Pseudo-science still tries to ‘cure’ LGBT people

FIST, NYC chapter

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is the official handbook of U.S. mental health workers. Created by and a registered trademark of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), the DSM categorizes mental health conditions and the criteria for diagnosing them.

First published in 1952, the DSM has played a role in creating classifications of mental health “illnesses” and “disorders” that have stigmatized the poor, women, people of color and LGBT people.

For example, until 1973 the DSM categorized homosexuality as a mental disorder and recommended it be “treated” aggressively. These “treatment methods” for homosexuality included surgeries such as clitoridectomies, lobotomies and castration; hormone treatment; and shock treatment, both electric and pharmacological. Only through a protracted struggle by the LGBT movement was the “disorder” removed from the manual.

To this day, LGBT communities and especially trans peoples and LGBT youth are forced to undergo extensive physical and psychological abuse in the guise of treatment to “cure” their sexual and gender identities. Many times it is their sexuality or gender identity that is the basis for being institutionalized in a mental health facility.

There have been four major revisions of the DSM, with DSM-IV published in 1994. The next revisions are scheduled for May of 2012, with an early draft of DSM-V due for comment in 2009.

In May 2008 the APA named Kenneth Zucker as the committee chair of the so-called “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders” section of the upcoming edition. Zucker’s research and treatment work at Toronto’s Clarke Institute—currently the Centre for Addiction and Recovery—has been labeled as part of the “ex-gay” movement and seen by multiple “ex-gay” groups as working to “cure” homosexuality.

However, Zucker’s appointment has outraged not only the lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans communities but also progressive mental health workers across the U.S.

Leading the charge against Zucker’s appointment, and particularly his research on a so-called “treatment” of so-called gender identity disorder (GID), are trans and gender non-conforming organizations and activists. GID and gender dysphoria are so-called diagnoses by the medical and mental health establishments to account for the existence of trans and gender nonconforming peoples in society. Zucker claims, for example, that in order to “treat” GID, young boys should be forbidden to play with dolls.

Although the creation of the GID diagnosis was meant to further mentally pathologize trans people, its current inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual has led to an important debate within the trans communities. Using the diagnosis to their advantage, trans activists fought and won to have Medicaid pay for hormone therapy and other health care needs.

Transgender lesbian activist and author Leslie Feinberg explains: “From the standpoint of gender variant individuals, the diagnosis of DSM has been used as a weapon to enforce gender conformity. But for some transsexual men and women, particularly the poorest, the diagnosis can mean access to physical transition. It is the right of the transsexual communities, particularly nationally oppressed communities, the poor and the uninsured and underinsured, to decide when and how to replace the DSM diagnosis.”

Science, specifically the fields of psychology and medicine, can be abused to establish hierarchies and thereby systems and institutions of oppression. Heterosexuality as a sexual identity, as well as manifestations of conforming to assigned gender norms, have never been scrutinized and classified as mental illnesses. The institutional inequality is evident. The abusive past and present “scientific” view and “treatment” of homosexuality and gender variance are a part of something unrelated to psychological health.

The use of “science” to prove one race, sex, gender, sexual identity or class inferior to another dates back to the initial need for validation of the oppressive and exploitative systems stemming from private property. These systems of hierarchy and biased classifications and experiments have historically been used to prove the political, mental and physical inferiority of women, LGBT folks, people of color and working class people—through the criminalization of poverty and alternate economic survival tactics. It should be noted that these hierarchies have been established through the exclusion of LGBT folks, women, people of color and the working masses in the processes of defining normality and variance.

The validity of the LGBT community’s response is further understood when one looks at the trend to use oppressive pseudoscientific arguments, even when they have been disproven, to repress the working class and the oppressed during times of political unrest. These arguments include the “abnormality” of homosexuality and gender variance.

It is evident in this time of economic crisis and seemingly endless advances of U.S. imperialism that the ruling class is correct to see this as a period of potential, and some may argue current, political unrest.


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