October 27, 2020

What is the connection between transphobic TERFs and behaviorism?


Over at tumblr guiltyidealist asked me the following question:

Hey! I saw a post of yours that grouped TERFs [trans-exclusionary radical feminists] with "behaviorists". Would you mind explaining what behaviorists are in this context? I'm a psych major, so "behaviorism" for me refers to Skinner boxes and shit. 😅

Here's my reply:

Actually, this was a meme originally posted by trans activist and engineer Kelley Winters over at facebook.

The whole text goes like this:

“If gender identities of cisgender children were as eggshell-fragile as behaviorists/TERFs say, the whole world would be trans, and we would be debating whether cisgenderism is a psychopathogy. Hard enough to get kids to bring their dirty plates into the kitchen, let alone control their gender.”

Pavlov’s dogs

The behaviorism of Skinner & Co was based on a view of human beings as stimulus/response machines. The most well known example used to explain behaviorism is, as you probably know,  Pavlov’s dog experiment. 

Pavlov saw that dogs would salivate in response to the food placed in front of them, but he also saw that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever they heard the footsteps of his assistant who was bringing them the food. Pavlov managed to get the dogs to associate the sound of a metronome with food. The metronome would from then on make the dogs salivate, even if they were not presented with food. This is what is referred to as conditioning.

People as programmable machines

Behaviorists ended up believing that nearly all human behaviors were the results of such conditioning. Since these “experts” refused to discuss the inner life of humans  – as feelings and thoughts were thought not to be  scientifically observable and therefor not “real” –  their “therapies”  basically consisted of “reprogramming” patients with new types of associations. 

This led to a lot of unsavory practices, including different types of “conversion therapies” where gay, lesbian and trans people where taught to associate same-sex attraction or gender variance with negative feelings, for instance by giving gay men electric shocks while showing them gay porn.

Given their completely inhumane understanding of what it means to be human, many of these “therapists” ended up as tools of a sexist, homophobic and transphobic society. They became the torturers of cis/het “normalcy”.

October 26, 2020

Are all transgender people gender dysphoric?

No, the headline is not another variant of the “you cannot be trans if you are not gender dysphoric” meme, often used by transmedicalists and transgender separatists who think they more trans than other trans people.

The headline rather refers to our understanding of the term “gender dysphoric”.

Could it be that the “you have to be dysphoric to be trans” statement is based on a misunderstanding of the term “gender dysphoric”?

Over at CDL Carah Maisie (who is herself a transgender woman) makes this argument on the basis of an analysis of the DSM-5 “gender dysphoria” diagnosis. Her argument is inspired by an article written by Jocelyn Badgley.

The DSM-5 manual and its criteria for being gender dysphoric

The DSM-5 is the current edition of the American psychiatric manual. “Gender dypsphoria” is not seen as a mental illness in the manual, but it is included all the same to ensure that trans people get access to health services and proper insurance.

Carah and Jocelyn list the various criteria that indicate gender dysphoria in the DSM-5, and some of them do indeed refer to a mind/body misalignment:
  • A strong desire to be rid of one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics
  • A strong desire for the primary and/or secondary sex characteristics of another gender
But these are not the only criteria. Others refer to social and societal dysphoria:
  • A strong desire to be of another gender
  • A strong desire to be treated as another gender