Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

NARTH and BS

A conservative blogger recently posted information that a "scientific" study had found that gays and lesbians don't suffer harm from reparative therapy. (Worth noting here this the article regarding the ICD-10: "It lists ego-dystonic sexual orientation as a disorder instead, which it defines as occurring where "the gender identity or sexual preference (heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or prepubertal) is not in doubt, but the individual wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders, and may seek treatment in order to change it.") Having never heard of NARTH, I followed the link. Being a straight trans woman, I didn't look into the writings on homosexuality much, but instead focused on their entries on GID - and found a web(page) of misinformation. I hate to give a group like this even this much of attention, but some of the stuff written there really needs to be refuted. (For more on reparative therapty, try this, or this, or this.)

From "Transsexuality Explained," by Sander Breiner, M.D. (Note – in this article, the writer hardly mentions trans men, who compose about half the population of trans people – no doubt because "they're women" and so have no importance nor reflection on the human experience, which is white and male):

  • "There are a significant number of male homosexuals who would like to be a female with a penis. There are others who would like to be completely transformed into a female, but can't arrange to have such a complex surgical procedure. Both groups will obtain hormones from various sources; often it will be illegally from a pharmacy."

The assumption here, of course, is that trans women are gay men. But what about all those trans women who are attracted to women? And trans people who can't afford or obtain prescriptions for hormones (typically due to a lack of adequate health care) obtain illegal hormones online or on the black market – not from pharmacies, which actually have pretty stringent control mechanisms for disseminating controlled drugs. I'm rather surprised this "M.D." doesn't realize this.

  • "The transsexual male who was not part of a university/medical school treatment program, will often take hormone treatment (self-prescribed and administered), and play a feminine role with unsuspecting heterosexual males (often as a prostitute). … Their thinking about how they are tricking, fooling and using others has a clearly sadistic dynamic as well."

There are few if any current (2008, when this article was updated/published) university/medical school programs, and people who did go through these regularly told the gatekeepers, such as McHugh, what they thought the gatekeeper would want to hear to help them transition. Hormones are commonly and typically prescribed by doctors, and it would be silly to go to the doctor every day to take a little green pill. And many trans women are kicked out of their homes or fired because of discrimination, and end up on the street. They are forced into sex work to survive. They are not using, so much as being used; and they are not partnering with "unsuspecting" men so much as men who seek them out (tranny chasers). Most trans women, however, are employed, and reveal their status to prospective sexual partners if they are not asexual. In other words, this statement is patently false.

  • "Their histories almost invariably demonstrate a mother figure who is at least domineering, manipulative and controlling."

That sounds almost exactly the opposite of my mom, who left us free to make our own choices about most things, who never tried to manipulate us that I can remember, and who was definitely not domineering. Nor do I recognize this as a pattern in my trans women friends, whose families run the gamut.

  • "Such men have little to no relationship with their family. Unfortunately, their lifestyle has a clearly self-destructive quality."

First, a trans woman is not a man. Second, as mentioned, many trans women, especially youth, have been kicked out of their families for being trans. Most, however, have some relationship. In my case, I'm quite close to my former wife (I share a household with her) and kids; I'm close to the surviving members of my immediate family; I have good relations with my cousins, nephews, and nieces. And most of my transwomen friends also have supportive families.

  • "Their lifestyle has a clearly self-destructive quality."

Yeah. Like mine. Lots of healthy, nutritious, natural food in the diet, close connections with family and friends, spirituality, purpose and meaning, a good, middle class job. Actually, just like (surprise!) "normal" people, we run the gamut, from health nut to addict.

  • "These individuals usually do not stay in any adequate psychotherapy program (i.e., once per week for at least three months). They also have significant problems in certain areas of reality perception; therefore, long-term intensive therapy is the best choice, and long-term supportive therapy with medication is the bare minimum required to prevent them from destroying themselves."

If we don't stay long enough in a therapy program, it's most likely because the therapist doesn't know jack about gender dissonance. Paying $80/hour to educate someone who is supposed to be educated is not cost effective; the trans person involved will most likely stop sending good money after bad when she's got her letter authorizing hormones – and who could blame her? The "reality perception" is conveniently left vague. What areas? What medication is prescribed? The implication is some kind of anti-depressant; the reality is hormones and androgen blockers, which are not psycho-active. And the self-destruction comes almost completely prior to transition, when virtually all trans people have suicidal ideation, and many attempt it. Post-transition, such becomes much less common.

  • "There is a smaller group of transsexuals that includes those individuals who have been involved with a university-sponsored, medical-school treatment program."

He goes on to mention Wayne State University and Johns Hopkins University programs, both of which, I believe, are now defunct. The problems with these programs were legion. The gatekeepers turned away multitudes because they didn't fit the profile they were looking for (described by the author in the next section of his article). Trans people with same-sex attraction (trans women attracted to women, for instance) were turned away. Etc., etc. Those that did get in typically learned to deceive skillfully, giving the stereotypical answers the gatekeepers were looking for in their efforts to get hormone therapy and surgery.

Breiner goes on to describe a caricature of transsexualism who is completely unrecognizable when compared to real trans women, like Lynn Conway, Jennifer Boylan, Kate Bornstein, Calpernia Addams, Dr. Sara Becker, Anna Moore, Tobi, Julia Serrano, Hangar Queen, Andrea James, Dr. Becky Allison, etc., those represented here on Lynn Conway's website, and me. He then sums up thus:

  • "At this point in the process, I … must tell the surgeons that the disturbed body image was not an organic at all, but was strictly a psychological problem. … The more pervasive and extensive is this misperception of oneself [as defined by Mr. Breiner et al], the more significant is the psychological problem. The more the patient is willing to do extensive surgical intervention (especially when it is destructive), the more serious is the psychological problem. … This principle of isolated significant psychopathology indicating serious psychological problems (despite their ability to function in all other areas of life) is well known psychiatrically, historically, and by the judiciary."

So well known, in fact, that almost no one knows about the many people who have violated gender boundaries throughout history and in almost all cultures. So well known that psychologists who specialize in GID regularly authorize hormone therapy and surgery, and the AMA has determined that surgery is "medically necessary" and is often necessary for positive outcomes, and that it limits health risks from other sources. So well known that the judiciary regularly allows name changes and sex marker changes on documents.

I've written on this issue before. By the American Psychiatric Association's definition of a mental disorder, trans people are mentally disordered when they try to live as the sex they were assigned at birth – not when they transition. It's notable that the ISD-10 lists the denial of being homosexual as a mental disorder; the same should apply to denial of gender dissonance. Indeed, it almost killed me, and it did make me almost completely dysfunctional in my social and practical life. NARTH does a grave disservice to the people who go to them for help, supporting the mental disorders that affect them, rather than the patients themselves.

I wanted to correct a second article, too, but have run out of space and time. This is too long anyway. And still, I wonder: where are the trans men? Breiner and others go to some length to describe and define transsexuality, and yet never even mention, or at best only in passing, half the transsexual population. Perhaps, in their phallo-centric world, the desire for a penis is perfectly sane.

5 comments:

CrackerLilo said...

Next, the scientists bought and paid for by KFC conclude that chickens don't suffer harm when they're decapitated...

I never really paid attention to BARF's--um, NARTH's--writings on GID, but I guess it's why you didn't look at the lesbian and bisexual stuff, which is also awful. Not "my" issue. But wow, they are equal-opportunity horrifying!

*hugs* Crap like that is enough to make you feel like your soul's been beaten up, isn't it?

Seda said...

Lilo,
Any oppression is "my" issue", but there are some I know about an others I can't answer with specifics very well, just because I don't know enough about it. That's why it's so cool and so important to support each other in our search for equal opportunity. But yeah, I hear ya. It's pretty clear. And hey, at least we don't ever need to worry about running out of things to be activists about! It's just so amazing that they pour so many resources into something so destructive, with no care but to support their fantasy world in the face of reality.

Sad, really.

Fannie said...

That this "doctor" presents transgender women as predators who lure men into having sex with them infuriates me in light of the very real "tranny chaser" phenomenon that you allude to, Seda.

Thank you, also, for pointing out how the article completely neglects transgender men. It is similar to how people opposed to homosexuality obsess about gay men and completely ignore the existence of lesbians.

Katy said...

Wow, that article is just plain hard to read. It's like reading case studies from the '60s about how to "fix" a child's gender presentation. It hurts!

Seda said...

Fannie,
I did note that this group appears to be very phallo-centric. Or maybe just phallo-obsessed. I suspect that in their worldview, the lives and concerns of women are really Not Very Important. Which says a lot about them, just by itself

Katy,
I DOES sound like the '60's, doesn't it? 40 years of solid evidence proving him wrong, and they still don't get it. Rather like flying into space, looking back at the earth, and insisting that the earth really is flat, despite what it looks like.

Oh, well.

The sad thing is, it DOES hurt. I hurts the children that are born to people who believe this crap - the most defenseless among us. It hurts them badly.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our
Beloved's.
~Hafiz