Thursday, September 29, 2011

9/27 Brown Bag Response: Mental Health and Gender

              As a (trans)woman with many mental health issues, I was glad that we were finally talking about mental health in Tuesday’s (9/27) Brown Bag.  One of the key debates that was going on in this brown bag was whether mental illness held a stigma, and I want to be the first to say that  by definition, it does, which is why I was glad we were airing these issues in the open, and why such a brown bag is necessary.  All humans have issues with mental health at some point or another; the mind is part of the body, not some floating abstraction independent of one’s physical self (despite what some philosophers might say).  The difference is that some mental issues are extolled, especially at Colgate (alcoholism, promiscuity, xenophobia), whereas others are seen as too extreme for the sufferer to still be “normal” (such as mood disorders, schizoaffective disorders, “gender identity disorder” (GID, see below), etc.).  As such, these patients are seen as “crazy” or “weird” and therefore unworthy of compassionate understanding.  The purpose of the brown bag was to challenge that notion, and as a mentally ill person, I am grateful.
                Like I said, I have more than one issue swimming about in my mind, but one mental “disorder” I want to talk about that we didn’t have time to go into is GID, because it illustrates just how much power the medical establishment has, an issue that needs to be addressed, especially from a feminist perspective.  GID is the diagnosis given to non-intersex transgender and transsexual people who want to have hormonal or surgical intervention on their sexual attributes.  The problem is not so much that a mental issue is involved (one’s current sex doesn’t match their desired sex, causing emotional disturbance, which is in the realm of mental health), but that the issue is skewed by patriarchal ideas of gender and sexuality.  Notice that the problem is called gender identity disorder.  I have no disturbance about my gender—I’m a genderqueer, feminine person and I know it!  But the medical establishment is still steeped in Victorian ideas about what gender should look like.  This is unhelpful and dangerous to trans patients, and requires feminist intervention.

Xavia Publius


  1. Can I just say: HELLOOOO NEW WMST BLOG!! So happy I get to stay in loop even while being hundreds of miles away (and after graduating). This is excellent! and an excellent post Xavia, sounds like it was another fabulous brown bag.

  2. I'm not saying it's right, or that this is even necessarily the case, but I wonder if it's classified as a disorder by the medical establishment so that those who want hormonal or surgical intervention can get it covered by insurance. I.e. it's "medically necessary" and therefore covered rather than "elective" and not covered. (I'm just taking a wild guess, and acknowledge that I may very well be absolutely wrong.)

    I do agree that there are still altogether too many old-fashioned ideas about what gender should look or behave like.

    Good post, Xavia.