Is being transgender a mental disorder? A lot of news and controversies around the suddenly militant minority seems to compel honest consideration of the question. It is definitely not a formal disorder, but that doesn’t deal with the issue. The medical profession, which is, as has been periodically documented on Ethics Alarms, is now politically-driven and in the directing of progressive positions and agendas.
Up until 2012, transgenderism was labeled a mental disorder; that year, the American Psychiatric Association revised its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and struck transgenderism from the list. Now, woke institutions like the Cleveland Clinic state outright, “Being transgender is not a mental illness. But people who are transgender face unique challenges, such as gender dysphoria and discrimination, which can affect their mental health….” The Clinic then adopts whole cloth the familiar transgender narrative, uncritically, as if it is scientific fact rather than an ideological position:
Healthcare providers assign a baby a sex at birth. Babies may be assigned female at birth (AFAB) or assigned male at birth (AMAB) based on their external physical genitalia. The term “cisgender” describes people who identify as the gender that matches their assigned sex. (For example, if you’re born biologically female and you identify as female, then you’re cisgender.) But for some people, as they grow up and understand themselves better, they find that their gender doesn’t match their assigned, biological sex.
Oh! So the situation is as normal as apple pie and toilet training, then! Seriously? This is propaganda, not objective medical opinion. It is one thing to decide that a psychological problem isn’t a “disorder,” it’s something else to pretend that it is normal.
Once again Abe Lincoln’s maxim about calling a dog’s tail a leg is implicated: why was transgenderism a mental illness for decades before 2012, and now it isn’t? The condition didn’t change: the people responsible for the categorization changed, and they were influenced—biased—by factors that strictly should not affect how a condition is classified. There is no controversy over whether intersex individuals—those with the sex organs of both sexes—have a physical disorder: they do, and it certainly can’t be called “normal.”
But as with the declassification of homosexuality in 1973, the medical profession and others concluded that the diagnosis of the condition—is “condition” pejorative?—as a mental illness or disorder exacerbated greatly the problems such individuals had already in adjusting to and being accepted in society. Suicide rates for gays have come down significantly from 1973. Suicide rates for transgender individuals are high. Changing a harmful label to save lives seems like the right ethical choice.
I am considerably less certain, however, about creating an official, expert-endorsed fiction that a non-normal sexual orientation (“abnormal” is a negative brand, no?) isn’t what it obviously is. The result of doing that is already evident: identifying as another gender is now “in” and the number of young people “identifying” as transgender is soaring. Is that really healthy? Stigmas can be an important societal tool, if the negative connotations are justifiable.
It is a complex problem, however. Calling homosexuality an illness or disorder implied that it could be “cured,” leading to quack treatments and shattered lives. Society taking the opposite course, as LGTBQ advocates maintain is correct, and extolling and celebrating the—the what?—spectacularly fails Kant’s “What if everybody does it?” test. If everybody decides Gay is the Way, then the human species is doomed. I’m not sure what is in store for us if switching genders is considered the norm, but I am not optimistic about it.
Society capitulating to popular movements and de-stigmatizing such conduct as unwed childbirth, promiscuous sexual activity and recreational drug use have been disasters. I fear we are headed that way with the transgender fad as well.
Having the courage and common sense to call a state of mind that isn’t normal and should not be normal what it is seems like the responsible, ethical course.