doing those things was because of access issues and not desire. This is infuriating as fuck.
I know that the likelihood of me converting any dipshit truscum over to my side is slim, but at the very least, if you're in the position where you don't feel dysphoria or--more likely--you don't feel dysphoria in the way some truscum believes you should, I hope you find this video so that you can rest assured that, yes, you are a valid trans person. And coming from me that's a big thing... I am notoriously critical of the Tumblr culture that tries making every identity endlessly valid. In this case, though, they are definitely the ahistorical ones.