December 25, 2014

How psychiatry and psychology have been used to suppress gender variance

We have to stop using psychiatric models and terminology that are clearly bigoted and aimed at upholding outdated views of sex and gender.

Modern psychiatry is moving from bigoted sexism to
more respect for sex and gender diversity
Illustration: Cienpies Design

There is a tendency in the crossdreamer and transgender debates to pretend that we are somehow having a kind of disinterested discussion, where scientific "facts" can be trusted to tell us what is the "objective truth" about sex and gender.

Since psychiatry has claimed the scientific authority over sexuality, sex identity and -- to a certain extent -- cultural gender, this means that we often go to psychiatrists and sexologist to find theories, models and narratives that can explain sex and gender variation.

Psychiatry and psychology are not exact sciences

There is nothing wrong in doing so, per se, as long as we keep in mind that psychiatrists (and psychologists) are like all other human beings: fallible and caught up in the prejudices of their time.

This only becomes a problem when we forget that the presence of a scientific-sounding terminology and a Ph.D. does not stop bigoted crap from being bigoted crap.

Psychiatry and psychology have been used to uphold political and social power-structures for more than a century.

From hysteria to autogynephilia

It wasn't that long ago psychiatrists fully believed that the diagnosis of "hysteria" (being over-emotional, seductive and displaying a lack of self control) could be used to describe the nature of the female sex in general.

It wasn't until 1980 the American Psychiatric Association acknowledged that the "histrionic personality disorder" (a less toxic name for hysteria) was "a caricature of femininity" (Tosh).

In the same way the medical term "nymphomania" was routinely used to invalidate women with a healthy appetite for sex. Since women were not supposed to be sexually aggressive, and many of the male doctors felt threatened by independent women, they used the term "nymphomania" as a scientific sounding way of branding these women "slut". In a similar way the "hysteria" diagnosis had been used to hospitalize and castrate feminists in the late 19th century.

My point is that we have to scrutinize all psychiatric theories about sex and gender to see if they are the product of cultural bigotry as well.

Psychiatry has been used to reinforce traditional gender roles

Having gone through many studies of the history of psychiatry, I am  convinced that diagnoses like "gender identity disorder", "transvestic fetishism", "transvestic disorder" and "autogynephilia" have much in common with "hysteria" and "nymphomania".

December 19, 2014

Magnus Hirschfeld's Theory of Transgender Intermediaries

The German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld presented a very radical theory of transgender and crossdreaming back in 1910, a theory that can enrich our understanding of sex and gender today.

Magnus Hirschfeld with friends. Hirschfeld with glasses, right.
In my previous post, I presented the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld and his arguments against the tendency to pathologize transgender identities and sexualities.

While many -- if not most -- of the other sex researchers of his day developed elaborate classification schemes of sexual desire and sexual behavior in order protect the realm of imagined normalcy against "deviants" (see Tosh 2015), Hirschfeld mapped sex and gender variation for the exact opposite reason.

Elenea Mancini puts it this way in her book Magnus Hirschfeld and the Quest for Sexual Freedom:

"Hirschfeld canvassed and classified the rich diversity of people he encountered, not for the mere sake of accruing scientific data or accentuating that which separated certain groups of people from others, but rather to uncover the fundamental similarities between all people irrespective of their sexual orientation, identity, or ethnic and racial provenance. He did not establish hierarchies of qualities such as physical traits and characteristics or sexual practices. This gave his work a distinctive flavor in that it became not only an ethnographic recording of difference, but implicitly, a celebration of that difference as well." (p. 35)

Theory of intermediaries

What Hirschfeld suggests is an early incarnation of the non-binary continuum theory, i.e. that there is no clear and distinct boundary between the male and the female, the masculine and the feminine. He calls this his "theory of intermediaries" (Zwischenstufenlehre, literally: "the theory about the steps in between").

This theory of intermediaries applies to the physiological as well the psychological, as Hirschfeld understands it. In other words: He refuses to separate body from mind, biology from psychology. Instead he considers the human being as a complex system of mind and matter.

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