from Gender Identity Disorders
Earlier this year, two social workers made a similar argument in Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, (February, 2004) for removal of Gender Identity Disorder in Children (GIDC) from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).
Writing in "How Dresses Can Make You Mentally Ill: Examining Gender Identity Disorder In Children," authors Susan J. Langer and James I. Martin argue that GIDC has become a meaningless category because gender atypicality "is a social construction that varies over time according to culture and social class and therefore should not be pathologized."
Langer is listed by the social work journal simply as a therapist in private practice in New York City and James Martin is listed as affiliated with New York University. However, both Langer and Martin are political activists who work for gay, lesbian, and transgender causes in New York City.
Langer serves as treasurer for the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy; and Martin serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services and once served as co-chair of the Commission on Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression. This organization is designed to promote "bisexual, transgender, and two-spirit persons and the issues relevant to them."
How Dresses Can Make You Mentally Ill
In their article, Langer and Martin briefly survey the history of GIDC and point out that "... there remains a significant amount of debate concerning what constitutes a mental disorder." They maintain that cross-gender identification may "in fact be statistically deviant, but there is no evidence that this is a dysfunction. On the contrary, evidence of cross-gender identification in people throughout history and around the world (Chauncey, 1994; Herdt, 1994; Roscoe, 1993) might indicate that this is a normal variant of human experience."
The authors believe that the distress placed upon many children with GIDC is "socially imposed," and not from an individual's distress over his gender confusion. Martin and Langer state: "Gender is commonly understood to be one's socially constructed sense of being male or female, as opposed to one's biological sex" and because gender is socially constructed, these "conceptualizations tend to vary according to culture and social class, and change over time." GIDC, say the authors, has been used in the past to reduce a child's sense of social ostracism for gender variant behavior--and has also been used to prevent children from eventually becoming homosexuals. Yet, "Because the DSM does not consider homosexuality to be a mental disorder, there is no psychiatrically-sound rationale for preventing children from becoming homosexual."
Martin and Langer observe that, "Children who not fit the mold of stereotypic sex roles disturb many segments of society, often including members of their families. By assigning them an official mental illness, the psychiatric establishment provides a justification for changing their behaviors, attitudes, and identities."
In the view of Martin and Langer, the diagnosis of GIDC is harmful to children because it stigmatizes them, which results in devaluation, discrimination, and rejection. Social withdrawal and depression often result from stigmatization. Trying to alter a child's gender identity is "as ethically repellent as bleaching black children's skin in order to improve their social life among white children," note Martin and Langer.
NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee member Gerald Schoenewolf disputes the claims made by Martin and Langer:
"This article is just another example of the trend toward normalizing not just sexual disorders and gender disorders but also disorders in general. Here a case is being made that Gender Identity Disorder, related to children, should be removed from the DSM. It is basically the same argument that we have heard before, time and time again, about homosexuality. It is a form of propaganda, of course, which, when repeated over and over again begins to sound like the truth. The authors contend that the American Psychiatric Association's purpose for this category is to reduce social ostracism of boys who have a persistent obsession to be girls, or girls who absolutely refuse to wear dresses and be feminine.The diagnosis of GIDC is as destruction as conversion therapies for homosexuals, according to the authors. "The history of efforts to change the gender identities of children is no less disturbing than those directed toward changing sexual orientation, especially because of the young age and vulnerability of those involved."
"They assert that 'attempting to change children's gender identity for this purpose is as ethically repellent as bleaching black children's skin....' This, of course, is an outrageous analogy on two counts. It implies that social ostracism toward boys who want to act like girls and girls who want to act like boys, is destructive, and fails to consider that there is a purpose to assigning gender roles and gender identity and a reason why most societies all over the world have historically done it--the preservation of the species. It also makes an unfair comparison; asking a boy to accept his gender identity is not the same as asking a black person to bleach his skin."
Martin and Langer conclude with a recommendation that those in the mental health community should "take a strong stand against the continuation of GIDC as a sanctioned diagnostic category...."
Dr. Schoenewolf believes that Martin and Langer are aiding gender confused individuals by attempting to deny that Gender Identity Disorders exist. He observes:
"As all psychotherapists know, denial is a strong current in most human beings, and there is always the tendency to deny problems and to deny that one's disorder as an abnormality. This trend toward enabling people's denial and calling it 'human rights' has been seen historically in other societies that have enjoyed prosperity and peace, such as in Ancient Greece and Rome. Eventually in such societies all values erode and individual rights become almost divine rights. The societies, lacking their original social fiber and organization, slowly disintegrate.
"So-called humanists who are so intent on fighting for a cross-dresser's human rights are only looking at the narrow picture that relates to their own need to justify their selfish interests. It all seems reasonable, but their opinions, you will note, are always conveyed with a hysterical undertone, an 'us against them' attitude, that precludes any argument or debate on the matter. The more immature, egocentric, and hedonistic individuals (or a society's) are, the less they want to take responsibility for their actions and the more they want to rationalize them. It is this process of making the unreal seem real and the real seem unreal that eventually destroys them."